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How Radical Connectivity Is Changing the Way Government Operates

“You hear people talk about the impact of the internet or mobile phones or social media but none of those words really capture what is going on. People today have enormous amounts of power in their phones, they are also connected to the internet at all times and that has real cascade ramifications in a lot of ways,” said Nicco Mele.

Mele is the author of the new book, The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goaliath. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that right now we don’t have good ways of talking about what is going on with technology.

What is Radical Connectivity?

“Radical connectivity is about a transfer of power from institutions to individuals. If you ask someone in the early 70s what a computer was, what came to mind was a device that could fill a big room or office. Today 130 million Americans carry around smartphones with the same or greater computing power than a computer from 1974 had,” said Mele.

What Are the Implications of All This Connectivity?

“Across the board in all of our institutions (government, educations, businesses) there is this transfer of power happening with this technology going from hierarchical concentrated power inside of institutions to a diffusion of power out to the people,” said Mele. “That has a significant impact. You can’t think about it your audience as passive anymore. They have a lot of power to engage with you on a number of fronts both for good and for bad.”

End of Big, What Does that Mean?

“It is my contention that our big institutions are failing. They are not failing because of technology but for a lot of other reasons. In the midst of their failing people are opting out and using this powerful individual technology to build alternatives. So if we think for example about newspapers, sure Google and Craigslist took a bite out newspapers, but newspapers were in decline before some of the technologies of the web started to have a significant impact. The decline was due in large part because of publicly traded corporations that acquired newspapers demanded much higher profit margins on a quarterly basis. That was a failure of the institution of newspapers and in the process technology came along and provided alternative outlets and alternative ways of getting news,” said Mele.

Higher Education

“There is a whole cascading series of effects going on right now in higher ed. Cost of higher education has skyrocketed while its economic value has plummeted. The Department of Labor reports that 19% of parking attendants in the us have a 4 year college degree and the debt that goes with it. So it is not surprising that people are opting out of higher education. The real question is what is going to get lost along the way. There is more to higher education that just teaching and learning, there is credentialing and research too. Do you really want to see a surgeon who got a degree online, probably not,” said Mele.


“A central challenge for any elected or appointed official is the ability of any individual to disrupt in any way they want to for either good or bad,” said Mele.

The Power of the Crowd

“I have two small kids so we spend a lot of time at the park. Hurricane Irene destroyed the slides at our favorite park. The city said it would take months and thousands of dollars to fix. So our community created a Paypal account and raised the money in a few short weeks. The government process was too slow so people opted out. That’s ok in the story I just told, but what if there was a significant sewage problem and that is why the city decided to prioritize the funds there instead of paying for the slides? So I am concerned about the clash. There is a growing gap between our institutions and the way they manage the world and the immediacy of social media and radical connectivity,” said Mele.

In order to harness crowds effectively you have to:

  • Define the problem you want solved.

  • Provide a lot of data.

  • Provide a framework to find the solutions you are looking for.

  • Create different checks and balances to bring integrity to the system.

“There is always a risk to crowds but these days I think the risk is greater in not harnessing their power,” said Mele.

Leadership in an Overly Connected Time

“It is really incumbent upon our leaders to understand more about technology. I live in Boston and in the days following the tragic marathon bombing the police and the FBI asked people to upload pictures and videos to a website. But the vehicle they used for that was a very simple form from 1999. People who felt stymied by the lack of technology went on their own sites to identify suspects. But they identified two wrong suspects. So there is a danger when people can opt out,” said Mele.

Weekend Reads

  • Creating the best work place on Earth. Harvard Business Review contributors Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones interviewed hundreds of executives world-wide to describe their ideal organization. Goffee and Jones distill the variety of answers thusly: A place that allows people to do their best work. New York Life CEO Ted Mathas tells the authors that the organization needs to allow people to be themselves. “When I was appointed CEO, my biggest concern was, Would this [job] allow me to truly say what I think? I needed to be myself to do a good job. Everybody does.” At Arup, the international engineering and design firm, letting people be people can mean new ideas. “We want there to be interesting parts that don’t quite fit in…that take us places where we didn’t expect to get to,” says chairman Philip Dilley. Above all, an organization where people do their best work is one that vests each employee’s job with meaning beyond bringing home the bacon. “During the past 30 years we have heard the following kinds of conversations at many organizations: ‘I’ll be home late. I’m working on a cure for migraine.’ ‘Still at work. The new U2 album comes out tomorrow—it’s brilliant.’ ‘Very busy on the plan to take insulin into East Africa,’” they write. “We have never heard this: ‘I’ll be home late. I’m increasing shareholder value.’”
  • If You Think You’re Productive During Lunch, Think Again: Got a case of the brown-bag blues? Time to rework your approach to lunch–which can be the most useful time in your day, if you do it like San Francisco startup Thumbtack. After three years, $6 million in funding, and a ten-times growth in staffing, Baumann is still Thumbtack’s full-time chef. While it sounds extravagant, cofounder Sander Daniels says chef-prepared, family-style meals make business sense. He emailed us the reasons:
    • Meals build community: Everyone on the team eats together every day
    • Meals build networks: On Wednesdays they have an open dinner where recruits can hang with the company
    • The team is more productive: People aren’t leaving the office to wait in lines or scrounging around for food
    • Everyone is eating awesome food, so everyone is healthy
  • London Business School: The future role of mobile phones in changing the world and provide a blueprint for what needs to change to make this reality. The story of mobile phones as a force for good is akin to that of a child prodigy who has somehow not reached the heights anticipated. Among proponents of mobiles, there is a sense of pride in what has been achieved. But there is also a sense of unfulfilled hopes. At this point, there are too few commercially viable applications – beyond basic voice and SMS — that also demonstrably do good. The same success stories – incredible as they are – are repeated time and again. “Where are the next M-Pesas?” asked one telco executive we interviewed. Innovations that promise to transform the future seem perpetually stuck just there – in the future.

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How many (high profile) social media accounts does it take to achieve “radical connectedness”? Does adding new accounts increase reach faster, and is there an optimal number of accounts and (active) followers? Is it really possible to “reach half the population in America” over the span of a year via social media? Interesting questions.