Canadian business thinker Don Tapscott thinks we are in the age of networked intelligence. I think he's right - about this and a whole bunch of other things. He and I met in various spaces of networked intelligence - never, unfortunately, in person. First, it was through his books, especially The Naked Corporation (2003). Most recently, it was in his TED Talk on the open society. I think it might be worth the 17 minutes and 50 seconds it will take you to watch and listen.
I want to comment briefly on the implications for governance of the four principles of openness that Tapscott outlines - collaboration, transparency, sharing, and empowerment - and say a word about how they are crucial in the workings of jazz.
Collaboration is about inviting contributions from everywhere - everyone around the board table, everyone to whom they are connected, everyone working for and/or volunteering in the organization, and everyone whose lives are being changed by what the organization does. While that sounds like a daunting amount of listening, it is becoming easier and easier to invite such input using the appropriate technologies. The ideas generated and the innovation imagined through such conversations will enhance the benefits your organization can produce. Great jazz relies on the willingness of the musicians to both listen to others and contribute their best as they collaborate in creating new interpretations of the melodies. This kind of generative thinking is crucial if organizations are going to adapt to flourish in rapidly changing environments.
Transparency is about openly communicating pertinent information to stakeholders in timely and consistent ways. It's about authentic accountability, not cynical spin. It requires that you are willing to be naked about strengths and challenges, to be clear about your values and how you strive to be valuable, to be candid about mistakes and how you intend to learn from them. It requires that you be willing to bring your best and be willing to learn to improve. Governing boards encourage transparency by the quality of questions that they ask - of themselves, of their staff, and of their communities. They gain knowledge about what has been and what might be by being curious. The criteria for monitoring and measuring the information, knowledge, and wisdom gathered is always what will be best for the organization's mission. As Miles Davis said, "I expect my groups to play their best, then play above that." You can't achieve that kind of continuous improvement without transparency.
Sharing is about being generous with our intellectual property. It's about acknowledging the rich diversity of the commons where ideas are generated, shared, refined, applied, assessed, and refined again, all through conversations. Conversation, as we say repeatedly at Jazzthink, is the most common form of jazz in human experience. You can't play jazz well without bringing your full passion to the performance - physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual - and sharing it for the good of the organization. You can't govern well without putting your full passion into the conversations that create the organization. There will be conflict around the best ways of moving the organization forward as you share, sift, and sort the ideas that will work best. But those are the conflicts out of which innovation emerges. Jazz musicians are constantly sharing ideas that enable them to explore together what might be possible. That's the spirit governing boards need in these challenging times of increasing challenges and elusive sources of funding.
Empowerment is about the decentralization and distribution of the power of knowledge in this age of networked intelligence. Governing boards need to recognize that they are not the only, though still a crucial, source of power and impact in the organization. They have a particular role to play in aligning all the sources of power as they seek to generate beneficial impact. The conversations within the board meetings, the communication with others sources of power within and related to the organization, and the ways boards identify and invite new sources of power to contribute all enhance the good influence the governing board is able to exercise. Jazz groups create space for everyone to be empowered to contribute. At times members step forward to solo. Then they step back to support. It's not the individual power that is important. Rather, it's the collective power they generate through collaboration, transparency, and sharing that produces the best results. Governing boards are no different.
These are just some initial thoughts generated by Tapscott's recent TED Talk. There's lots more sifting and sorting to do. I'd be delighted if you'd join the conversation and let me know what you think. Perhaps you've got stories about boards where you've seen these dynamics work well. Perhaps you know of situations in which the absence of these dynamics created problems. Perhaps you think this application of Tapscott's ideas is just plain wrong-headed. I'd really like to know what you think.
You won't be surprised to discover that someone as imaginative and innovative as Don Tapscott is also a musician. He got his musical education in his dad's dance band in the 1960s. He plays keyboards (preferably the Hammond B3) and does vocals in the band Men in Suits.