Monday, August 24, 2009

Leadership, Ethics, and Online Collaboration

I was re-invited by Dr. Paul Wu (NTU, School of Communication and Information) to be in their Professional Seminar series, held last Saturday. Instead of speaking (as was the case in the previous two years) I was asked to be part of a panel discussion on "Leadership, Ethics and Collaborative Culture".

My two other panelists were Professor Cheong Hee Kiat (President, SIM University) and Mr. Heng Chiang Gnee (ex-CEO of SembCorp Environment). I wonder how many students wondered, like me, what this simple librarian was doing there, in light of these two very distinguished gentlemen!

Prior to the session, students viewed our talks from last year (recorded on video). I thought this was an excellent way of re-using content. Prof. Cheong spoke on Leadership, Mr. Heng on Ethics. My talk was on Librarians 2.0 (social media, librarians, collaborative culture).

Reading the programme theme made me wonder what was the connection between leadership, ethics and online collaboration. As I shared during my brief introduction for the panel discussion, the linkages seem to be this:
  • Collaborating and participating online is a demonstration personal leadership; and
  • To do it well requires one to exercise (our own) ethics
I've overly simplified things. So here's more. Before the session, I had typed a longer elaboration into my mobile phone. I didn't get to elaborate on those points, so I'll post them here (with some additional points after hearing Prof Cheng and Mr. Heng). BTW, much of what you'll read next is largely based on personal opinions rather than research. In anycase, feel free to critique and comment.

Online Collaboration
While human societies have been collaborating for centuries, I would suggest that online collaboration is a new phenomenon. And a different game altogether.

The Internet has only been with us for about 15 years, since 1995. Most of those years has been about communication like email and website publishing (the latter seems to be centred on Business-to-Business and Business-to-Consumer models).

Then social media came into the scene in the last five years or so, e.g. blogs, photo and video sharing. One can say social media is still about communication and publishing, albeit on a more individualised and personal way. But I think that planted the roots for greater individual participation and collaboration.

I don't think we're not seeing a lot of online collaboration at the moment. Of course, how one defines "collaboration" is arguable. I just don't think we're there yet.

But I'm confident we will see online collaboration on a greater scale. Particularly when we consider movements and trends like Mashups, Creative Commons and remixing (think "ccMixter").

The next wave will be about a non-explicit type of collaboration, or serendipitous collaboration, I think. Where you share content online with the intent of it being reused and you don't really know who will make use of it, or how.

Of course one may ask, "Why participate and collaborate?"

Exercising Personal Leadership
My claim is that participating online is an exercise in personal leadership. It is less about formal power that comes with formal roles but more with increasing one's Expert, Charismatic and Reference power (see Power Control Theory).

For instance,when this ex-A*Star researcher-now-turned taxi driver started his blog, particularly after the local papers ran his story, he probably became the de facto voice for all Singapore cabbies overnight. Without planning to be one, he is a leader in his own way. It started with him participating online by starting his blog.

But starting a blog (or a Facebook, Flickr or YouTube account) is one thing. How do you do it well. Or at the very basic level, how do you stay out of trouble? That's where ethics come in.

Ethics, values and online reputation
Ethics is about one's values, translated into conduct. In the online world, what matters the most is one's reputation.

Or to put in another way, in the online world, all we really have is our reputation.

How we act online can make or break our real-life reputation. Increasingly, we don't have participate online to have our real world reputation broken. All the sex scandals/ online sxposés have proven that. Citizen-journalism (or some might say, Net-savvy Kapoh citizens) is here to stay.

The world is our Ethics Panel.

The "Leadership-Ethics-Collaborative Culture" connection
Why participate and collaborate?

Because to do so is a demonstration of one's personal leadership. And to do it well (as defined by others) would depend on how we translate our ethics -- our values and moral principles -- into actions. On and offline.

There's another connection.

Not all of us want to "participate online" by starting our blogs or post videos to YouTube. Nonetheless, we will become online participants whether we like it or not. It doesn't have to be scandals. It starts at the instant a friend or family member shares a photo online, with us in it.

For those who make the conscious choice, the value we derive from our online activities would depend on our personal values and beliefs. Not in a religious sense. But the sort of values and beliefs that a greater good may come out of what we share online.

1 comment:

  1. Online collaboration is indeed a growing and relevant to working, teaching and more. I would like to draw your attention to - a free web-meeting service that requires no installation.

    I think your audience - people who work a lot with documents will benefit from using this free service.

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