Blog post

The Middle East Riots Are A Lesson For All Enterprises: May the Power Be with Us

By Andrea Di Maio | February 19, 2011 | 5 Comments

social networks in government

Over the last few weeks we have heard about riots in Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia, Algeria, Bahrain and more, mostly powered by the disruptive role of social media like Twitter and Facebook, to the point that in many cases governments have been forced to block Internet access.
In Italy, where the ruling premier has a strong hold on traditional media, initiatives in support of the DAs indicting him are flourishing on social media, creating a horizontal wave that cuts across established parties and organizations.
All these examples point in the same direction. The power shifts from organizations to individuals. The way every one of us decides to access, produce, share, rate information is entirely up to us.
This is clearly having an effect well beyond these high profile cases of democratic upheaval.

  • Clients can gather direct information about suppliers from other clients, without having to rely on case studies or references provided by those suppliers.
  • Associations that are in the business of providing information and lobbying government are challenged by informal network of individuals who have a common interest and can establish tigher a more flexible connections than through those same associations.
  • Employees do not need to go to their HR department nor to their union representatives to know their rights and claim for a change of working conditions. If they are disgruntled about their boss, they can profile him or her through all the traces left on various social media, and build evidence that may put him ir her in a difficult situation.
  • Students who have doubts about a test evaluation or simply an answer to their question, can instantly socialize that question or test result with thousand students and hundred teachers, and challenge their own.
  • Patients or their relatives can collect and socialize evidence to sue doctors for malpractice much more easily (and inexpensively) than ever before.
  • Employees may avoid using corporate tools that they dislike and choose consumer tools instead, socializing information and processes in new ways that break the boundaries of their organizations.

The list is endless. What technology is doing is to give everyone of us the power to decide. Those who cheer at how it is challenging undemocratic regimes in far away countries had better prepare for when their organization will be challenged and how they may be unseated as business managers, suppliers, CIOs, policy-makers, HR managers, procurement officers….

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  • Alex Howard says:

    I wonder how your clients will feel about your decision to relate revolution back to businesses.

    The use of “riots” is certainly interesting. There’s an important semantic difference between that terms and protests. See: peaceful assembly. Do you think “riots” would have seen the ouster of Mubarak or Ben Ali? That Egyptian army would have tolerated true rioting?

    It’s interesting as well that you say that what is happening is “mostly powered by social media.” Most Middle East analysts I’ve talked to, including those at State, look at the structural causes of high unemployment, food prices and corruption. As many reports have, it appear correctly, cited, the Internet and social media have played a role but when thousands of young humans stay on the streets and stand up thugs or water cannons, it’s more accurate to say this is people-powered. Technology acts as an accelerant and amplifier, not root cause.

  • @Alex – “powered by” does not mean “driven by”. You need fuel to power a car or a plane but they won’t move until somebody turn on the engine and give full throttle. As I have said countless times, social media is a means not and an end, nor a cause.
    There protests or peaceful assemblies are considered riots by the rulers, pretty much like the indictment for having sex with an underage girl is considered as an unlawful attack by our prime minister.
    I am mostly interested in the perspective of those who get disrupted. Do people realize that social media will power (not drive) a revolution in the workplace. Doesn’t matter how peaceful, it may really change the way many enterprises operate, and in quite a few cases, threaten their existence.

  • Monica L says:

    I agree with your thoughts. Social media is the channel that made all these changes in the middle east possible. It’s obviously not the cause but the channel that people used to share their anger and decide to act.

    And this is obviously a lesson to learn for companies. If you don’t use these channels, you don’t exist.

  • Andrea – timely thought provoking post. I couldn’t agree more with your observations. Unless organizational design in tech companies changes radically in the coming years, we are going to see one or both of the two: 1) more of the same (e.g. shelfware, low levels of innovation, market and metrics manipulation by incumbents), 2) a free agent nation (more individuals opting out of the system to work in a free world they can easily create and energize at a fraction of previous costs)

    How to tackle the situation? Letting Gen Y lead a management takeover (see HBR post by HCL CEO Vineet Nayar is one idea.

    Reforming performance reviews is another. I blogged about this aspect of managerial incompetence prevalent in large companies for my blog today: Frustrated with your annual performance review?

    But as you observe, power shift is real and happening. A revolution in organizational design is about time.

  • Saeed says:


    Libya is misspelled in your first line. 🙂 You have it as “Lybia”.