Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I recently had the opportunity to meet Andy Stern [WP] and and hear him speak. Andy is the president of the Service Employees International Union, the largest and fastest-growing union in the United States and Canada. He recently walked out from the AFL-CIO and Matt Miller in Fortune Magazine recently commented that, "Stern's move is possibly the most significant economic event of the year."

Andy's speech was passionate and compelling and made me think that he should be leading a political party. I wish we had people like him in Japan.

He fielded a number of tough questions about the failings of unions and his response was that unions have their problems and they need to be addressed, but that there were many issues that would never be resolved without unions. When presented with some examples of dysfunctional unions, he said that you had to blow up the bad unions before incrementally fixing them.

He said that "there is enough money. It is just not distributed properly." "I love philanthropy, but I want to allow people to be independent and provide for themselves." He made a solid attack at the notion of CEOs walking away with millions of dollars while cutting benefits for workers, and then turning around and setting up foundations to "give to the poor."

One person in the audience gave the example of a company which was picketed for using an un-unionized contractor. The person complained that they had a good relationship with the contractor and didn't want to switch just because these unions were picketing. Andy pointed out that the contractor would probably walk down the street and jump up and down if the company told them to. Why not tell the contractor to get unionized. It is the responsibility of the company to help the workers in the contractor and encourage them to become unionized.

I grew up in a fairly liberal environment and I heard a lot of war stories from union organizers. I've also seen union organizers abusing their power. Like Andy, I believe that their benefits outweigh their cost and that we should be thinking about how to reinvent them. They have developed a tainted image over the years and hopefully Andy can help change that. I support Andy in his efforts and believe that people like him may be able to save the Democratic party of the US by talking to the concerns of the working class instead of alienating them.

Hilary Rosen [WP], the former president and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is guest blogging over at Lawrence Lessig's blog.

She follows Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, on the slate of excellent guest bloggers during Larry's summer vacation. has done a re-design and has fully integrated with Audioscrobbler. You can tag music now too. Good job guys.

Disclaimer: They are friends and I've been "helping them out" a bit... Not that I should get ANY credit for the great stuff they are doing.

Jet lag woke me up at 4AM today and I've been sitting in my cabin in the high altitude mountains of Utah reading blogs and chatting with people. I just finished chatting with reverend AKMA about my last post, trying to see if there was something similar to good theologians and open source leaders. We talked about the importance of humility and the risks of greed. (AKMA pointed out that he was by far the most humble person on the planet.) I noticed that my thoughts seem to be somewhat more spiritual than usual.

Then I remembered reading somewhere that there was a scientific study that showed that people were more likely to have spiritual experiences in high altitudes due to the lack of oxygen. They theorized that maybe a lot of enlightenment in the past occurred on mountains because of this. (A bit disconcerting to think that a lot of our theological thought comes from the asphyxiation of hermits.) But then I remembered another article I read somewhere that said that 20% of all scientific studies are wrong. Then AKMA reminded me that according to David Weinberger, 78% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

I know it's very un-bloggy of me not to have the links to the articles I cite, but I'm late for breakfast. I'll try to dig them up later, but if anyone has the links, I'd really appreciate it if you could put them in the comments.

UPDATE from Cameo: Why revelations have occurred on mountains? Linking mystical experiences and cognitive neuroscience.

One of the great things about going to OSCON was getting to know some of the interesting people involved in the various open source projects. The OSI team and Mitchell Baker, the Chief Lizard Wrangler of the Mozilla Foundation introduced me to a lot of people in the context of having joined both of their boards recently.

One meeting that Mitchell set up was with Allison Randal - the president of the Perl Foundation, Zak Greant - the former MySQL AB Community Advocate, and Cliff Schmidt who until recently managed standards and open source strategy for BEA's WebLogic Workshop product. Since we are going through various changes right now at the Mozilla Foundation, Mitchell has been talking to various people to try to get thoughts on how successful open source projects are managed. She's trying to get as much input as possible to as the Mozilla Foundation grows and transforms. I've recently been invited into the conversation and it is fascinating.

This particular meeting, which reflected some of the wonder I felt during all of OSCON, was an eye opener. Mitchell asked everyone to introduced themselves and explain their roles and what was required in their roles. Allison was first and Mitchell recalls on her blog that it went something like this:

mitchell's blog
So, for example, what does it take to guide a foundation, as Allison does? Well, it takes a sense of people, and good intuition for what sorts of seemingly simple topics are likely to generate giant tensions if not handled delicately. It takes knowing when to let an issue fade away and when to make sure it is completely resolved. It takes an ability to find a common ground, and enough presence (or trust, or reputation, or *something*) to get people to consider that common ground.
It turns out that everyone had job descriptions and skills that were quite similar.

This reminds me of the Leader-Follower essay by Dee Hock - the founder of VISA. (You should read the whole thing.)

True leaders are those who epitomize the general sense of the community — who symbolize, legitimize, and strengthen behavior in accordance with the sense of the community — who enable its conscious, shared values and beliefs to emerge, expand, and be transmitted from generation to generation-who enable that which is trying to happen to come into being. The true leader's behavior is induced by the behavior of every individual who chooses where they will be led.
His notion of leadership is bottom-up, community and coordination oriented and not focused on the exercise of authority.

What I saw in the leaders of open source projects and in the communities in general was a very strong sense of this kind of leadership. Open source projects have their share of politics and petty problems and clearly leaders of other types of organization do and should exhibit these sorts of leadership traits. However, I definitely saw something special in these open source leaders which reminded me of the leaders that Dee Hock described. They had strong ethics, were humble, were extremely sensitive of the needs of their community and lead more through coordination and management of processes than through exercise of authority. This was in stark contract to some of the conversations I have had at various CEO forums where people talked about "human resources" as if they were cogs and seemed to feel that the CEO had some divine right to more money and more power. Again, I would add that there are a great number of exceptions in both groups, but generally speaking, the conversations with the open source leaders made me feel like I was seeing the future of organizations compared to my experience with CEOs of normal for-profit companies.

I think that the Mozilla Foundation and the success of open source is a test and will be an example of a new kind of organizational management style which I believe will have lessons applicable to all kinds of organizations. (Note: DBA tag.) Enlightened leaders in other areas are also developing methods that involve treating their staff, customers and other stakeholders as a communities, but this still appears to be the exception, not the norm.

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