Leadership has been described as “a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task“. But what if that definition is wrong? Maybe the definition of leadership in the social era isn’t about a person but an idea.
Leaders die, ideas self perpetuate. So which is more important to the creation of value, the person or the idea? The answer is obvious.
Yet our mental models about leadership are all centric to people rather than ideas. Look up leadership on Wikipedia. What y0u find is an exhaustive list of leadership definitions and theories all centric to a person rather than an idea.
Using People’s Ideas
Ron Baker writes: Ideas and knowledge are what economists describe as nonrival assets—meaning more than one person can use it at a time.
Contrast this with traditional rival assets, such as land, labor and capital, which can only be used for one purpose at a time, and are subject to diminishing returns.
If I give you the tie off my shirt, now you have it and I don’t; but when I give you an idea, now we both have it, can expand upon it, test it, and make it more valuable. Ideas and knowledge are subject to increasing, rather than diminishing, returns.
Charles Murray, in Human Accomplishment, explored fourteen of the world’s most important meta-inventions that occurred after 800 B.C. until 1950, essentially cognitive (not physical) tools for improving the world around us.
All of the meta-inventions are nonrival goods, meaning we can all utilize them at the same time without their being diminished—your use of the alphabet does not inhibit mine.
These ideas changed the world, creating untold wealth. They were also the contributions of an incredibly small number of individuals—4,002 to be precise, according to Murray.
In the arena of business, ideas have an enormous capacity to apply knowledge to knowledge, thereby increasing innovation and wealth.
The Social Era creates abundance from the creation, sharing, execution and consumption of ideas. Stop and think of why use of the internet has exploded. It is because of the explosive growth of creating, sharing, executing and consumpting ideas. Some of the people behind the ideas make the headlines and are remembered for a moment. However many of the ideas will be remembered forever.
An idea is an intangible asset that can be used over and over by millions of people, improved on and rapidly shared and consumed. Abundance of wealth is being created from these intangible assets, ideas.
Who is the leader creating this wealth? No one individually, that is the idea.