Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I posted this back in 1998, but I'm going to post it again. Tocqueville was a Frenchman who visited the US and wrote a book called "Democracy in America" in 1835.

Alexis de Tocqueville
From time to time, indeed, enterprising and ambitious men will arise in democratic communities whose unbounded aspirations cannot be contented by following the beaten track. Such men like revolutions and hail their approach; but they have great difficulty in bringing them about unless extraordinary events come to their assistance. No man can struggle with advantage against the spirit of his age and country; and however powerful he may be supposed to be, he will find it difficult to make his contemporaries share in feelings and opinions that are repugnant to all their feelings and desires.

It is a mistake to believe that, when once equality of condition has become the old and uncontested state of society and has imparted its characteristics to the manners of a nation, men will easily allow themselves to be thrust into perilous risks by an imprudent leader or bold innovator. Not indeed that they will resist him openly, by well-contrived schemes, or even by a premeditated plan of resistance. They will not struggle energetically against him, sometimes they will even applaud him; but they do not follow him. To his vehemence they secretly oppose their inertia, to his revolutionary tendencies their conservative interests, their homely tastes to his adventurous passions, their good sense to the flights of his genius, to his poetry their prose. With immense exertion he raises them for an instant, but they speedily escape from him and fall back, as it were, by their own weight. He strains himself to rouse the indifferent and distracted multitude and finds at last that he is reduced to impotence, not because he is conquered, but because he is alone.

Sounds pretty lonely. Luckily, being a leader today doesn't mean you're along. In fact, you're just one of the catalysts. I felt a bit strange leading the emergent democracy "Happening" when we were trying to find emergence where there was not supposed to be a leader or a pacemaker. Mitch mentioned that management as defined by Dee Hock was about being lead by the group and managing things above you. (versus the tradition notion of management being something that leaders do to followers) You're a leader as long as people look to you to be the catalyst. So, I wonder... Do leaders "emerge"? What does leadership have to do with Clay's power law discussion? My sense that people who are "different" and express their point of view will be discovered when society needs that point of view. It's like some antibody or some catalyst waiting for the right situation to be useful. This is very different from the single source of power/power broker sort of control oriented leadership. The old way to lead was to find the source of power, take it over and then control. Now maybe it is to find some point of view, feel strongly about it and blog blog blog. Be the difference that makes a difference.


Joi, I am absolutely convinced that leaders emerge *and* that movements rise by a series of individual choices that culminates in the appearance of a leader. Frustration can be one source. Anger another, but something ignites a movement and the leaders are propelled into the forefront.

Movements can be perverted by opportunists who sieze leadership, either overtly or covertly, and lead toward some other goal. Stalin, Hitler, etc. come to mind. This happens in degrees and can have a tremendous impact on the outcome of a movement. The current U.S. administration has twisted the response of the United States to 9/11 to serve an ideological and socio-economic agenda unrelated to the act of terrorisms itself.

The real challenge is knowing when to lay down the leadership and let the people act for themselves or, better, to act as a conduit for the people's will to improve their situation/the world their children will live in/the conditions for living.

There's a quote that I don't recall exactly (and I'm not sure who it comes from either) that said something like "The successful reformist is the one who helps people see what they really need."