I’m reading Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree. It is basically Friedman’s love letter to globalization. In the book, he includes a conversation about the flow of information and how that has changed for countries and organizations. He creates a parallel between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the walls around these countries and organizations that used to be able to control the flow of information. Top-heavy organizations, as he calls them, begin to topple as they struggle to maintain balance in the world after their walls fall (think the Soviet Union and IBM). Organizations that successfully navigate the flow of information in the new system do so by rethinking where the information comes from and who has access to it. Shapiro, who was CEO of Monsanto during this era of change in the 90s, put it like this,
“In the past, I could justify my leadership by the fact that I had the broadest scope of information, and therefore I had a perspective that no one else in the company had, so I was adding value to the process by making decisions by myself. But now, with e-mail, intranets, and the internet, everyone on the front lines has much of the information I have, and often more. Even if I wanted to, I could not deny them the information. So any hierarchy that bases itself on denying information to its citizens or employees is not going to work. Now it has to be much more of a team effort. I suspect I listen better to more people all the time now because I know that they have much more information and therefore have a better basis for their point of view now – better than they used to have and better than I used to have.”
This discussion felt very familiar to me, and if you’ve been following the shift in religious culture over the last several decades, it probably seems familiar to you too. People are leaving religion in droves. This isn’t just a Mormon problem, but it *is* a Mormon problem. Leaders of the church see it, and I believe they know that they have an information problem and that this is causing them to hemorrhage membership. I don’t think they understand the way things need to be reframed in order to fix the problem. You can’t just warn people about the dangers of information on the Internet and tell them to keep the Sabbath Day holy and expect things to turn around. What leadership needs to understand about the flow of information is what Shapiro emphasized: “I suspect I listen better to more people all the time now because I know that they have much more information and therefore have a better basis for their point of view now – better than they used to have and better than I used to have.”
Our leaders need to do a better job of hearing what members of the church know. They need to understand that our biases and points of view are based on information that we have gathered and studied. There was a day when all the members of the world would gather in their stake centers twice a year for General Conference; they would retrieve their Ensigns from their mailboxes once a month, and they would attend church on Sunday. This was where they gained information about Mormonism, their faith, and their beliefs. Their resources were limited to materials that the leaders of the church had complete control over.
Those days are gone. Now our understanding of Mormonism, faith, and beliefs is based on a plethora of information that we are inundated with after the push of a button. There are thousands of members that are no longer satisfied with declarations from the pulpit. We have too much information, and we are too well versed in history and doctrine and a global worldview of religion and people and diverse ways of approaching life. We are passed the point when the majority of the church will believe something just because an apostle said it. Until (unless?) the leaders of the church begin to grapple with this new age, and with the way the flow of information works for us now, our top-heavy church will continue to topple.
Friedman, T. L. (2000). The Lexus and the olive tree. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux. I can’t give you page numbers for what I’ve referenced here because I’m listening to the audio book, but I can tell you it is Chapter 5.