Complexity in a real-time world

The series of events at Mozilla over the past 2 weeks has been charged with emotion, principle, opinion and most certainly, consequences. While the dust is far from settled, I am at last feeling able to formulate a few salient, if not preliminary, conclusions.

Mozilla is a unique animal. We’re a company. We’re a non-profit. We’re a mission-driven org. We’re makers of products and just as significantly, a global community and yes, social movement that focuses on protecting the web which we view as a public good. Trying to extrapolate certain lessons from what has happened typically falls short because we straddle so many worlds and categories. Some people who have said this best:

  • Pascal Finette. Pascal hired me at Mozilla and worked in a variety of capacities over his 4.5 years there, the last of which was working directly with our Chair).
  • Mark Surman. Mark heads up our Foundation side of things (if you don’t know quite what I am referring to, see my primary point I’m making e.g. we are a hybrid of ‘things’ and typical categories fall short).

Leadership has special requirements. As Mozilla board member Reid Hoffman explained, it entails a ‘head of state’ component – meaning one who can influence, mobilize and exercise diplomacy in complex situations. When the leader is of an organization as diverse and global as Mozilla, additional constraints apply. Some people who got this right include:

  • Lauren Bacon. Lauren’s part of a discussion list I am on and knows a number of Mozillians and our work.
  • Slate.

And yet…. unfortunately these very important distinctions have escaped much of the public dialogue. It’s disheartening to see how many posts pretty much equate Mozilla to any organization and the CEO to any employee in order to make linkbait-friendly conclusions such as “Mozilla’s Gay Marriage Litmus Test Violates Liberal Values” (my love for this publication has been waning over the past few years; this doesn’t help) or “Brendan Eich’s Defenestration” Let’s just forget that he resigned against the wishes of the board. In fact, let’s just forget any of the facts since facts actually typically backfire.

Mercifully a few thoughtful writers are starting to resist the urge to cave in to the temptation to draw rapid, polarizing and simplistic conclusions (which have the additional benefit of attracting traffic) and instead do some balanced, researched thinking and reporting on the issues at hand. A sample:

So, what now? While this emergence of more holistic writing gives me hope that with a little more time and thoughtfulness, a more balanced, reasonable and better telling of the story will ultimately emerge, the episode gives me pause. In a world where we crave not only real-time information, but real-time conclusions, where is the room for complexity? For exceptions to the axioms and memes that attract so much web traffic? How can we pause and absorb complexity?

In a recent thread my friend referenced an interesting analysis (quote from George Friedman):

Cultures lives in three states. The first state is barbarism. Barbarians believe that the customs of their village are the laws of nature and that anyone who doesn’t live the way the live is beneath contempt and requiring redemption and destruction. The third state is decadence. Decadents cynically believe that nothing is better than anything else. If they hold anyone in contempt, it is those that believe in anything. Nothing is worth fighting for.

Civilization is the second and most rare state. Civilized people are able to balance two contradictory thoughts in their minds. They believe that there are truths and that their cultures approximate those truths. At the same time, they hold open their mind the possibility that they are in error.

The piece does not draw a clear conclusion on what state we are currently in, and I’m not sure myself. Except that this doesn’t feel like civilization. Perhaps I’m still processing. Which makes sense….because this is complex.

p.s. I left comments open. If you are so inclined, please read this.

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