Control is an Illusion You Need to Let Go

CC image courtesy of Bill Gracey - Gone to Mexico on flickr
CC image courtesy of Bill Gracey - Gone to Mexico on flickr

The issue of control comes up over and over again when we talk about the online world. It recently it came up at Internet Librarian in many different ways, including:

  • How do I stop a staff member from wasting time on Facebook?
  • How do we control what staff are saying online?
  • Management wants everything posted online (Twitter, Facebook, blogs etc) to go through PR.
  • We don’t want employees to be able to access social networking sites?
  • What about privacy?
  • We can’t allow just anyone to post a comment without approving it first.
  • How do we know a student is who they say they are?

I have answers to all of these questions, but these questions aren’t what this is about, what they represent is, control. Or the illusion of control.

The desire for control comes from fear. Fear of change, of the unknown, of doing things differently, of a situation not created by us, of taking risks. It is human nature to fear these things, it’s how we’ve survived.  So is adaptation and times are changing, just as they always do, and we need to adapt.

In the internet age your image/brand no longer belongs to you. It belongs to your customers. The things they have always been saying are now online for the whole world to see. The content and commentary they post about you may rank higher in search engines than your site or content. You can’t stop them. Every attempt you make will be like fighting the Hydra, cut off a head, two will grow back. I promise.

Prevent comments on your website? They’ll start their own blog or Twitter account or website. Implement a filter to block social networking sites? They will find a way around it (and you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face).

Stop wasting time trying to get control, you might be fooling your boss or the board or yourself, but you are not fooling your staff or more importantly your customers. Better yet, when you stop spending time trying to get control or pretending that you have it, it frees you and your time to address the real issues.

Still not ready to let go? Think about these questions from Andrew McAfee :

  • Are you ready and willing to let more internal voices communicate and shape your brand over time?
  • If not, why not?
  • Is it that you don’t trust your people, or your customers?
  • Is it that you don’t want any negativity at all to appear on your digital properties?
  • Or is it that you’re afraid there might be too much negativity?

Still not convinced? Or need to convince someone else? Try reading these:

*Up Next – What you can do after you’ve accepted control is an illusion.

33 thoughts on “Control is an Illusion You Need to Let Go

  1. Well said. We’d profit more from re-channeling energy away from worry/control into making sure that every employee is empowered to have AWESOME transactions with patrons. Today’s organizational brand must get comfortable being out in the (digital) world, warts and all.


  2. Amen to you Bobbi and double Amen to edh. I so wish more organizations would empower them employees. Spend the time and money on educating them instead of trying to control them. Nicely done.


  3. Ah yes, everyone is afraid of what someone might say. It’s more of how to respond when these things happen rather than not letting anyone do anything. If you don’t trust your employees to use a social networking site, what DO you trust them with.


  4. I also wish organizations would empower their employees. There are some many organizations I can think of off of the top of my head that I have gained more respect from after following them or ppl from their organization on Twitter or FB. It’s a great way to get out there. I know of a library that blocks social networking sites and will not let any of their staff on social networking sites. It makes me so sad. They are a big library, too.


    1. I think the thing that makes me laugh about blocking the most is if you have a smart phone it doesn’t matter. You can access any of those sites through your phone without having to use a work pc.


  5. Control, in addition to being about your community members and trying to have them do only what you want them to do, is also about innovation. In all organizations there is a tension between control and innovation. If you constantly try to exert control over the staff, it’s likely you are eliminating the possibilities for innovation. But you probably wouldn’t want to be all of one and none of the other – if everyone is free to be creative, experimental and innovative – who’s going to be making sure the books get back on the shelves? I’ve written more about this here: One strategy is to create a different type of organizational structure that reduces top-down control and puts the responsibility for getting things done into the hands of the employees (and the risks that come along with that responsibility). Looking forward to your follow up post.


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