Through the financial crisis in the later part of 2008, far too many people have lost their homes and their jobs, with the banking industry paying bonuses to the executives involved. Umair Haque describes what we are experiencing, as a “metamovement, an increasingly resonant reverberation of people challenging a brutal state of malfunction, challenging the Great Splintering of institutions and social contracts.” As Tom Friedman puts it, were not entirely clear what exactly “it” is, but somethings happening here.Whatever is happening, there are economic and moral challenges involved. And it creates new challenges for businesses.In their 2009 book The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett argue that gross inequality tears at the human psyche, creating anxiety, distrust and a range of mental and physical ailments. They back up their argument with mountains of data. Most every measure of well being — from life expectancy to mental illness, violence to illiteracy — is affected less by how wealthy a society is on average, and more by its level of income inequality. Societies with a bigger gap between rich and poor are worse for everyone in them, including the well off. And America now has the widest gap in income inequality of every developed country measured.Inequality undermines the trust, solidarity, and mutuality. And yet these elements of trust, solidarity, mutuality are the core of a culture of innovation. When anyone discounts the human stuff that enables people to create together, all the quantitative business stuff gets harder. Business performance goes up when engagement and collaboration go up.Engagement and collaboration sit at odds with extreme inequality. When only a few titled leaders set direction and the rest of the talent are meant to simply execute, organizations end up with a culture in which people wait to be told what to do. Ultimately, this slows the companys growth velocity and hurts every aspect of performance. This is the subject of my first book. When we open up the spigot of an organizations talent, and combine it with a culture that lets all people contribute to innovation, we can and will come up with endless ways to create a better prosperity. Some are calling this direction a human economy, which captures a certain truth.Many question if this set of protests mean anything, or if anything will change. But there is an undercurrent worth listening to, of people seeking a shared narrative that will unite more than divide. Whatever you choose to call it, the point is this: together, we win. More often, and better. We no longer live in a world where a few create and the rest do. We no longer live in a world where we are talked at. This shift means were all responsible for co-creating what comes next.
October 13, 2011