What Wikileaks tells us about community leadership

In Time Magazine, I just read a very interesting comment of Julian Assange about change management, and about the ethical rationale behind wikileaks

Organizations which are abusive… need to be [in] the public eye. They [then] have one of two choices: One is to reform in such a way that they can be proud to display them to the public. The other is to lock down internally and to balkanize and as a result cease to be efficient as they were.

That’s a very interesting statement which reminded me of what the old Simeon said about Jesus in the Bible (Luke 2 33-35): “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that Julian Assange is Jesus Christ. What I am saying is that there some deep truth in this statement.

All human communities have a natural tendency to fragment over time, as the cohesive spirit that gave birth to them – the mutual respect and even love that stems from allegiance to a common ideal or person – fades away for lack of celebrations and rituals that consolidate or reinstall the foundations of the community. Call it social entropy if you will. And when a large community starts to fragment into sub-communities or even into individuals – I am thinking of my country here, which has alas become wildly individualistic – , the bandwidth of communication between people gradually diminishes to the extent that people start to lie to each other and the community crumbles. The obvious sign that large organizations have become balkanized is that the quality of communication between its sub-groups becomes very low and can even become downright lies. You know what I mean: just think about how the group of people in charge of any large organization – global company, state etc. – have this natural tendency to “bullshit” their constituencies with tepid pep talk. Think about the Soviet Union in the late 80s.

Fighting against this natural tendency from within is very difficult, even if you are in control, because when communities fragment, they build walls, they create institutions, they design processes which cannot be destroyed easily. And if you kick the hornets nest, you are likely to end up in deep trouble. So the usual response is incremental: it is about adding new layers of walls, institutions and processes on top of the faulty ones, thereby building another floor to the Babel tower. That’s why people that really want change to happen in their organization also rely heavily on outside players who usually speak more freely and frankly and can suggest more radical and simple changes. Successful change management always combines insiders and outsiders working together. Nobody is a prophet in his own country.

So what Assange is saying is right: if we want radical changes in our societies, we need to expose the facts and unmask the lies, and only outsiders can do it. It is generally completely foolish and naive to it from within, unless you are ready to be expelled from the organization or even to die for your ideas. Think about how whistleblowers are treated in large organizations (ENRON, NASA…). But doing this in such a violent and massive way using the new amazing power of digital communication and the web, and without coordination with powerful relays of insiders within the organization is undoubtedly an act of war. Weeding a garden is a tedious process which has little to do with spreading napalm all over the place. Respect, and I dare even say love, for community members should be the guiding principle behind those actions, and not just telling the truth to become the « Man of the Year ».

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. (John 18 37-38)

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