The Internet is a Beauty and a Beast?

Reflect on how the nature of work is changing due to the web and implications to leadership.  In particular, what take aways do you take from Shirky’s talk and leadership in today’s world.  Is “open” a given in leadership today? 


As the United States moved to the information age, the internet changed the nature of work.  Specific to discipline of business, corporations became more efficient and globally connected through advances in web technology.  To start, a shift in work from employees to customers made corporations more efficient.  Friedman (2007) describes the self-directed consumer whereby companies create platforms that allow customers to serve themselves in their own way on their own time.  Along the same lines, customers today book flights, order tickets for a professional sporting event, or send flowers to a significant other anytime online.  Turning to the author’s organization in financial services, another example of Friedman’s (2007) self-directed consumer is when investors setup individual retirement accounts (IRA) online, provide e-signatures to legally authorize the accounts, and supply instructions to begin deductions from the investor’s bank accounts.  Prior to the web, this workflow required mountains of paperwork, involved numerous employees, and took several weeks to complete.  Fast forward to today, investors complete the new IRA account process in a few days.  Furthermore, opening an IRA is just one of the many workflows, previously done by employees, which investors complete on the internet today.  Ostensibly, the internet reduced cycle time, improved productivity, and thereby made the company more efficient.      

On a global picture, the internet made the world smaller by connecting people in different countries through Friedman’s (2007) universal platform for multiple forms of sharing work and knowledge.  As a byproduct of the collapse, Friedman (2007) provides the fiber optic cables laid across the ocean enabled global connectivity and companies who did not previously have access to employees in different countries now connect and collaborate with each other.  To illustrate, the author’s company has international operations in Asia, Australia, Canada, Continental Europe, Mexico, South America, and the United Kingdom; employees communicate easily across the globe through the internet using tools such as email, instant messenger, and video conferencing.  However, business leaders in the workplace today must be more skilled in interacting with people from different cultures.  Friedman (2007) provides globalization means everyone is not going to look, speak, and think the same.     


Staying with connectivity, a downside of the internet on work is that employees never get away.  Gartner (2010) provides work will happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week (“Gartner 10 work changes,” 2010).  Similarly, technology connects the author to his workplace all the time.  Armed with a blackberry and laptop computer loaded with programs needed to do his job, the author has nowhere to hide and the expectation of his clients is that he is available any time of the day including weekends, holidays, and vacations!  Due to the constant connectivity, the blending of work and family occurs.  In contrast, his father escaped the workplace when he physically left the office.  To combat burnout, leaders should seek opportunities to unplug from the world (Friedman, 2007) to get respite and return to work refreshed and invigorated!    

Another downside is some American’s skills became too expensive or obsolete.  The pressure is on American workers to perform or risk employment.  To illustrate, a potential impact of outsourcing is American workers lose their jobs to foreign countries.  Friedman (2007) provides parts of work that can be done cheaper in other countries will be outsourced there.  As another example, the author has a New York City law firm as a client who recently shared the advances in technology around email, automated dictation, and electronic scanning of documents made administrative assistants irrelevant to first and second year attorneys.  Similar to Friedman’s (2007) self-directed consumer, these attorneys prefer to complete the work themselves through technology.  As a result, the firm let go several administrative assistants because their skills were obsolete.  Being laid off can be a traumatic life event; however, it also may present opportunities.


Advances in technology and the internet created opportunities for the type of work employees do.  To explain, Gartner (2010) states the de-routinization of work is where employees value add is not in a process that can be automated but in the non-routine processes that are uniquely human, analytical, or interactive (“Gartner 10 work changes,” 2010).  The author observes the movement to value added services as a big opportunity for his organization.  To illustrate, returning to the aforementioned IRA example, the internet enabled the process to remove human interaction.  As a result, the company’s employees freed up to perform more value added services.  To hone employee skills, the company educated and infused Certified Financial Planners throughout its business to answer complex questions investors have about IRAs.  In this work environment, employees must continuously adapt and evolve or risk being left behind and leaders must be forthright with the plans for employees.  How has the internet changed your organization?   


