Quit Email, Embrace Open Leadership!

What if being overwhelmed is a symptom of a bumpy transition from the preInternet world to our current environment? What if email is based on preInternet communication?  Could email be contributing to overload and hampering open leadership?

What if open leadership is the change we are all waiting for?

Change? Open Leadership?

Yup, change and open leadership. What if we reframed change as an opportunity to connect, collaborate and create?

“More than anything else, being an educated person means being able to see connections so as to be able to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways”. (Cronon, 1998)

Hold on, how does any of this relate to open leadership? What I am yearning for is not change but the opportunity to feel less overwhelmed and more directly involved with the people I cherish and the things I am passionate about!

It sounds like you do want change, you want to shift away from feeling overwhelmed, you yearn to feel more connected. Quitting email and embracing open leadership might be your answer.

You’re kidding, right?

No. Quit email! You don’t have to do it all at once, but do it sooner rather than later. The demise of email as a major communication technique is inevitable. For many people email was their introduction to the Internet but it really is ‘old think’ based on an old medium – it’s nothing but digitized snail mail.

Ok, I’d love to quit email. It takes up way too much of my time – but I can’t do my job without it and I really don’t see how quitting email has anything to do with open leadership!

Quit email and you will find extra hours in your day but it also means you will have to find an alternative way to communicate. Sometimes that means sitting down for a coffee and “being here now” by really connecting and listening to the person you are with and their ideas, feelings and concerns. Open leadership is about building relationships, but that has implications in our digital world as well. There are much better ways than email to connect. The Internet is an amazing communication tool – so why not take advantage of the properties that are unique to the Internet? The Internet is about the ease and ability with which information can be shared rather than hidden in inboxes and added to  ‘to do’ piles.


The change in the infrastructure of knowledge is altering knowledge’s shape and nature. As knowledge becomes networked, the smartest person in the room isn’t the person standing at the front lecturing us, and isn’t the collective wisdom of those in the room. The smartest person in the room is the room itself: the network that joins the people and ideas in the room, and connects to those outside of it. It’s not that the network is becoming a conscious super-brain. Rather, knowledge is becoming inextricable from—literally unthinkable without—the network that enables it. Our task is to learn how to build smart rooms—that is, how to build networks that make us smarter, especially since, when done badly, networks can make us distressingly stupider. (Weinberger, 2012).

The Internet provides us with the opportunity to share, to contribute, to comment, to debate, to discuss, to come to the table, to choose which table to come to, to plan, and to execute. The role of the leader is no longer about controlling information and having the answers. It’s about engagement, openness and facilitation.

“Open access and knowledge that is available to everyone replaces traditional, rigid hierarchy, making way for a more natural and organic communication structure within companies. Leadership is syndicated among employees, and the manager’s new role is more focused on facilitating.

One manager told us “the most challenging thing about quitting email, is not about never opening your inbox again, but letting go. You have to let go, trust your people, and stand back and give employees decision-making autonomy. Instead of telling them what to do, you leave room for a more organic way of working. It really redistributes power across the board, and sometimes that’s scary, because as a manager, you have to let go. But when you see more creativity and even better results, you know it’s worth it. You don’t tell people what to do, they are able to organize the work themselves, and in a more dynamic way. So give people the room and space to move, and you can expect the unexpected. The traditional hierarchy is transformed into self-managing teams where natural leaders have the opportunity to step forward and shine.” (retrieved from http://www.mixprize.org/hack/quit-email-and-start-living )

People are longing to focus on what really matters. To have time to connect, to engage in issues of consequence, to lead themselves into exercising their own potential and onto their next challenge. People want to create their own change and share their energy, passion and commitment. Open leadership is about finding agency, about learning from others and wrestling with ambiguity in the company of others who care. It’s about discovering voice, about collaboratively navigating the inevitable crocodiles of life and problem solving in a meaningful way. It is about open, connected, creative learning and living!

The infrastructure of the Internet is redefining how we think, know, work, and collaborate. It is redefining leadership and the look of both education and business.


Cronon, W. (1998). 10 Qualities of a liberally educated person. Retrieved from http://www.honors.ls.wisc.edu/SiteContent.aspx?prev=1&id=159

Weinberger, D. (2012). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. Perseus Books Group: Kindle Edition.



About Maureen Crawford

I work as a researcher and educational consultant. My undergraduate degree is in industrial design so design thinking has long been part of my process - emergent connectivist learning resonates strongly with me.
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4 Responses to Quit Email, Embrace Open Leadership!

  1. tanyalau says:

    Hi Maureen – thx for this post, lots of interesting resources here, and food for thought!! Have been wondering about this too – agree there are some clear benefits as highlighted. I definitely see the benefits of eliminating email in a work / organisational context (I think the experience of 62 emails for 1 decision is something we’ve all experienced – and continue to every day…)….Do you also advocate the elimination of personal email too? I’m wondering about the logistics and thinking of when I use email and why – there are still certain contexts which call for long form private communication that I might not necessarily use another medium for. It’s also the one thing I check consistently every day so it’s useful for consolidating notifications from other social platforms (i.e. instead of having to check 10 different platforms individually). I’ve also found it interesting that in the online communities / collaborations I’m involved in, often background conversations to do with coordinating and management of people and activities tends to happen via email – probably because of its ubiquity- it’s the one communication platform everyone has.
    And email’s ubiquity as a communication platform is possibly the biggest challenge to ‘quitting’ email – unless everyone quits email and moves to another common platform, it’s going to be a challenge…(isn’t it?). That said, I’m certain that if email were to be universally eliminated one day we’d quickly find new ways and means to communicate. (Perhaps that’s what we need: a global email apocalypse to force us all to quit it!).
    Have you tried quitting? Would be interested to hear your experiences if so.

    • Tanya,
      I am certainly not against email per say. In fact I think it plays a role, particularly in personal relationships. I don’t need the whole world to be able to see or participate at any level with the quick email that I send to my mother.
      What I was really trying to do here was to look at email as a technique and to place it in Logan’s framework of meta languages. Email is simply a digitized form of snail mail. Linguistically it belongs to writing rather than to Internet Lingo.
      When a new form of communication is created it does not eclipse or make the old forms redundant. I think it is significant and important for us to realize that email is not a new way of communicating. It is simple a new way of delivering an old communication technique.

  2. Pingback: Has the Internet changed how we think? yet? | Thinking Out Loud

  3. Kevin Jones says:

    Maureen, I’m glad the “Email Trees” video was helpful! Another resource on the QUIT EMAIL topic, if you don’t know about him, look up my good friend Luis Suarez (http://www.elsua.net/) He gave up email years ago when working at IBM and talks about how he gave it all up and the freedom he had. Enjoy!

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