Panoptic Tension

Peter Kim says that since he left Forrester about six weeks ago, people have been telling him that his blog has gotten a lot more interesting. And it has. Just look at the explosion in comments and reader engagement. He claims the increase in interestingness was due to an expansion of his thinking while building a new company.

That’s only partly true. Forrester’s a great organization, but, like any, it’s going through significant growing pains as it adapts to a new world. A world reshaped by democratized publishing (aka “social media”), independent voices and open dialogue. For the record, I’m not singling out Forrester in face of its “authority in social technologies” – I happen to be routing for them.  This is a tough and growing strategic issue for everyone.

The fact is that Forrester, for right or wrong, like ALL corporations, heralds various controls over its members. Even with the best intentions, this can result in various forms of restraint, frustration and, sometimes, paranoia. It’s often so subtle and hush-hush that members relegate it to back-office quibbling, if not their subconscious.

Sometimes, members acknowledge and accept it. Other times, members decide there’s a cultural misalignment, so they try to move on. Some members are more autonomous and entrepreneurial, and this phenomenon will drive more of them to act on those passions.

Peter mentioned to me the Panopticon. According to Wikipedia, the Panopticon is:

…a type of prison building designed by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1785. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the prisoners being able to tell whether they are being watched, thereby conveying what one architect has called the “sentiment of an invisible omniscience.”

That’s an important metaphor for many business cultures. The Internet will drive unprecedented consciousness of the many subtle Panoptic qualities — in business and government institutions. Once-silent voices, which the Internet now amplifies, are causing great tension.

On one hand, more open and visible voices create greater opportunity for Panoptic structures. On the other, the freedom and independence inherent in open discourse disrupts the core assumption of control.

It’s like water landing in hot oil – they just don’t go together! We’re in the middle of a major sizzle.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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