Five Lessons on Peer-to-Peer leadership from Peer-to-Peer Computer Networks

Jeevan Sivasubramaniam Posted by Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, Managing Director, Editorial, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.



Five Lessons on Peer-to-Peer leadership from Peer-to-Peer Computer Networks

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In her latest book, Mila Baker explains how the best leadership networks function like peer networks in technological circles where there is no central power structure but rather an equipotent number of nodes that function together as a team of leaders.

But there are plenty of other lessons to be learned from peer networks; here are just five:

1. P2P networks are not restrained by geographical proximity or boundaries.
P2P networks can function in various environments including ones so small that the only people in it are the individuals in one particular building, all the way to global networks in several continents -- as a result of which, such networks are always "on" and "live."

Lesson for Business: As even small companies go global, the inefficacy of having a central command in one place that others have to follow regardless of where they are located grows more impractical. A global leadership network is not a failing but rather a strength because it ensures accountability at all times in all places rather than only during business hours at HQ.

2. P2P networks are self-sustaining.
On the Internet, peer to peer networks handle a very high volume of file sharing traffic by distributing the load across many computers. Because they do not rely exclusively on central servers, P2P networks both scale better and are more resilient than client-server networks in case of failures or traffic bottlenecks.

Lesson for Business: Traditional leadership networks generate bottlenecks where everything has to go through a select conduit. With more more people reporting to less, a logjam is inevitable. Such logjams are circumvented when there are more conduits in a more expansive network.


3. P2P networks rarely crash.
Because the work and transfer of data is handled through so many nodes, nothing happens if one or more of those nodes crash or break as there are still others who can shoulder the work and keep the network running.

Lesson for Business: This is an obvious one. When all work is orchestrated or approved by a select number or hierarchy, any disruption of that hierarchy means that the whole organization falters or breaks down. Having a network of leaders means that if one or more are unable to perform for any reason, others can still step in and keep things running.


4. P2P networks can be configured in different ways to suit particular purposes.
Not all P2P networks are the same. Technically, many P2P networks (including the original Napster) are not pure peer networks but rather hybrid designs as they utilize some nodes for some functions such as search. Depending on the network's needs, certain nodes can serve particular purposes at one time and serve more general connection purposes at another.

Lesson for Business: The whole idea of a single person having a single role is not just inefficient but outdated. One of the great strengths of a peer network is an aligned group that can do a variety of things -- and, most importantly, have the collective brainpower to be able to advise one another on different matters and therefore have more skills across more disciplines.


5. P2P networks do not restrict the free-flow of information.
There are some networks that have tiers of access, but the most popular peer networks have open access where each person decides what information or material they wish to share but that information, once posted, is accessible to everyone on the network.

Lesson for Business: The sharing of information is one of the most crucial aspects of business communications but that can often be negatively impacted by selective sharing where not everyone has access to the same information resulting in misunderstandings and false assumptions. A transparent approach that makes all information available to everyone ensures a more informed, coordinated, and empowered group.