Chennai: When our Internet connection or LAN (local area network) is running slowly or malfunctioning, we immediately call the IT (information technology) staff and ask for attention. Similarly, if the human connections are faltering, we must take up the issue just as seriously, indeed more so, argue Susan Bloch and Philip Whiteley in How to Manage in a Flat World (www.pearsoned.co.in).

“The electronic and human internets demand equal attention,” they declare. Viewed thus, the time spent socialising or gossiping with the team, or phoning up a colleague simply to ask ‘How are you?’ and so on ‘form a key part of making business work,’ reason the authors.

They guide you to draw a diagram of your own personal network including external and internal contacts, as follows: “Describe visually the strength of those personal relationships (different people find different imagery works: a colour code; a system of lines and dotted lines; etc.). You’ll notice that it is probably very different from the formal organisational drawing, but is likely to be closer to the real dynamics of the teams and networks that you belong to. It’s a mini-human Internet.”

Make sure the human Internet is set up correctly before deciding on which parts of the electronic one are going to assist you for which details of the process, advise Bloch and Whiteley.

Fundamental to building the human Internet and leading a team is emotional intelligence. But the ‘plain vanilla’ intelligence and knowledge of products and services is also important. “We need both types of intelligence.”

Examples are not rare of engineers and programmers who get promoted to lead teams but who turn out to be poor communicators; perhaps, they should have stayed in their technical discipline! “Equally, however, and perhaps even more damaging, has been the promotion of affable, articulate individuals who lacked technical knowledge and intellectual calibre.”

The metaphor of ‘flatness’ for the global economy can at times be unhelpful, the authors caution; for, the flatness idea may resound ‘the electronic Internet, rapidly changing markets and technologies,’ rather than the depth of human Internet. They warn of how one may tend to overlook the long-term commitment to building relationships, understanding culture and understanding markets, in the excitement of discovering new forms of connectivity in the flat world.

“The very high failure rate of cross-border mergers surely reflects the understandable impatience to take advantage of rapidly emerging opportunities without paying attention to regional and organisational culture – the human Internet.”

Take heart. Google, MySpace, Second Life, Orkut and so on are making times ‘interesting’ for the humans to network more effectively than ever! “Changes go far beyond simply buying goods or services online to encompass life-changing activities engaging people all over the world in marriage, online gaming, podcasting and webcams.”

In conclusion, the authors call for a new language to describe the reality of management and business, because the twentieth century lexicon of assets, alignment, hierarchy, departments and sectors is inadequate ‘to describe the flat world of the human Internet – the complexity of organisations and projects, the nuance of leadership required, the temporary and fluid nature of teams, the degree of organisational overlap, and the dynamics required for success.’

What make the difference, in sum, according to Bloch and Whiteley, are ‘the ability to deal with ambiguity, combined with energy, inspiration, communication, innovation, wisdom and understanding.’

These are the qualities that turn ordinary groups of people into outstanding teams, who trust one another, solve problems effectively and make sound decisions, the authors assure.

“Those managers and leaders who cannot master these new leadership skills will stay stuck in the old way of doing things. They and their businesses will soon become extinct.”

A book that adds depth to ‘flatness’.