Perhaps, in a way, this is what I have been trying to answer all along. Ever since I was inspired by Douglas Adams while I was at school. Three books and hundreds of blog posts later, I am delighted to say that someone has done the research, that I never did and they have written a book that clarifies exactly why authenticity is the key to both resolving most of the issues we face as a society and in business it also shows us the path to the next level of a society that is broadly fulfilling and sustainable.
The next question is: Are we ready to do it?
The book is Why Nations Fail – The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. The well researched hypotheses of the book is that throughout history human societies have been based on “extractive” principles, once a society coalesces into a centralised state (not all do) they are typically run autocratically and largely for the benefit of a small ruling elite. These societies will never sustain innovation or spread wealth to the population because neither is in the interests of the ruling elite.
The ruling elite want to keep the population under control in order to maintain the status quo. Therefore education of the population and the creative destruction required for innovation are both too risky. Equally a subjugated population have little incentive to innovate if their property or wealth can be arbitrarily removed by the elite. Autocratic and extractive societies can create periods of impressive growth (such as the early days of the USSR and China today), but those periods will always be limited by a reluctance to embrace creative destruction and in fighting between elites seeking to seize power.
In their extensive research and examples the authors identify two attempts at a more inclusive and pluralistic system, with the Roman Republic and Venice, before the English finally created and sustained (so far) a more inclusive and pluralistic system from 1688 onwards. The “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 created the conditions for the Industrial Revolution and sustained innovation.
The more pluralistic and inclusive a social system is the more creative, the more innovative and the more wealthy it will be. The more autocratic and extractive the less innovative and the more harmful it will be to the population. The present concentration of wealth into the less than 1% of the population is harmful to the long term prospects of our society. Voting in any government which further enriches and empowers the elite is self limiting for a society.
The same forces are effective at the smaller scale of business. An autocratic, hierarchical and extractive model can work, but only for a relatively short period of time and only to a limited scale.
For a business to grow and to be sustained over the longer term it has to innovate. For a business to innovate it has to embrace creative destruction and it has to inspire and empower all of its stakeholders – especially employees. The name I use for this is Authentic Business and the leadership required to enable it is Authentic Leadership.
Last week I did my first vision session with a business based on a 50 year timeframe, as discussed in last weeks blog. The 50 year timeframe transformed the conversation and the quality of the decision making in the team. It was easy to agree to the principle of a 50 year vision, it made perfect sense to think much further ahead, and as soon as we did we could move beyond the people in the room and their agendas and align around something far bigger, where achieving individual ambitions becomes a by product of the larger and longer vision.
Are we ready as individuals to commit to a long vision? Are we ready to commit to the long vision for our businesses? Are we ready to commit to the long vision for our societies? If we are, and we can also embrace authenticity, inclusiveness and plurality, we might just be able to create something magnificent.
It is our choices that create the future.
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