Since he took over as President of the Rhode Island School of Design in June of 2008, John Maeda – a former member of the MIT Media Lab brain trust, who has been trained as a technologist, an artist, and a businessman – has been stirring things up in the world of academia. Spurning the traditional top-down approach, Maeda is striving to cultivate a new style of leadership, or an “open-source administration” as the Boston Globe put it in a recent article. Maeda elaborates: "I'm Twitterable, Facebookable, iTunesable, because everybody needs different access… I can't do my job unless I can hear what the people need or want from me."
Maeda is already reshaping the way that communication happens at RISD by opening up the dialogue to everyone, rather than just hanging onto the mic himself. A series of seven screens installed around campus function as digital bulletin boards that anyone at RISD can post images or text to, and the newly launched Our (and Your) RISD blog serves as another open forum, with posts from Maeda himself, staff and students all appearing side by side.
Similar changes are happening over at the White House as the Obama Administration has overhauled Whitehouse.gov, adding sections like “our government” and a new blog, which delivers a running update on what the President, the First Lady, and his staff are up to on a daily basis.
As leadership approaches that rely solely on top-down directives and thinly-veiled persuasion (à la Teddy Roosevelt’s Big Stick Diplomacy) seem to be on the wane, the emerging leadership style might aptly be described as Big Blog Diplomacy. Rather than acting as lone visionaries, leaders must learn to communicate efficiently and effectively, to create feedback loops and gather input, and to build a feeling of shared ownership around ideas. The new playing field is a lot more level, and it requires a facility for community organization as much as it does vision.
***This article is adapted from the research and writing of Jocelyn K. Glei, a creative strategist with expertise in editorial, design and publishing. She regularly collaborates with Scott Belsky and the Behance Team, who run the Behance Creative Network, the Action Method project management application, the Creative Jobs List, and develop knowledge, products, and services that help creative professionals make ideas happen.