The tech industry has come a long way from 'Don't be evil.'; Google's motto until 2018. We're in a reality where the company that owns your comfy co-working space is also selling killer robots to the military. People share and upload every minuscule detail of their lives to social media companies, only for those companies to sell that data to the highest bidder for whatever nefarious intent they might have, which might even include the influence of an election.
The new digital economy is leaving vulnerable people behind, just look at the divides created in San Francisco between that digital haves, and the digital have-nots. As the homeless numbers increase, new technology millionaires drive up a property market that is unsustainable for regular people.
Technology is 'doing evil.' Who is responsible for the direction these technologies take? As leaders in the tech industry, we are.
We drive the direction of the cogs that make up these monolithic technological machines. The machines that are forging new worlds at the expense of others. The tech industry has become the establishment that it was meant to disrupt, and it's beginning to feel like we're not doing much better at not fucking up the world.
As the punk did 45 years ago, we must tear down the status quo and rebuild our future based on the now.
We need to bring a solid Dr. Martens boot down on the status quo and shake things up.
Punk was a reaction to what came before, a challenge to the current status quo. The punk movement stripped everything to its roots and started again. Punks grabbed the tools they had at their immediate disposal and forged a new reality.
The shockwaves that punk created influenced everything. The visible influence it had on music and fashion also has an impact on political protest, business, and the ways people live their lives.
Punks didn't let a lack of resources stop them. They didn't have much musical talent, weren't fashion designers, and didn't have printing presses. But with musical enthusiasm, a handfull of safety pins, and a few photocopiers, they changed the future of music, fashion, and publishing.
A driver for the punk rebellion was the cyclical loop of regurgitation, the music industry at the time. In the late 60s, the music industry got a firm hand on pop music and had little interest in signing new and exciting music. Just repainting what went before in garish technicolor. Glam Rock and polished Rock and roll ruled the airwaves.
And here is where the parallels begin.
Nothing feels new in the tech industry in terms of leadership thinking. The Spotify tribe system is just a rebranded matrix structure. We've grabbed onto agile scrum type methodologies like they're the only answer to managing risk.
As tech companies' Leaders slot into these comfortable routines and rhythms, the tech industry forges forwards in dark directions. We become more and more dependent on leveraging people's personal data as a product. Companies promise to become the 'future platform economy' while racing to the bottom. Stripping their workers of working rights as they go.
At its extreme, tech companies are breaking local economies and forging significant divides between the tech elite and a new subclass of people that are unable to keep up.
Even that company that provides you with your lovely funky co-working space with oat milk lattes on tap is also selling killer robots to the military.
New technologies, like digital currencies, meant to forge a new reality for how money works, have also been mutated into a trading token for institutional market traders. They are used by the pillar of the establishment that it was trying to disrupt for quick financial wins, pumping and dumping the market and making the value of digital currencies so unstable that they have no other use.
Sit down and look deeply at the tech industry, which of the major companies are you truly comfortable with? Which can you look at and with hand on heart can you say is doing no evil.
Over the past two decades, tech companies have rallied under the banner of disruption and change. Similar to the punk that came before. Disrupting the old school establishment.
However, where we have ended up doesn't feel like the brave new world that we were promised. It feels like we've swapped one corrupt overarching establishment for another.
The difference between the Bezos' and Zuckerberg's and the Rotten's and Ramon's? The new tech revolution wants wealth for themselves, the punks wanted a better life for their close-knit community of outcasts and the disenfranchised.
As a leader in the tech industry, at whatever level, it's your responsibility to help steer and forge the direction of the companies that you work for. You're the ones that help curate the culture of your organisations.
Culture comes from all the individuals within a company. As the Leadership, you're the conductors of the cultural orchestra.
Punk Leadership is trying to build a better world by fighting back with the tools you have against this negative momentum.
Punk was primarily about breaking down what had come before. Punk rebelled against the music industry's status quo and, in the UK, the political environment of the mid-70s.
As a punk lead you should challenge the status quo, it's been 65 years since the first company started commercially producing software and we've got complacent about how we lead software teams. Nothing is new, everything is rebranded traditional management school thinking.
As software progresses to innovate at breakneck speeds, we need to make sure our leadership practices develop at the same pace to make sure we're doing the best for the future.
Don't let things get stagnant, always challenge the status quo.
Punk didn't really have a single underlying ideology, ultimately it was a collection of thoughts that were simply drastically opposed to something else. As well as a rejection of what was happening musically, a core element of punk was political rebellion. Anti-capitalists, anti-fascists, and anti-racists grouped together under one single banner.
If you want to challenge the status quo, you better have a firm idea of what you want to replace is with. If you're going to lead the tech industry away from a path you are uncomfortable with, then you need to know what path you want to lead it down.
Punk stripped everything back to its roots and started again, it rejected the dramatic, overly produced cock rock filling stadiums around the world.
The tech industry has quickly defined a strict set of rules and regulations that it follows, from company to company you don't find significant changes in the tools and processes used to manage and lead.
Instead of blindly following process guidance, strip it back, and start from scratch. Start with zero processes and only add back what you need. Free up your teams to work how they want. Punk started with chaos and redefined how everything worked; this allowed it to have a fast, immediate impact on culture and society.
Whether it be a battered old Stratocaster knock-off, a photocopier, or patches and safety pins, punks made the best of what they could to maximum effect.
Punks didn't worry about what skills they didn't have, they used what they did and figured the rest out on the way. Without many exceptions, most punk bands started out with minimal musical capability, but they learnt 3 chords and dived onto the (and off) the stage with unparalleled enthusiasm.
They worked it out whilst doing. The punks put themselves in front of an audience and quickly iterated. The end result is a back catalog of timeless hit songs that continue to inspire the current generation of musicians.
So don't worry about what skills you don't have, just get a good understanding of what you do have at hand and work out how you can utilise those skills to best effect.
Some of the best punk songs aren't even a minute long, some even as short as 30 seconds, punks realised you could get your idea across efficiently in a short time.
You don't need 11-minute long prog-rock journeys to get your message across. Keep your communication tight and efficient, long waffly presentations, emails, or conversations waste everyone's time.
Concise communication takes preparation, but it's worth it. Spending your own time to make sure your message is tight saves the time of others.
Punk cared little for tinnitus, they were loud. If you want to change, so should you be.
Punk knew they still had to 'play the game.' To impact the music industry, they knew that they still had to be a part of it. Bands that rallied against the music industry's status quo in the early 70s still ended up signing recording contracts with major record labels.
Mass distribution and publication allowed punk to spread its messages to a broader audience. The sex pistols notoriously caused chaos in the UK by making a drunk and sweary first appearance on national television. The incident made them a national talking point overnight, jumping to the top of the charts as a result.
It's a lot harder to change something from the outside. If you're working for a company that has elements that you don't agree with, addressing those things from the inside will have more impact than quitting that job in a huff.
Even the most anti-capitalist punk still needed to sell records to help them spread their message.
Punks were angry; they swore on national televisions, ending careers of the establishment. This is not what punk leadership is about. You should get mad at the establishment and the status quo and try and bring it down. But be mindful of those that you impact.
Punk had a flagrant disregard for the feelings of others, that was part of its charm. But it's not an element of the punk ethos that we recommend applying to Leadership.
Inspire change for good through punk leadership.
Just don't spit in anyone's face along the way.