Warren Bennis is an authority on organizational development, leadership and change. He has written more than 20 books on these topics and is now a university professor and distinguished professor of business administration at the University of Southern California. He is also chairman of the board of directors at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government's Center for Public Leadership. He has been an adviser to four U.S. presidents, including John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. He spoke recently with Computerworld's Thomas Hoffman.
Which IT story took you by surprise in 2006, and why?
There were two things. The first one has got to do with this whole area of the wiki world, which I think has enormous implications for how businesses are run. I'm quite impressed with Don Tapscott's new book [Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, co-authored with Anthony D. Williams]. We've heard [former General Electric Chairman] Jack Welch talk years ago about "boundarylessness." It expands upon this. What it means is that as the world has become globalized, we have to think about all institutions as boundaryless.
Now, the possibility of people outside the organization providing business intelligence and all sorts of information is filled with potential over the next 10 to 15 years. It's also filled with problems but certainly worth watching.
I'm in the midst of writing something I've been thinking about for two years. There's a connection between the computer world and the social context of that. The title of the essay on my mind is called "Cells, Dogs and Strollers." It has to do with the demographics we've seen since 9/11. We're seeing far more marriages and births, sales of strollers have mounted exponentially since then, and sales of cell phones have expanded dramatically for older and younger people. And there are more dogs every day in each city.
In this world, cells are not just a way of talking to your friends and family but a way of keeping us connected. At a global level, it's tribalism, and somehow technology is a way for organizational leaders to help keep people connected at a time of extraordinary anxiety and fear. What organizational leaders really need to keep in mind is that the workplace is one of the few places where people can huddle and feel safe and secure. We're increasing the capacity for people to huddle through the aid of technology.
What surprises are in store for IT users in 2007?
One thing that's going to be even more necessary than in the past is an increased need for interdependence. Someone should count the number of new "C" words that are being introduced -- we have a chief wisdom officer, a chief security officer, a chief of organizational intelligence. The idea is that one person, no matter how larger than life and Rushmorian that figure is, can't do it alone. The era of the single leader is over. If it's a surprise, it shouldn't be.
What will be the biggest IT story of 2007?
We've hit a tipping point on diversity. As I sit in my office in USC, I'm looking at pictures of our students. USC President Steven Sample and I have been teaching a course called Art and Adventure of Leadership for 12 years now. Eleven years ago, there may have been one or two African-American women and the rest of the class was mostly WASP-ish. Now, they're from all over the world.
What we're going to see more and more are leaders who are biracial and a real tipping point of diversity in our country. You can see it in Barack Obama, who in his first term as a senator is seriously being considered as a presidential candidate.