What follows is pure conjecture, based on a bit of guesswork and some circumstantial evidence, but here goes…

Within the #sharingorg research a common theme emerging is the necessity for senior leadership to both support and live the values of any organisation-wide collaboration initiative. It’s also clear that there is a level of technological disassociation amongst many in the board rooms of big organisations (in social networking terms, see my ongoing research project #socialCEO for evidence).

Here’s the hypothesis…

The average FTSE 100 CEO these days is male, and in their early- to mid-50s. They’ll have started work in the mid-1980s, just before the significant revolution of the PC took place within the workplace.

They have started work in a time when secretaries and personal assistance were much more common within office environments. It is not unreasonable to argue that they will have had administrative support throughout their entire careers.

They are the last generation for whom there has been an opportunity to have someone else to manage their diary and correspondence throughout their careers.

If this hypothesis is correct (and I’ve no evidence I’m afraid to support either way), they are a group of senior leaders who will have significant challenge in understanding quite the day-to-day challenges that “collaboration” solutions put onto most people’s working lives.

A good PA is a guardian and a gatekeeper. It’s hard to get time with someone who has a good PA because that’s the PA’s job. They make value judgements about what is important and what is not.

Automated messaging services and networked diaries do nothing of the sort – they make it easier and easier to communicate and arrange to meet, having a similar effect on the burden of communication and meeting people have to deal with to the impact of building extra lanes on already congested motorways.

But protected behind the firewall of a personal assistant, I wonder whether the average CEO really gets the extent to which tools that were meant to help have ended up becoming tools that control.

If the hypothesis is correct, then the bright side is that this is a unique generation of leaders which will soon to be replaced by people who have spent some, if not most, of their careers having to manage their own time and communications. Maybe that will be the point at which we start to see more significant change in how greater business outcome becomes expected from projects that have collaboration at their core.

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