With the ever-evolving nature of business shaped by technology and changes in consumer tastes, leaders today operate in an environment of constant change.  Therefore, a leader’s role is to provide transparency and a vision of the future to followers.  To illustrate, many employees at the author’s company were concerned when the internet started to perform tasks previously done by employees.  Historically, the company has a policy of not laying employees off and the CEO reiterates this message to employees.  However, he does not guarantee employees will do the same job as they might today.  Thus, the CEO’s transparency is critical in employees understanding the rules of the game! 


Shirky (2012) provides how open source programming can change democracy.  In reflecting on Shirky (2012), the author’s take away is that Shirky’s (2012) form of arguing is evident in business.  To illustrate, companies and entrepreneurs provide products and services to the marketplace.  Customers have a voice by choosing whether to purchase the product or service.  Moreover, customers contact the company through its website, telephone, or social media to provide feedback.  The implication to business leaders is that they must act as what Shirky’s (2012) calls a GIT or version control to listen to customer feedback and make changes if necessary.  Shirky (2012) would point out a limitation is this form of GIT is not distributed.  However, companies own the rights to its products and services.  In essence, a leader brings order in the many customer voices from chaos and thereby improves the product or service.    

Shirky (2012) defines open as if you do an experiment and publish a claim, people do not trust you unless you show them how you did the experiment.  In contrast, Coca-Cola does not provide customers with the special formula to make the beverage.  Yet, Coca-Cola would claim it offers the best soft drink in the world and customers trust Coca-Cola.  Similarly, the author’s company does not provide the mathematical equation for indexing mutual funds.  His organization claims it is the best indexer and investors trust his organization manages the mutual funds with prudence.  However, business leaders who violate the public’s trust should consider Shirky’s (2012) openness.  For example, British Petroleum was transparent with its plans when faced with the crisis of cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  It investigated the incident, provided a report of what happened, and communicated a plan to fix the issue.  The implication for leadership is that customers trust you until they receive information that changes their mind.  Friedman (2007) provides we are all paparazzi with our cell phone cameras and everybody is fair game and news.  With the prevalence of smartphones with cameras, video, and internet access, companies are wise to practice Shirky’s (2012) openness during a time of crisis.  What do you think?  


Friedman, T. L. (2007). The world is flat (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Picador.

Gartner says the world of work will witness 10 changes during the next 10 years. (2010). Retrieved from

Shirky, C. (2012, September 25). How the internet will (one day) transform government [Video file]. Retrieved from


11 thoughts on “The Internet is a Beauty and a Beast?

  1. I must admit! The title to your post caught my eye and after reading, I can understand why. You raise some excellent points, some of which resonates with me as a leader in my own organization. I do concur that leaders (i.e., like myself) must unplug themselves from the world. This helps to establish balance amongst himself/herself and employees. Blackberry, iPhones, iPads, and other mobile devices have us constantly connected and in the zone to review messages and of course, immediately respond. For the recipient, he/she may interpret our response to mean that they too are required to take immediate action or offer some feedback prior to returning to work. I’ve actually had staff ask when does the work cease.
    When I was first appointed to my present position, I recall sending out emails on the weekend and late evening hours. While it was never my intent to motivate staff for an immediate response, I had to remember that everyone wanted to please their supervisor and, thus, sought to respond immediately. It is this ongoing interaction which also contributes to one losing great employees to other employers. I must say that I have learned and toned such down significantly.

    • “…toned such down…” – Great insight. What seems mundane and no issue to us can be stress creating for our employees.

      Reminds me of an Air Force General I worked for at the Pentagon who while walking through a base remarked that he thought a building would look nice if it was another color…then discovered teams painting it the next day. His “opinion” was more powerful than he realized.

      • Hi Kbess, Dr. Watwood, and Mo, I wanted to share that in reading across silos of the our peers posts, a theme of balance was apparent. I think it applies to the continuous state of connectivity in which we find ourselves.

