When the shit hits the fan its time to innovate

September 3rd, 2009

Today, I was in a webinar with Euan Semple. He raised some very profound points concerning innovation and therefore creativity. Author Alan Bennett, once wrote that ordinary people can be instruments of the  sublime when a situation arises which they must confront and engage with. The problem, Euan explained is that corporations think that they must manage the process of innovation, like all other processes – efficiently. Thereby managing the people efficiently.

There are no conscripts in the networked society, only volunteers, said Euan quoting Drucker, and he additionally observed  that coercion is a very poor way to inspire people to deliver their very best work inside organisations. Information locked in silo’s rarely shared, no harnessing of collective intelligence or as Euan pointed out the harnessing of the collective wisdom of 30,000 employees, that needed to be networked, transparent and available.

It also got me thinking about innovation in the context of Tom Kelley’s story about the decline of his home town in Ohio. This was triggered by the only major company that at one time, made all the tyres for all the trucks and cars in America. Putting off the need to innovate to the point that it was too late for them to do anything when the moment to respond to an economic threat had passed them by, so they became obsolete.

This morning, I was reading The Life and Democracy by John Keane. Well worth it. Keane, takes us through the story of how “Representative Democracy” was born,

Contrary to some old-fashioned, devoutly British accounts, which think that Big Ben as timeless, and suppose, arrogantly, tat parliamentary institutions were ‘incomparably the greatest gift of the English people to the civilization of the world’, parliaments were in fact an invention of what today is northern Spain.

Keane tells us that Parliaments were born out of sheer and utter despair – Christianity believed that the tide of Islam was overwhelming it and encroaching upon its bastion strongholds and overthrowing them. Syria, Palestine, Egypt, the North African coast, Constantinople, Spain, and southern France, the sacking of Rome and the occupation of Sicily – it goes on.

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The taking of Jerusalem

Tens of thousands of Christians, felt squeezed by the combined forces of what they saw as discriminatory taxation and contemptuous toleration by Islamic rulers.

Enter, stage left King Alfonso IX of Iberia. His kingdom, says Keane was under intense military pressure, not only from neighbouring fiefdoms but by the Moorish army. Against a bleak situation Alfonso decided to fight his way to freedom. But to do this Alfonso had to innovate to bring disparate parties to a table to agree collectively to a plan of sustained action. Alfonso IX knew that the shit had indeed hit the fan, and, he also knew that when the shit hits the fan you never stand downwind!

Both Alfonso IX and the local nobility agreed that the reconquest required political deals to be struck, minimally by waging war in tandem. But that meant winning over the bishops of the Church, the estate that saw itself as the guardian of souls and the spiritual protector of God’s lands. Launching war also meant costs. Permanent warfare against the Moors had to somehow be paid for.

With the whole region now permanently under siege, and strategically vital towns like León now resembling a walled fortress, Alfonso decide to appeal for their solidarity.

He achieved this by reaching out to those influential men in the town that were recognised by the community as being respected as ‘good men’. These men could deliver trained soldiers, and they could also provide the necessary cash to wage the war. But Alfonso IX also recognised the ‘principal of mutual compromise had to apply: with the backing of the warrior nobility and the Church. He did this by offering protection to the besieged towns in retun for fighting men and money. Alfonso IX understood that he must deeply engage with all stakeholders, and make them accountable to each other. It meant he was no longer supreme ruler, but that was better than life-long servitude under the Moors and their way of life.

And so it was within this princely triangle formed by the nobles, bishops and urban citizens, the modern practice of parliamentary representation was born. In 1188 in León Alfonso convened the first ever cortes.

Keane summarises

Although committed to open discussion, the first ever cortes, was not an assembly of citizens of the Syrian-Mespotamian, Phoenician, Greek, or Islamic kind. It was also not a western version of the Meshawara that developed during the Ottoman Empire. It was instead the brainchild of a self-interested Christian monarch bent on building up his realm, the creation of a political animal who saw that effective government required the creation of a new mechanism for resolving disputes and striking bargains among interested parties who felt they had a common interest in reaching compromise, so avoiding interncine violence.

Thinking the unthinkable

In the networked society, companies premised upon the legacy, linear, mass-media models of: business, organisation, and marketing must think the unthinkable – in fact they must embrace the unthinkable. And work out how they innovate to survive.

For example the Tour de France was created to sell more newspapers of L’Equip in France.

Whilst Rupert Murdoch decides to put up paid walls around the thinning value of his legacy media empire, and his son kicks the BBC in the teeth as they both rage against the networked society, that is dissolving their personal control of the media per se.

The Johnston Press failed to innovate at the moment it needed to and is struggling, as is the Guardian Media Group, as it navel gazes over whether to axe the Observer for cost / cash flow reasons. The music industry lashed around for years liked a wounded bull – until it had to admit its model of distribution and therefore its business model must evolve to survive.

Every work of art said Wassily Kandinsky, is a child of its time.

Money Bonds were created in Italy to raise money for the intercine fighting between cities and towns that developed into a whole banking system.

LEGO innovated in its marketing and product development by co-creating with its most ardent critics and its most ardent advocates; one and the same person in fact – listening and then developing. I believe the view is, that this approach and mindset has enable the company to survive.

Company Command did not ask to set itself up but it has transformed the effectiveness of US company commanders in the field of battle – by enabling people to share and exchange knowledge and information

I guess the hard part is recognising that you are at that very moment where you must seek the sublime from ordinary people enabling you to innovate your way out of extreme danger. Or actually being prepared to admit the shit has hit the fan, rather than handing on the baton, to the next poor sod as you move on or retire.

Communication technology is political, and we are busy using that communication technology to renegotiate what type of world we want to live in, that truly reflects our fundamental needs as human beings.

And we have to innovate around that simple fact.

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