What does the Bitcoin/crypto currency trend have to do with leadership? Everything. Like leadership, most people see money - what they would consider “real” money - in one dimension. We see currency in this singular, flat dimension. But what is “real” currency (called fiat currency in the crypto world) based on? Most folx start with the notion that a dollar (let’s consider a US dollar) is based on the “gold standard.” And in fact, that is how the dollar started. See, it was a challenge to carry enough gold around with you to make that currency practical for people in the “olden days.” So people were given certificates for the gold they had deposited. Fast forward, every dollar represented a portion of gold in someone’s possession. But why did this piece of paper have value? Because people believed gold had value. Real value. Today? A dollar has no real connection to gold, because governments can just print as many dollar bills as they’d like. Consider the debt of the US. How much is a dollar really worth? Bitcoin (and other cryptos) are rising because of a new dimension of currency - virtual currency. With the rise of mobile gaming, from Facebook’s FarmVille to today’s modern iPhone games, people are paying lots of fiat money to gain stature in their mobile games. A lot of collectible games require actual dollars to acquire exclusive digital cards to help players level up. Now. What if a player who is late to the party wants digital cards that are no longer available? Maybe someone reaches out and says "Look, a year ago, you paid $5 USD to purchase that digital card that helps you in the game. What if I give you $10 for that digital card? I can’t get it any other way.” We have just created a virtual currency with real-world crossover. Someone could buy and sell digital cards and make money that would actually pay their bills. Let’s now take the game component out of it, and you start to understand Bitcoin. When it started, it had no value in real money. Things started to change when Laszlo Hanyecz offered to pay 10,000 Bitcoins to anyone willing to order two pizzas and have them delivered to his house (click here for the original thread). He had multiple offers. The rest is history. How can Bitcoin be compared to the Wild West? Imagine a rich person named Eliana owned a bustling town on the frontier in the olden days. Now imagine Eliana didn't accept the value of American paper money. Let’s say they created their own currency, called a “Samara buck.” Next, they convinced everyone in that town not to deal in American dollars, and to only take Samara bucks. They then told the townsfolx, “We will open a bank, and that bank will exchange dollars for Samara bucks. At the end of each month, I’ll take 50% of the profits from the bank and split the rest with all of you in the town.” Everyone agrees. Now, a weary traveler comes to Elianatown, and wants to spend the night because it’s a day to the next town. They go to the hotel, and the owner says “Sorry, we don’t take your money here, you need to go to the town bank and exchange it for Samara bucks.” Now you start to see the potential of Bitcoin and other cryptos. If fiat money collapses, a void will open where any rich person could enter and create a currency of their own. What if Amazon (after wiping away all competition AND destroying the US dollar in value) decided to no longer accept US dollars and required exchanges in Bitcoin. How much would a Bitcoin be worth then? What if Amazon required Bezos bucks? What does this have to do with leadership? The way most of us understand leadership, we see it a lot like fiat money. Face to face leadership (what I call the first dimension of leadership) is “real” leadership. The paradigms around leadership are very one dimensional. Those with experience and power currently live in a world where digital leadership (the second dimension) has little to no value. They see the concept of digital leadership the way many see virtual currency. Why do I need to worry about digital leadership? It hasn’t gotten me where I am today, so we don’t really need it.
The truth is, people have lost real jobs because of digital mistakes in leadership. Those with power online (second dimensional leaders) are starting to turn the tide against those who have power in the first dimension. In higher education, we have a generation of college students (and front line entry level staff) who are engaging where their power comes from – the ability to navigate digital spaces and raise awareness about first dimension (face to face) issues. The ability to tweet the president of a university and make them aware of issues they are facing as students has had real implications to our praxis as professionals.
In addition, there is a positive side of this concept. Relationships and knowledge sharing that create shifting power dynamics on campus. The ability for a front line professional to share in real time issues that are arising across the country to allow their supervisors to formulate strategies to tackle the issue before they are forced to. Relationships developed and networks expanded without leaving your office or home.
In the middle exists our professional conferences. In the past, these conferences existed as a hub of information sharing, knowledge passing and network building. We did not have, as a field, the means or opportunities to develop these networks in ways beyond those face to face engagements. That is different today. In my discussions with colleagues, conference attendance is enhanced by the relationships that began digitally prior to the conference and then deepened when these folx met “IRL” (in real life). If we are relying on conferences solely as opportunities to pass on knowledge and information, we are looking at these conferences the way people looked at the earth before science took hold – mainly flat. If we see conferences as the sole opportunity to network, we are seeing relationships and leadership no different than dollars (instead of Bitcoins). A leader is at their best when they can navigate the conference experience, the digital network experience and can integrate BOTH.
Bitcoin had no “real” value until someone was willing to spend “real” money on two pizzas. In our educational world, digital leadership has already begun to have real value. Books are being written, speakers are being brought in to teach, and training has begun. (Quick shout out to the work Dr. Josie Ahlquist is doing here).