Author Malcolm Gladwell appeared at SHRM’s 2012 annual conference in Atlanta today to talk about generational diversity and how Millennials are different from previous generations.
The gist of his argument is that we’re in the middle of a fundamental shift in how people communicate with each other, and this has spawned a new type of social organization.according to Susan Avello at HR Virtual Cafe.
He focused on the differences between Occupy Wall Street and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.
OWS didn’t have a leader and it didn’t even follow a single set of ideas. There was not real structure to it — just a “general assembly” system. Everybody in OWS had a say, but there was a complete lack of organizational hierarchy. It was one big social network.
Gladwell explained that the civil rights movement as set up by its leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a classic hierarchy, according to John Hollon at TLNT. It was “disciplined” and “centralized,” with one person in charge and a distinct strategy set by the leadership team.
Is the OWS-style social organization effective for a movement? How about a business?
Companies have long been built around hierarchies. Some may be more bureaucratic and others may have less management layers, but there has always been someone — or a group of people — in charge. They’re there to present a vision, and help their workers achieve those goals.
In the end, it was that total lack of hierarchy that prevented OWS from prompting large-scale change, according to Gladwell.
“One form is not better than the other,” said Gladwell. “They’re two different forms with very different sets of strengths and weaknesses … Networks may start revolutions, but they can’t finish them. Our job is to remind Millennials of the importance of hierarchies as well as networks.”