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Is it harder to innovate in democracy?

Democratic organizations that don’t hold broader conversations than everyday management are condemned to be even more conservative than traditional businesses.

mundo-reticularTomorrow we’ll begin the formalization of our entry into ner group, which is the result of months of conversation and work together in Fondaki-SIP-ner. The balance couldn’t be more positive, and what we’ve learned, despite the short time spent here, is more than a little. For us Indianos, as the ones who market Fondaki, it means that for the first time, we’ll be working with clients with a different profile than those we’ve had up until now. Smaller businesses, but above all, more democratic. That’s fantastic, of course, it’s what fits with our values, but… it requires us to change the narrative about innovation and the meaning of our work when it comes time to sell. Why?

  1. In a democratic business, decisions are shared and explained among many people, if not among all.
  2. While, in a traditional business, you can more or less work out a context with the decision-makers; in a democratic business there’s no time to transmit and discuss contexts with everyone, so…
  3. …decisions are based on clear cause-and-effect narratives (about net results)

The result is that:

  1. There’s no place for contextual seduction that opens the other person up to hunches because…
  2. …the opportunity to bet on an incalculable benefit at minute zero and the “cost of inaction or ignorance” are difficult to transmit, which means that in the end…
  3. …intangibles are not met with support, or are simply associated with risks, even thought they are more uncertainties than risks (which is to say, they can’t even be assigned an ex ante probability with which to measure the efficiency of the expenditure).

It’s clear that in this context, only “planned innovation” is easily transmissible, which the old captains of industry liked so much, and which has absolutely no innovation in it. Another way of incorporating innovation, which Mondragon has followed, is to separate out different organizations and processes. But my impression is that this is like making a tunnel to alleviate traffic: you can easily move a certain distance further, but at the end of the tunnel (that is, when it’s time to sell something new to cooperatives and the broader surroundings), the cars will find themselves at the same stoplight as always; we’ve simply provided ourselves with another place for a traffic jam.

So…?

Indianos, and those of us generally who have spent decades designing and selling innovation are used to a certain schizophrenia: knowledge is developed openly, in conversation in and with a setting that is not our clients. Then, that is distilled into products, and the products are sold to little groups of decision-makers that have not taken part in the debate. The products “express” us, express that knowledge, but in reality, only transmit it when they are developed or put to use by the client.

In democracy, things are different. In fact, they’re just the opposite: if we don’t incorporate the people who make up the organizations into our concerns before we offer them answers, there’s no way they’ll understand the relevance of the proposals and products. It’s the same whether we’re talking about commercial intelligence or about using free software on in-house servers instead of depending on an external server. Seen another way, democratic organizations that don’t hold broader conversations than those about everyday management are condemned to be even more conservative than traditional businesses.

In reality, we don’t need to sell differently: enthusiasm, and the existence of meaning, come through to the people who listen to us. But we can’t ask them to transmit it if they don’t answer the questions that are being asked in coffeeshops, over meals, or in assemblies. What we have to do is invite others to question, to see their project as part of a much bigger picture of a world in social, technological, and geopolitical change, where they have a leading role.

That’s why the most important thing we’ve made so far is “Resilience!” Its effect, opening and giving wings to internal conversations in each project-community, is laying out the path for us to follow.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish).

«Is it harder to innovate in democracy?» recibió 1 desde que se publicó el Sábado 23 de Febrero de 2013 . Si te ha gustado este post quizá te gusten otros posts escritos por David de Ugarte.

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