We see this pattern over and over again – people are looking to reform some part of government, and they speak out. Instead of figuring out how to listen, the government decides that the people have too much free speech, and hilarity does not ensue. This week I wrote about this trend in Quebec with the Charest government’s passage of Law 78, which would require people in groups of 50 or more to register their protests with the police at least eight hours in advance – resulting in a major expansion of the protests.
But a more recent example is in Scotland, where a nine-year old girl decided to photograph her school lunch to show the world just how disturbing it is when compared with the far more palatable meals served in Spain, Israel and Germany. Her blog, Never Seconds, was taking off in the blogosphere, highlighting just how gnarly the food is in Scottish public schools, when she was yanked from her math class to be told by her school principal that the solution to the bad publicity was to forbid her from bringing a camera to school. Nice – she’s merely documenting what the school asks her to put in her belly as a growing child, and the school’s answer is that she has too much freedom of speech.
But watch what happens next. The media gets a hold of this obviously terrible story, and within hours the school bureaucrats are brought to their knees by a torrent of bad press. Check out just how fast this happened via WIRED magazine’s coverage.
The dumbness of bureaucracy challenged by the conscience of social media
The logic of bureaucracy very often tells its leaders that the sanctity and security of the institution comes before its principles. How can we achieve our goals, it whispers in the ears of senior leaders, if we are under attack? Protect the organization first, adhere to principles later. Banks, military units, schools, businesses, sports teams – each of these bureaucracies, if not under the guidance of a true leader, will fall prey to this crippling dumbness. Social media is incredibly good at allowing transparency to be the best disinfectant, providing a crowd-sourced system of checks and balances.
Our current economic and social situation is not a good match for the hierarchical bureaucracies conceived in the 20th century. As we transition from hierarchy to wirearchy, expect plenty of dumb stuff, including school principals censoring little girls trying to photograph hotdogs in order to get cous-cous and salad more often. We need to become more practiced at social media helping organizations adhere to their stated democratic principles.