Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - Winter 2012/2013 - (Page 4)
PRESIDENT’S VIEW | SHIRLEY ANN JACKSON, PH.D.
Data, Crowds, Clouds,
Leadership in the face of new technologies
ften, new technologies
force leaders to rethink
their approaches. The
essentials of leadership—strategic
thinking and planning, organization,
managing talent, developing
human capital, ensuring execution—remain
important over time.
But technology can have both positive
and negative impacts on traditional
approaches to leadership.
We live in a world where “big
data” is coming to the fore. Social
networking leaves behind “digital
crumbs” for us to follow and study.
The Internet is the new library—
with more information than anyone
can think of really ingesting.
Sensors and networks are embedded
in everything from buildings to
automobiles to cameras to satellites,
and are creating what often is
referred to as “the Internet of
Things.” The ability to process this
deluge of new data in an efficient
and relatively inexpensive way
provides us with new bases for
One of the more intriguing possibilities
for the emerging role of big
data is illustrated by the ability to
4 RENSSELAER/WINTER 2012-13
“mash up” data from different
sources in ways that create compelling
new insights. A simple
example of this is the pairing of
real estate data with crime data to
create maps that can be used to
reveal problems and suggest
We also are seeing the phenom-
enon of crowdsourcing. Crowds
can help to identify problems,
suggest ideas, and assist in the
execution of solutions.
Wikipedia provides a
good illustration of
pluses and minuses of crowdsourcing.
On the one hand,
this online encyclopedia is a
rich resource, providing a
powerful starting point for
research. On the other hand,
Wikipedia, despite the efforts of
many people who take it upon
themselves to make corrections,
is riddled with errors. Some may be
added in good faith, while others
are added maliciously. However,
no matter how they got there and
how long they persist, they can
mislead and misinform. Nonetheless,
crowdsourcing serves the use-
ful purposes of bringing multiple
viewpoints to bear in a given area.
We also have the emergence of
cloud computing. Cloud computing
makes complex applications
and massive amounts of data and
information available for a wide
array of people across an organization—and,
sometimes, those in
the general public who may have
an interest in an endeavor.
In spite of these concerns, with
the advent of new tools come new
ways to address big questions and
challenges. In this vein is the idea
of the jam. IBM has been a leader
in facilitating these online sessions,
which bring together interested
participants from around the globe
to concentrate on a selected challenge
over a short period of time.
Working from shared data sets,
propositions, and questions—
within a carefully designed framework—experts
parties use online collaborative
tools to come together to share
knowledge, express concerns, and
brainstorm projects and solutions
that can have high impacts.
I expect these technologies—big
data, crowdsourcing, cloud computing,
and jams—to reshape leadership.
For instance, in many of
these cases, you have participants
who, in previous times, would not
about trust. Are the sources of data
reliable? Are the combinations, the
mash-ups, fair and reasonable? Are
the people involved really who they
say they are, and do they have credentials
that give them authority?
But let us not just look at the
participants. The leaders themselves
must be trusted and must
manage differently in this new
space. Traditionally, their positions
give them authority, and trust
comes from their reputations. But,
when part of the team is formed on
an ad hoc basis, will their authority
be recognized? Will key participants
even know who they are?
Do the leaders’ finely honed
skills of persuasion translate into
online communications? How do
they build trust—especially for
endeavors that include risk or
they may never get to look people
in the eye or shake their hands?
Clearly, as the world of such vir-
Those who wish to lead, to work to make
a difference in this technologically
transformed world, must assess the pros
and cons of the new technologies.
have had a voice. These days many
people who are essential to achieving
goals, which may be strategic,
are participating on a volunteer
basis. Anyone can tell you that
managing an organization of
volunteers differs in a substantial
way from managing people who
are required to accept direction.
We also must address concerns
tual leadership evolves, indeed,
even when there is a blended
approach that includes both faceto-face
and electronic interactions,
the challenge of trust is large. But,
if leaders can solve the trust problem,
they will have access to a
wider variety of perspectives, and
more talent than ever before.
Online tools can better enable
education, and remote
mentoring of both employees
and those who represent
stakeholders, as we face
important challenges. Leaders
will need to hone their
abilities and find approaches
to persuasion that work in
this new context.
Those who wish to lead, to work
to make a difference in this technologically
must assess the pros and cons of the
new technologies. These tools will
have enormous impact on what
we can do, but also on how we
work together to achieve our goals.
This is the new leadership.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - Winter 2012/2013
Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - Winter 2012/2013
The Sporting Mind
Best of Class
Return to the Forest
One Last Thing
Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - Winter 2012/2013