Blog: Imagine

Marching to Clever Campaigns

26 January 2017

Missing from the marches on Saturday was Saul Alinsky, the legendary organizer of decades ago who, beyond marching, conceived clever campaigns to drive social change in the U.S.—by driving established authorities crazy.

Here is a simple example, in the spirit of Alinsky: In the late 1960s, in San Antonio, Texas, people who were fed up with their utility company overpaid their bill by 1¢. That simple cent, multiplied many times over, tied the bureaucracy in knots. It gave in.

Missing from the marches on Saturday was Saul Alinsky, the legendary organizer of decades ago who, beyond marching, conceived clever campaigns to drive social change in the U.S.—by driving established authorities crazy.

Here is a simple example, in the spirit of Alinsky: In the late 1960s, in San Antonio, Texas, people who were fed up with their utility company overpaid their bill by 1¢. That simple cent, multiplied many times over, tied the bureaucracy in knots. It gave in.

From schoolyards to the White House to the global marketplace, it is remarkable how easily bullies can be outmaneuvered by a bit of imagination. To quote Alinsky in his book Rules for Radicals: “…the disturbance would [have to] be utterly outside the experience of the establishment, which was expecting the usual stuff of mass meetings, street demonstrations, confrontations and parades.”

David brought down Goliath with an unexpected stone. (Of course, the Bible tells us that Joshua brought down the walls of Jericho with a march. But don’t expect this to happen again.) Trump is big and boastful too—and no less vulnerable. His offensive proposals can be brought down, not by violence or the breaking of laws, but by plain old ingenuity. Hit them where it hurts, bearing in mind one of Alinsky’s basic tactics: “Ridicule is [the] most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.” Trump it is!

Well before Saturday, he was aware of the intense resitance to his election. Indeed, the marches may have strengthened his resolve. While millions of women were voting with their feet, on the ground, one man in the White House was consolidating a cabinet that will violate their interests. And quite the cabinet it is: Exxon and Goldman Sachs taking on the establishment! In alternate fact, there are  two establishments in America, business and government, and the stronger has just taken control of the weaker. Business no longer need merely lobby government; now it is government. Things will likely get worse before they can get better.

How, then, to get them better? Tap into the energy of Saturday’s marches. See them as the foundation on which to build a framework for action.

It is telling how many people were prepared to express their concerns publicly, no few marching for the first time. With a taste of acting together, all these people constitute a potent starting point for change—but only that. Mass action will have to follow, creatively targeted at specific proposals coming out of this administration.

Please understand that this is about more than Donald Trump. He is an extreme symptom of problems that have been festering for years, in America and, increasingly, elsewhere: income inequalities, legalized bribery (in the form of political donations), unregulated globalization run rampant, and so much more, resulting in the demise of democracy and the denigration of decency. Some voters, not knowing which way to turn, have brought into power a slew of bullies all over the world. Figuratively and almost literally, these people will be pouring oil on the fires of this planet.

It will thus fall to the concerned folks, all over the world, to do  something about this. Bear in mind what made America great in the first place: protest turned into inspired action against indecent authority.

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. Photo by Mobilus In Mobili (CC BY-SA 2.0) For more with For more on Saul Alinsky, please see:

http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/360/saul-alinsky/

 

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Do we really need stock markets?

11 February 2016

Last week’s TWOG on family business included some comments on sustaining the spirit of the enterprise by staying off the stock market. This week’s TWOG opens that discussion up more widely.

You have an idea and lots of energy. So you create a company. It works. Your customers are delighted, your employees are engaged, you feel great, even the economy benefits. Everybody wins.

But as the company grows, you become concerned.  What if you get hit by a truck, and your kids are still playboys and playgirls?  Or you wish to retire in the manner to which you have become accustomed. Or you want to grow faster than your own resources will allow. Your financial friends tell you to do an IPO—an Initial Public Offering: cash out, or get the cash in. So you do, and it becomes a turning point. Was it a mistake?

Last week’s TWOG on family business included some comments on sustaining the spirit of the enterprise by staying off the stock market. This week’s TWOG opens that discussion up more widely.

You have an idea and lots of energy. So you create a company. It works. Your customers are delighted, your employees are engaged, you feel great, even the economy benefits. Everybody wins.

But as the company grows, you become concerned.  What if you get hit by a truck, and your kids are still playboys and playgirls?  Or you wish to retire in the manner to which you have become accustomed. Or you want to grow faster than your own resources will allow. Your financial friends tell you to do an IPO—an Initial Public Offering: cash out, or get the cash in. So you do, and it becomes a turning point. Was it a mistake?

