Power to the Edge (to the People)

January 9, 2009 — 2 Comments

One of the more newsworthy events of the week, at least in the social media community, was David Armano’s fundraising efforts to help a family in need.  Details here.  The bottom line is that Armano was able to raise over $15,000 by leveraging the network he has built and his personal brand in the social media community.  The fact that this was even possible is remarkable, to have been witness to it unfold live was eye-popping.  Many, and I would guess that most, of the people contributing to this cause only know Armano through his blog, twitter updates and other publications; basically, they only know him virtually.  

Maybe as recently as a year ago (I’m just hazarding a guess) this would have been unthinkable.  Traditionally, only large, recognizable organizations like the Red Cross have commanded the trust & resouces required to raise this type of money in this way.  What happened in the first half of this week, at least for me, marked a very real shift in terms of power moving from the core (Red Cross types) to the edge (individuals such as Armano).  It reminds me of a book I read, Power to the Edge: Command…Control…in the Information Age.

Command and control (C2) was the traditional method (and is still widely used today) for organizing military forces.  As a soldier (on the edge) you got your orders only once, from the top (the core).  You followed them, no deviation.  One of the main reasons for this approach was lack of bandwidth.  Chances were, once you got into the field, should an unforseen situation arise there was almost no opportunity to communicate back to the top.  You had no choice but to proceed as planned.  And speaking of unforseen situations, C2 assumed that there wouldn’t be any.  We knew who our enemy was and how they operated (think Cold War); not so true in today’s world (think 9/11).  Resulting from this C2 approach was a very strong/smart ‘core’ and a very weak/uninformed/dumb ‘edge.’  That just won’t work today.

Power to the Edge urges the military to change its approach, to empower, educate & sharpen the edge.  Things do happen in the field and the the front lines need the ability & freedom to operate and overcome those obstacles.  Technology & bandwidth have made information flow to the edge possible; the edge can be smarter and more effective than ever before.  However, there is a foundation that must be in place for Power to the Edge to occur (qutoed directly from the book):

• Clear and consistent understanding of command intent;

• High quality information and shared situational awareness;

• Competence at all levels of the force; and

• Trust in the information, subordinates, superiors, peers, and equipment.

What happened the other night fits perfectly into this model. Check, check, check, check.   Armano, himself, takes care of the first two tenents through the Tweets/blog posts & Business Week articles.  We as individuals in the network are responsible for our competence, so that’s number three.  That leaves trust, which in my estimation is a direct result of the first three tenents and is by far the hardest to achieve.  Had any of these four tenents been missing, I’m guessing we wouldn’t have seen the type of success Armano had.  Maybe only those who knew him personally would have contributed; maybe, being suspicious, people would have given fewer $ on average; maybe Armano’s first degree contacts wouldn’t have passed the message along to their first degree contacts, and so on…who knows?

The $15,000 raised, however, was a direct result of power being moved to the edge.  I’m highly encouraged by the results; not only for the charity exibited, but for the reality of social networks to take hold, be meaningful and actually add value.  I encounter people on a daily basis that need to be convinced ‘social’ is more than just entertainment.  Whether you take part in ‘social’ publically or inside of your organization (as I am attempting) what we’ve seen this week is an execution of the theory Power to the Edge sets forth.  It’s very real and can have significant impact.

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