Wednesday, October 26, 2011

OccupyWallStreet and the social/business revolution

Ten days ago, as I had the opportunity to share some time with people at Liberty Square and assist to one GA, I was inspired by some conversations that defended the following general idea; "we are not here to be violent, we are here to collaborate, to participate in building something different. If the guys leading our banks and financial institutions do not want to participate, fine, we'll change them". As well as by these ideas, I was also struck by the collaborative, participative, shouted model, that has been developed in the GAs. Coming out of the Web2.0Expo, and participating to all these conversations about social media, I found the real life aspect of OccupyWallStreet amazing (videos). And I also found their professionalism, so to speak, very impressive, whether it is in the websites that have been developed and that show quite a mastery of social technologies or the "Direct Democracy & Facilitation Trainings" that are being developed by OccupyTogether.

In Europe, Occupy Wall Street is not getting the attention it deserves. Elsewhere, there has been some analysis of this movement, most of what I have read, by the way, pointing at its shortcomings (here is some perspective by James Marshall Crotty).

From my perspective, this movement is new in the level of internal and external collaboration it shows, and it obviously links to the Jasmine Revolution and the ones that followed. My perspective is that its success or failure will not rest with the protesters ability to make a long stand; this stand needs to be taken into account by leaders, giving way to change in mindsets, and eventually to a transformation of leadership. A leader: someone that leads ... Today, the where and the how are just not clear enough

Occupy Wall Street is a major business, social and political reinvention opportunity. Why is that ? 1. The economy is not providing the kind of prosperity people aspire to and seem ready to build. There is opportunity for a new kind of leadership. 2. The social or web2.0 technologies now deploying across the economy bring with them a mindset that allows fresh economic and business thinking and therefore the achievement of that new prosperity. There is an opportunity for this new leadership to reach its goals.

Optimistic view? Let me explain.

1. The economy, it can be argued, at least in the Western world, seems poised to grow slowly, at best, in the next two to five years. Jobs have been lost, and if you follow W Brian Arthur in this McKinsey Quaterly article, they will not come back. There might be some assets in savings, yes, but where there are savings (like in Europe), it seems that people are not willing to spend what's needed to generate growth.

As for businesses, most of them are unable to provide the products or services that would spur a new surge in growth. That's understandable, at least in the BtoC arena: consumers, hard hit by the debt tornado, do not have a real need for the stuff that's available. I would argue they are waiting for what could be called a new prosperity:  improved public services, health care, education, environmental savvy products, people-development activities, ...

Where are the leaders ? How are they responding to these aspirations ? It really surprises me that few business leaders, so far, have started answering the yarn for a new kind of prosperity by offering new services, new products that are in line with what people are voicing (yes, there are real demands, appart from "let the bankers go"). Offering jobs and offering value.

In one of the conversations at the Web2.0Expo, moderated by Cindy Gallop, we stressed how leaders were, in short, lost and frightened. Lost for lack of understanding of what is happening (and you have to admit it is a complex movement, that can only be understood as arising from a perfect storm made of social aspirations, technological progress, democracy progress, ...). Frightened at letting other people take the lead, whether it is for selfish reasons (those exist) or from very legitimate reasons (as a leader, it is difficult to let go when you are not sure that your are making the right decision).

And yet, opportunities are waiting for leaders to discover them. Let me underline some of them that I know well :

  • There is a need to transform transportation, to cope with a growing complexity of cities and a threatening environmental risk.
  • There is a a need to transform insurance, to take into account new risks coming from the new fabrics of society (anyone said subprimes ?). The same could be said about banking.
  • There is a need to make government and public services more agile, so that they provide real value in real time. 
  • There is a huge need to rethink education, and transform it, leveraging the assets of existing systems but also using new ways and technologies.
  • ...

All those, and many others, are opportunities for growth ! Demand is there, whether it is explicit or not. Financing is definitely there, just waiting for a real opportunity. Talent is there ! There are real expectations for meaning, for a sense of self-esteem that would come from the work we do, that could become something more than just "what I do for a living".

Leaders should take these opportunities. It would help navigate and going out of the coming recession; it would engage talent. It would allow them to gain legitimacy and honor in the eyes of society.

The good news is, almost all assets and skills needed to reach goals that were not imaginable yesterday are there to be used. Or read Carlota Perez, if you do not trust me.

2. I mentioned in my last post that social technology was ready to help in changing the world. Technology is important, but most important still is the new mindset that is deploying with it. Just as it took some years for most business leaders to understand the benefits of mass production, it might take some years for this new mindset to reach a tipping point.

This is where I think some work needs to be done by those today operating in the social business / E2.0 / Web2.0 / ... arena. I have been reading these past few months how social technologies were going to help in improving existing processes by "social enabling them". And, behold, we found the ROI that we had been looking for so long ! Right and true. But that is certainly not enough and it is terribly short-sighted !

If used within the current optimization mindset, these technologies will help business at the expense of the individual and therefore society. It is important to remember that corporations are still widely viewed as vehicles for value creation through efficiency. Innovation, in most of them, is just appearing as an alternative for this value creation.

Efficiency is tightly linked, in an established management mindset, to a taylorist view of the world. Do more with less. And, believe me, social technologies have the potential to push us (managers, employees, leaders) where we do not want to go. To the point where every activity in our life can be linked to our work activity, to the point where there is always something else for me to do. CRM ? Not good enough, now we can link salespeople every single minute of the day, so they can "leverage" the "collective intelligence" to make yet another sale ... even though this "collective intelligence member" might be having dinner with her kids ! This probably rings a bell, right ? What I say for sales departments stands true for any other dimension of the corporation, if social technologies are used within existing processes, mindsets, organizations.

It is my belief, that we need to push for corporate transformation. And therefore, yes, as I said in my introduction "the social or web2.0 technologies now deploying across the economy bring with them a mindset that allows fresh economic and business thinking and therefore the achievement of that new prosperity. There is an opportunity for this new leadership to reach its goals. " There is an opportunity for growth ! But, and it is a huge but, it will need thinking twice about growth and the value growth creates, probably going in the direction pointed by Michael Porter or Umair Haque. And once some ideas about value evolve, there is a need to think about how to share the value that is created, probably using existing models such as Wikipedia, the open web, or so many others. Then, we just might need to reinvent strategy, so that the environment, society, people at large, are not considered as externalities. That thinking made strategy much too easy. It's time to grow up.

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