Companies are usually formed in the fire of entrepreneurship. Someone is driven by a compelling idea to create an enterprise. He or she may wish to make a lot of money, or become celebrated, or avoid having a boss. But often, especially in the best of cases, there is something more: a sense of building something exciting, by serving people in some new way. And that can result in a truly engaging enterprise. There’s a sense of purpose, of community, of breaking new ground together that engages everyone involved.

Then comes that IPO, often with the realization that you have cashed out spiritually. There’s a different feeling in the place, not quite the same sense of engagement. The market analysts are hovering, the day traders are manoeuvring, and those reports have to be issued every quarter. Now you are supposed to see the world—customers, employees, suppliers, everybody and everything—through $-colored glasses. Was that IPO worth it? Even for you, let alone for your employees and customers? And how about your community, the economy, and society?

Carcinogenic Growth   Some entrepreneurs push too hard for growth and bankrupt their companies. Others are in less of a rush, perhaps because they want to work things out carefully, or just savour the growth.  But the stock markets may have none of that. They are about more, more, more—now, now, now. Relentless growth is the game, one-dimensional, to drive up the share price. Publicly traded companies have to keep feeding the beast.

In March of 2015, a deranged pilot flew a Germanwings airplane into the face of a mountain, murdering 150 people. Just over a month later, a New York Times article reported from a shareholders’ meeting that “at a time when Lufthansa faces urgent commercial challenges…many shareholders expressed concern...that the Germanwings tragedy risks detracting management from its turnaround efforts.” One portfolio manager claimed that Lufthansa management “will have to come back to reality.” The murder of 150 people was apparently a distraction; reality is getting back to managing value for the shareholders.

One-dimensional corporations, like one-dimensional people, are pathological: they are an invasive species that have no business in a healthy society. Why build compelling enterprises and then jettison their engagement? What kind of a society, let alone economy, does that render? Look around. Someone once likened this kind of growth to that of the cancer cell. Have we created a malignant world for ourselves?

Stock markets could help themselves. They could discourage the nonsense of reporting quarterly earnings. Can anyone really believe that a sizable enterprise exhibits perceptible change every three months? And they could support the taxing of trades to dampen the wild swings of short-term investing. Somehow we now find ourselves with day traders technically owning the companies while employees who have dedicated their lives to these companies count for nothing at all. There are other ways to own and finance enterprises, quite a variety in fact.

Finding Patient Capital   One is to find investors who are not in a hurry, but are willing to go with the natural pace of the enterprise. Sure they want to make money, but not by turning it over quickly, or pressuring an entity that needs time to develop. Warren Buffett has taught us a thing or two about patient capital.

Establishing a Trust  How about being on the stock market but keeping the analysts at bay by issuing a different class of voting shares? Tata in India and Novo Nordisk in Denmark have created family trusts to hold the voting shares.

Converting to a Cooperative   If you are feeling generous, you can pass the ownership on to the employees: turn the company into a cooperative. If this sounds funny, think of it this way: preserving your fortune will do you no good after you die, but how about preserving your legacy? Spedan Lewis, son of the founder of a major retail business in the U.K., did this in a remarkable way. In 1950, he turned it into The John Lewis Partnership. Now almost 90,000 employees own the chain of highly successful department stores and supermarkets. 

Being a Benefit Corporation   My own publisher announced in October: “Now Berrett-Koehler is the first book publisher in the world to go beyond B Corp certification to also become a Benefit Corporation. Whereas B Corp certification is a voluntary process, becoming a Benefit Corporation puts the force of law behind Berrett-Koehler’s longstanding social mission values, practices, and objectives. A Benefit Corporation is a new class of for-profit corporation based on laws recently enacted in 30 states, including California.” The company has not done an IPO. When it wished to raise money it turned to its own authors, as well as customers, employees, and other stakeholders. Over 200 bought shares, including nearly 70 of us authors.

Using crowdfunding   What Berrett-Koehler did resembles crowdfunding. Initially the idea was to use the Internet to invite many people to help fund good causes. But it has also become a way to offer shares in an enterprise without going to the stock market. When many people each buy a little bit of ownership, a company can raise a good deal of capital.

