alako (alako) wrote in blog_sociology,

power usurpers

In both online and "real world' communities and organizations I have often seen individuals become key figures not by the quality of their contribution but by quietly running off anyone who might actually do the job better. I have seen cases where there is one honored employee who has stuck with the boss for years while others seem to always quit on him or her. What the boss never realizes is the better people didn't quit. They were driven out by the supposedly dedicated employee.

I have seen this especially bad in some open source software programs where there really is no management. Anyone is free to contribute. All you have to do is put up with extreme abuse from a small group of very incompetent hackers who have elbowed their way into the middle of the project. If you complain about anything they are quick to point out that people aren't exactly lining up to help and they have contributed more than anyone.

From a management perspective these people can be very hard to spot. They often show a totally different side to their superiors, giving the impression of very nice people and dedicated workers. It is also very easy to get many professionals to leave quietly with a few well placed attacks no one else sees. For most professionals it isn't worth the fight and they really don't want to be part of an organization where people behave like that.

So...

Have you observed cases like this yourself?

What do you watch for to prevent such things happening in your online community or organization?

How would you handle a situation like this if you are the one being shoved out?

How would you deal with this as a manager who has just discovered it is happening?

How would you deal with this in an unmanaged situation such as an opensource project?

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  • 6 comments

gomezticator

December 26 2008, 21:39:42 UTC 5 years ago

This occurs in just about any online community that centers around a topic of continuing research. Baseball sabermetric discussion groups see this a lot.

Unfortunately, since it's a power-trip oriented mindset, there's little to do about it, since anyone, even you, runs the risk of slipping into that mindset unconsciously despite their best intentions.

striver

December 27 2008, 09:03:48 UTC 5 years ago

You reject the concept of bell curves in human behavioral traits?

gomezticator

December 27 2008, 09:07:29 UTC 5 years ago

Human behavior isn't the product of a random sample, but a progression of activity.

striver

December 27 2008, 09:12:10 UTC 5 years ago

so you do reject bell curves in human behavior traits? Under the same circumstances everyone will act identical?

gomezticator

December 27 2008, 09:14:07 UTC 5 years ago

I believe humans follow similar behavior patterns, with few exceptions.

striver

December 27 2008, 22:56:04 UTC 5 years ago

This brings to mind a quote I often cite "A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few"

it is even more relevant here in context:


Excerpt from the address of judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944, central park...

What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it. And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few; as we have learned to our sorrow.
“What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.