Technology does not change the world—our use of it does. No matter how fast my PC boots up or how high my monitor’s resolution is, I go to sleep at night reflecting on what I’ve accomplished that day. It is not the awesomeness of technology that moves our souls and ignites our passions, but the social interactions made possible by technology. Reflecting on what has brought the world to this point, Clay Shirky in his book, Here Comes Everybody, poses two questions: “Why has group action largely been limited to formal organizations?” and “What is happening now to change that?” Shirky states that collective action is “the hardest kind of group effort,” and attributes the dilemma of group cohesion and shared responsibility to the difficulties of collective action. People simply don’t spontaneously organize on a large scale. Even something as simple as a birthday party requires some management. Until recently, it has been prohibitively difficult to execute cooperative action without institutional management.
With the rise of social media and global networking, the costs of collective sharing and collaboration have collapsed. Social media tools have made it so easy for people to spontaneously share and collaborate on their interests that these activities have fallen out of the purview of conventional management. It is increasingly possible to facilitate collective action without traditional management hierarchies. Clay said, “There is simply no commercially viable way to let employees work on what interests them as the mood strikes.” This statement may have been more true in 2008, but today these barriers are falling apart. Successful, loosely organized corporations have sprung up that illustrate my point. Meet Valve Software—the company behind the Steam content delivery system. Valve Software touts a flat management hierarchy, and The Wall Street Journal introduced them with, “Welcome to the bossless company, where the hierarchy is flat, pay is often determined by peers, and the workday is directed by employees themselves.” Valve is wildly successful and growing. While such an organizational structure is not for everybody, it is time for corporations to prepare for an era of cheap collective action and the global changes that come with it.