How is your organization faring in the war of control vs. freedom?

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Two different business organization charts

In October 1969, when experts at the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) connected the first two nodes of what has now become the Internet, they probably weren’t considering the ramifications of their actions on future organizational cultures. But while these DARPA folks likely wouldn’t have considered themselves management innovators, the Internet they created has rocked the traditional management science to its core.

Sure, organizations have embraced the technological changes that have come with the Internet (or they have not, and have since disappeared). But fewer organizations have truly embraced or even begun to understand the cultural changes that the Internet has ushered in.

We may live in 2011, but given how many of our organizations are structured, we might just as well be working in 1911.

Fundamentally, traditional management and the Internet are at odds over one simple thing:

Traditional management is designed for control. The Internet is designed for freedom.

That’s why the principles used to manage assembly line workers in 1911 are often rejected in 2011 by a new generation of employees who have grown up enveloped in the freedom of the Internet. To them, the old management model is an anachronism; a legacy system held onto by an aging generation of leaders who are unwilling to give up control because they see freedom as a threat.

In volunteer-based community settings, efforts to exert control are often poisonous. Volunteers will simply quit before being forced to do something they don’t believe in or value. Yet in traditional organizational settings, control—over people, resources, and information—is a fundamental lever.

If you'd like to see your organization become more aligned with the spirit of the Internet than the legacy of traditional management, consider looking for places to replace control-based practices with freedom-based practices.

If you manage people, start thinking of your staff members as volunteers in a community. By giving them more freedom to choose things they'd like to work on while giving them additional say in their own futures, you stand a better chance of keeping them feeling like... well... paid volunteers.

When employees are forced to work on projects they haven't chosen, and don’t believe in or value, they may not actually quit their jobs, but they will often quit in every other way—doing just enough to get by and keep their job safe, or in some cases even undermining the effort.

Often this is a fate worse than having them quit. They become organizational drones, complacent, indifferent, and dispassionate. They’ll stop contributing ideas because they think no one cares. They’ll stop giving full effort because they think it doesn’t matter.

Replacing control with freedom is a great way to inspire your employees to view themselves as volunteers, deeply engaged in achieving the organization’s goals, rather than drones or mercenaries, who seek only safety and a regular paycheck.

Moving from control to freedom is one of the most difficult transitions an organization (or even just a manager) can make. This transition requires much more than simply a good strategy for change—it requires a will to change. Those in charge—the very people who have the most to lose by giving up control—must make a decision that granting freedom is a strategic imperative. The competitive landscape is littered with the carcasses of formerly successful organizations whose management team did not know how—or didn’t have the will—to make the leap.

The strategic decision to change a control-based culture into a freedom-based culture is not one that leaders should take lightly, and it is not necessarily right for every organization in every situation. But in order to compete with companies born in the age of the Internet, employing the children of the Internet, and built in the spirit of the Internet, in the long term there may be few other options.

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Chris Grams is the Head of Marketing at Tidelift and author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World. Twitter LinkedIn Email: chris(at)


Thanks for this article. There is fantastic potential in freedom based cultures versus control based cultures. We've seen it work in Open Source projects and the potential for creativity is pretty amazing.

ROFL! This article is based on fake assumptions and results in hilarious so-called "results".

Internet has never been designed to be 'free', it's been designed for Defense needs of connection redundancy.
...And the Internet model doesn't have much to do with the decision of leaving a job. It's always been the same thing, if you do not agree with the direction of some work, you'll just get bored and just leave before burning out (but I trust you might make an article explaining how "burn-out" is *caused* by the influence of FOSS...).

Basically, work organization hasn't changed, the expression of hierarchy is only somehow different in IT, where it's easy to move niftily from a company to another when you start getting bored or not value any longer what you're doing. Freedom-based has nothing to do with it, it's just moving is easier (and somehow compulsory for a successful career).

Not sure where you got that strange idea?

When human beings are made to feel as if their opinions and performance make a real difference, unless they have social problems their natural response is to do better so as to make a bigger difference. It's that easy, plain and simple. If a company is not hiring people who can be motivated with an incentive of personal fulfillment, that company should re-evaluate its hiring practices.

I totally agree that you work much better (and harder) when you believe in what you're doing.
Yet, regarding the contents of this article, that has nothing to do with freedom and internet (which itself has nothing to do with freedom either).
Actually, hierarchical system is the one working best for large entities, the "sipder web" flat organization having results in small to medium entities, the drawback being everyone (from the employee to the boss) will need to do someone else's work at some time - for redundancy purposes at least. That is possible for a very small company, where everybody has to do everything by oneself (because of costs or obvious lack of resources), but such organization is pointless when the company is growing: it needs leaders & coordinated command to avoid collapsing.

Get real!

Marabiloso, sounds like you have strong opinions on this stuff, so I won't attempt to sway you otherwise. I do want to add a few thoughts to explain my statement in the post that the Internet is designed for freedom... I think you may have taken it differently than I intended.

What I meant by that is the fundamental design of the Internet was such that a piece of data could take multiple routes to get from its origin to its destination, rather than being restricted to one predetermined route; that, in my mind, gives it "freedom." While my understanding is this was originally designed in as a way of helping the network better deal with disasters or disruptions, it has led to a larger cultural effect, as I've articulated. The Wikipedia description of the Internet history does a nice job explaining the history behind some of this:

Another article I'll point out that I think is cut from the same cloth... Douglas Rushkoff had a nice editorial on the CNN website yesterday about how the media is deeply misunderstanding the Wall Street protests and the motivations of the protesters:

From the article:

"What upsets banking's defenders and politicians alike is the refusal of this movement to state its terms or set its goals in the traditional language of campaigns.

That's because, unlike a political campaign designed to get some person in office and then close up shop (as in the election of Obama), this is not a movement with a traditional narrative arc. As the product of the decentralized networked-era culture, it is less about victory than sustainability. It is not about one-pointedness, but inclusion and groping toward consensus. It is not like a book; it is like the Internet."

Thanks for commenting!



Another article I'll point out that I think is cut from the same cloth... Douglas Rushkoff had a nice editorial on the <a href="">dekorasyon</a> website yesterday about how the media is deeply misunderstanding the Wall Street protests and the motivations of the protesters:

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