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“Technology over Tyranny” managing in a flat world

by Mark P. McDonald  |  June 17, 2009  |  1 Comment

Technology over tyranny” was the phase that Daniel Shore used in his commentary on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered today June 17th 2009. (link:   Shore’s commentary points to the use of technology as a means of overcoming political oppression – from radio and television broadcasts of the Cold War era to the internet based social tools like Twitter and Facebook that are shaping current events. 

This is not a political treatise rather an observation. 

There will be a myriad of other stories related to how protestors and other social movements are using the web to achieve new levels of organization and coordination.  That story is not new – consider the “Committees of Correspondence” in colonial America using the new communications technology called the postal service.  

These examples all share a common thread — namely the use of technology to create new management practices, processes and tools. 

Managing in a Flat World

Every new technology creates new opportunities to conduct the basic activities of management and organization.  This means new ways of performing basic functions such as:

  • Accumulating and allocating resources
  • Coordinating and controlling activities
  • Motivating and aligning efforts

These are all traditional management activities that rely on a hierarchical organization structure – someone being in charge.  The only problem is that the environment we live in is increasingly “flat” as Friedman puts it.

A flat world is a without hierarchy but not a world without shape.  In fact it’s a world of potentially infinite shapes.  Think of a flat piece of paper and origami and you get the idea.

That is where tyranny comes into the picture, or more accurately the opposition to Tyranny that provides an organizing purpose and shape to the community. This is one example of the dialect tension created by these tools.  A tension that will probably be with us long after these tools pass into distant memory.

The challenge is not how to control this energy as it cannot be readily bottled, blocked or controlled even if you shut down the web.

The challenge is how you create the right shape within your society, econmy or company and the right energy among your customers, suppliers and other trading partners.

Technology provides tools that can overcome tyranny as well as tools that aid in control and oppression.  It is up to us to find the right shape and focus the energy that are increasingly available through web based tools to form our society, economy and companies.

For as surly as the postal service was the technology of the 18th century, the telegraph and telephone in the 19th and the internet at the end of the 20th – there will be new technologies that will require new ways of managing.

An Open Invitation to an Open Special Research Project

The use of techhnology for management innovation is the focus of a special research project within Gartner Executive Programs that is being co-led by Gary Hamel and the Management Lab (link: We are at the start of this project and we want to use new tools to conduct the research in new ways — more about that in latter blog entries. 

We are looking at the relationship between new technologies and the creation of innovative new management approaches.  We are looking for case studies, examples of organizations (not necessarily companies) who are changing the way they manage through new technologies.

Interested in participating?  Please feel free to send me an email at and the team will be happy to continue the conversation.

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Category: leadership  personal-observation  tools  web-20  

Tags: business-leadership  future-of-management  innovation  it-and-business  management-innovation  

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program.

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