From Newton to Darwin – Tim Brown

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TIm Brown is guest blogging for the Forum. He is CEO of IDEO and is attending the Annual Meeting in Davos.

Timbrown As has been the case for a few years, crowd sourcing and social media continue to dominate conversations around Davos this week. In the context of this years theme what is new is the way in which these topics are being discussed. While there is still a division between the views of those directly involved in these disruptive ideas and those used to more traditional approaches, there is evidence that the concept of bottom-up emergence and the power of the network is percolating through all sectors.

Jim Breyer of Accel Partners stated in a session on Connectedness that it is futile to add 'social' to existing business models and that instead the opportunity is to build radical and disruptive new businesses to exploit this phenomena. When it comes to venture investing I cede to Jim's experience and wisdom but that is not the whole story.

As organizations of all sizes and forms grapple with the need for new levels of agility and innovation the leadership and organizational paradigms are changing. One might describe this as a shift from Newtonian thinking to Darwinian thinking. The phenomena of social media is percolating through and effecting the ways in which we all think. Instead of predictable, top-down, architected approaches to the future (the world of Newton) we are becoming more comfortable with a bottom-up, evolutionary, learn-as-you-go approach (the world of Darwin). While the analogy is not bullet-proof (we have the ability to add intelligent design to the survival-of-the-fittest of natural systems) it provides a useful framework for leadership behavior.

I have heard stories of enterprises letting go of the command and control approach. The recent success of Pepsi Cola's consumer generated Super Bowl adds come to mind as well as the open innovation platforms being used by pharmaceutical companies. It is also clear that this bottom-up approach does not eradicate the need for strong leadership. If anything, the best examples in social media, Wikipedia and Mozilla for instance, have clear roles for expertise and decision making.

In a fascinating dinner conversation I heard a strong vote for the role of the leader as creator of culture where good ideas emerge, the selector of the strongest ideas that deserve support and the driver of ownership and accountability necessary for great execution.

So perhaps in future Davos' we will see a continued development of the conversation about networks and social media. Just as we flock to listen to Sean Parker, Craig Ventor and Francis Collins tell us about the coming revolutions in the Internet and biology we will also be listening to them for clues about how to lead our own organizations.

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