Authority and control

It has been fascinating watching events unfold in Egypt and of all the quotes this one from The Guardian summed up best, for me, what was remarkable:

"For 18 days we have withstood teargas, rubber bullets, live ammunition, Molotov cocktails, thugs on horseback, the scepticism and fear of our loved ones, and the worst sort of ambivalence from an international community that claims to care about democracy," said Karim Medhat Ennarah, a protester with tears in his eyes. "But we held our ground. We did it"

One of the most interesting things about Egypt was what can be achieved by vast numbers of people with no overt leadership or common ideology if they get hacked off enough with the status quo. The arguments as to how much impact the web and Twitter had on events will run and run. For me it is not so much that the tools brought about these changes but that they were happening anyway and we have tools that maybe made them happen a little bit faster and easier.

The issue of control, or rather perceived loss of it, is one that comes up all the time in talking about enterprise use of social tools. It fascinates me that those asking the question feel so apprehensive. What are they so afraid of? Will their employees really run amuck if given access to Facebook at work? Do people only put in productive days' work because management are keeping them under control? And anyway - do those "in charge" of organisations really have that much control - or do they just have the outward appearance of it?

Control is diffucult to maintain if enough people want things to change - even if you resort to the threat of violence. Authority on other hand can be earned and enhanced through influence. How about trying to increase your influence through the use of social tools rather than banning them? If you are worried about security why not start blogging about why security matters and how to be secure? If you are concerned about time wasting start a forum discussion on productivity and what it looks and feels like?

Mubarak faced an apparently unstoppable desire for change. I believe that many businesses will face the same desire over the next few years. Not caused by social tools but enhanced by them. Maybe Mubarak might have lasted longer if he had had a better social media policy - maybe you will too?