How about bartering?   Here you get your customers or suppliers to invest money that you would otherwise have to spend to start or grow the enterprise. We have a company called CoachingOurselves.com that enables groups of managers to develop themselves in their own workplaces. Needless to say, we have done no IPO, nor do we have any investment capital. We have used a good deal of what is called “sweat capital”—the time of the owners—especially that of Phil LeNir, who runs the company. But he has done something else too: avoided some investment spending by using willing customers to do what we would have had to do instead. When a client wanted to use our material in French, Phil said: Sure, you can have it for free, if you do the translation, which we can then sell to other clients.

Beginning as a cooperative or social enterprise   Social entrepreneurs create businesses that are owned by members or by no-one. Members of cooperatives can be customers (as in mutual banks), suppliers (as in farm coops), or employees (75,000 of them in the Basque Mondragon Federation, with 260 cooperative enterprises and total sales of €12 billion). The United States alone has more cooperative memberships—about 350 million—than people! Social enterprises are businesses that are owned by no-one. In fact, many well-known NGOs have business activities alongside their more prominent social activities. The Red Cross does, after all, sell swimming lessons, and in Kenya has built commercial hotels to support its beneficial activities.

A healthy society is sustained by a robust, responsible, and diverse economy, not one driven by the mercenary forces of one-dimensional growth. Its enterprises enhance the democratic nature of the society by balancing social needs with economic ones, and helping to ensure a reasonable distribution of wealth. Stock markets are not about to disappear but, as currently conceived, they have done enough damage. The developed societies have created immense wealth. When do we get to cash that in for healthier and more decent lives?

© Henry Mintzberg 2016 Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here.

Win-Winning in a Collaborative World

18 June 2015

     We played collaborative baseball this weekend, with 17 members of the family, from 7 to 75. Tiny infielders and towering outfielders.  (That’s bubby at bat in the photo.) Two of the older kids organized the teams, but somehow everybody managed to organize everything.

Bubby at bat

     So who won? My goodness, we forgot to keep score. We shall never know. But that hardly matters because the teams got all mixed up. What we do know is that a good time was had by all.1 Winning didn’t spoil the game, or, more to the point, everyone won-won. Imagine playing life like this.

     We played collaborative baseball this weekend, with 17 members of the family, from 7 to 75. Tiny infielders and towering outfielders.  (That’s bubby at bat in the photo.) Two of the older kids organized the teams, but somehow everybody managed to organize everything.

Bubby at bat

     So who won? My goodness, we forgot to keep score. We shall never know. But that hardly matters because the teams got all mixed up. What we do know is that a good time was had by all.1 Winning didn’t spoil the game, or, more to the point, everyone won-won. Imagine playing life like this.

     You don’t need a big gang to play win-win. Let me suggest collaborative badminton, where the object is to hit the birdie back, not beat the other person. (Not recommended for experts.) Here you keep score by counting how many times the two of you hit back the birdie before it hits the ground. Hence boundaries don’t matter—just hit the thing back—but clever shots into corners are not sportsman-like (because they are hard to hit back). Imagine if playing together like this became habit-forming.

     Proper economists will be quick to point out that this isn’t the “real world.” That’s competitive, not collaborative, about self-interest. They even think that altruism is just disguised self-interest. You have to wonder what kind of mothers these people had.

     Unfortunately, mothers and bubbies aside, this is our real world, thanks to people in powerful positions who have to win at any cost. But can we continue to tolerate this in a zero-sum world with finite resources? Winning is spoiling the world. A bad time is being had by too many people

     Training our youth to be hyper-competitive may have served certain needs for development and protection. But in a world of nuclear weapons, on a planet that is warming, with infections that are spreading, we had better get co-operative before it’s too late.

     Don’t get me wrong. I am not calling for an end to competition, even if that were possible. What we need is an end to is the winner-take-all mentality—some people having to be bigger, faster, richer, more powerful at the expense of  many other people, and, ultimately, themselves. (I’ll do a TWOG on the “rich man’s burden” some other time.) We shall have to balance competition with cooperation. So let’s get real and play more win-win before we all lose-lose.

     Imagine collaborative politics. That sometimes happens in the face of a major threat: people pull together for the common good. Well now what we have in common are a host of major threats. So imagine collaborative globalization too—organizing the world like a family baseball game.

The collaborative baseball team

A different family outing on the same day (Shot by daughter Lisa in London)

© Henry Mintzberg 2015. See Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center (Berrett-Kohler, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk)

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1 Word wanted me to change this to “All had a good time”!