        To illustrate, I had a friend of mine who got divorced and asked her what was the one thing she learned from her marriage. She quickly replied that I will have balance in my next marriage. I asked what do you mean? She said that she would get upset with her ex-husband for golfing seven days a week and let him know it. In reflecting, she said she should have communicated the concept of balance to him and negotiate to 2 or 3 days of golf.

        I never forgot our discussion and think it applies to the situation of our 24×7 world. To sum, balance is key! What do you think? Regards, Peter

  2. Peter,
    You make a great point regarding continuously being connected to work causes burnout. I think this is something that leaders need to be mind full of with their own work as well as their employees to prevent burnout for either one. Just a few weeks ago our team was under tremendous pressure to meet the customer’s timelines and there was no time for any interruptions. Our division head pulled fifty people from our department together to participate in a pumpkin carving contest as part of fund raising efforts for united way and ordered Pizza for lunch for everyone. Prior to this, we thought we would skip the event so that we can meet our deadline; however, after the event we were so glad we participated. It was unbelievable how effective this one hour, getting away from work to do some fun and creative work, was on reducing stress. This was a great post with numerous leadership lesson.
    Thank you Peter.

  3. Peter, interesting analysis in your post. I tend to agree with Shirky when it comes to the negative impact of the web on workers jobs. In many ways, it mirrors the angst created in scribes when the printing press came out. The Catholic Church railed against the printing press as putting scribes out of work. However, before the printing press, there was little actual creation of works…scribes primarily copied existing works. After the printing press, when the cost of publishing dropped, there was an explosion of creation and new jobs were created as a result (education, science, etc.). So, as you point out, with each potential loss lies an opportunity…and the opportunities are growing.

    • Hi Dr. Watwood, I concur. I believe that out of adversity can come opportunity! I see it with my friends who have been laid off and started companies. One thing I would love to see is the economy start to hit on all cylinders and employ some of the people on the sidelines. When that happens, the opportunities grow exponentially! What do you think? Regards, Peter

  4. Peter- you covered a lot of ground in your post! So, do you have any recommendations on dealing with the expectation to always be connected (and subsequent overstimulation, as described by Gartner)? I agree with the Gartner analysis that the difference between professional and personal is becoming more blurred because technology keeps us constantly connected (if we choose).

    This reminds of a useful book, The Power of Less (, that read a few years ago. The author, Leo Babauta, advises to work while disconnected, with no distractions. This is easier said than done. He is on target when saying that “technology has given us powerful tools, but an incredible overload of information and tasks, and as a result, we are increasingly busy and stressed, producing more than ever before but with less free time for things we love doing.”

    I’m not sure that I have any answers, but it does seem to be a potential problem that will only become magnified as technology continues to advance. Thanks -Rob

    • Hi Rob, the book looks awesome! I will have to check it out!

      I do have a suggestion. Take a vacation where you do not have access to the outside world. For example, my peer at work went to one of the Islands a few weeks ago where his work blackberry and computer would not work! He said it was awesome to just relax with his family and detox! What do you think?


  5. Interesting, Peter. On the one hand, it is good to pull away from the melee at times, but I find that is best done on one’s own terms. If I had to put my work aside to carve pumpkins for an hour, you would hear the squeal of brakes on the pavement. Yet, if I had planned the respite, I would have enjoyed it. I did that in Ireland this past summer. I spent most of my time going around talking with people, friends and strangers alike, and it was quite wonderful. I feel that socialization suffers from too much time spent with gadgets. I notice that with my students. Not too long ago, one blurry-eyed student came to school bragging that he had spent the entire weekend playing some computer game while watching every episode ever made of “Walker Texas Ranger.” No, he didn’t do his homework. How his grades would improve if he took notes on his iPad at school and incorporated those into his work at home!

    • Hi Moirawalsh, Thank you for your comments. One question, do I hear summer school in the student’s future? Friedman (2007) discussed the falling behind of American students compared to other countries such as Asia and India. Being in business, I do not have a point of reference working in business, what is your experience? Sorry, that was two questions. 🙂 Regards, Peter


      Friedman, T. L. (2007). The world is flat (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Picador.

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