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March 30, 2009

It's about getting a grip or not

Grip Picture by RightEye. © RightEye. All rights reserved

As the G20 debate bears down on London, many are doing a bit of speculating: Will the marches be peaceful? Will we be breathing more easily by the time it’s over? Will anything concrete come of it, or will global indecision send us into an abyss?

It’s very tempting in times of uncertainty to tighten one’s grip, and the almost innate human reaction is to tighten the sphincter. When markets dry up, we’re supposed to sell harder, and when anarchy threatens to break out, the almost automatic response is more policing.

But this is potentially a very creative time. Consider the counter-intuitive reaction of less grip, not more. Psychological studies suggest that being in grip is neurotically playing to the opposite side of one’s best self. The laws of physics tell us that real change is not a violent swing from one side to the other, but the synthesis of thesis and antithesis combined. This is what creates direction instead of reaction, and possible, progressive ways forward.

There are lots of ways to get to grips with a situation. At his EdgeEconomy blog, Umair Haque is talking about a financial cold war and coup d'etat, calling
the Geithner plan 'a weapon of social, political, and economic mass destruction'. On youtube, Michael Hudson is talking about a kleptocracy, and both amount to the same thing - that the economic issue that the G20 must address is how to unloosen this unhealthy financial grip, the stranglehold of capitalism in the hands of the few that’s managed to drive sustainable business management into the buffers at the expense of the many.

How do we evolve from here? My own personal message to the G20 is it's time to profit with, and not profit from, the people, and what change demands is that we tune into new global psyche. Governments are not the natural home nor the harbingers of the creativity and innovation that’s now required to liberate and drive us out of depression; instead it’s the social voice that must now hold sway.

We have to drop our deference and, as people congregrate online, realize that the value of the trusted network is in a great ascendancy as the seedbed that can help to chart a creative and co-created economically sustainable future.

Howard Bloom puts this very eloquently in an article Reinventing Capitalism: Putting Soul in the Machine that should be required reading for all the attendees of the G20 summit, because whenever there have been times of great uncertainty economically, it’s grip that’s traditionally moved into place. Whilst leadership is needed, what's needed most of all are big ideas, the kind of leadership that can inspire as opposed to control. It's that which moves us. It’s leadership that requires blatant integrity. Going from Business to Usiness means dropping the ‘B’.

Uncertainty gave raise to dictatorship in history after the 1848 French revolutions, after the Russian Revolution and after the Weimar Republic, to name just three incidences in the last century of a fairly common and unfortunate social tendency. Then, in each instance, moderation gave way to authority and tyranny in the face of fear. The mass market of the day didn't have the tools to do much else either.

By comparison, now we do, and we need uncertainty to give rise to democracy as never before. There's a great challenge and an opportunity in this. Hierachies have their place and social order has to harmonize with the fluidity of network. But, as was the prize of the American revolution as a managment alternative to an outmoded sovereignty of the time, the social voice now needs to organize itself into a homestead for new value. That means collaboration not control and generosity of spirit instead of greed.

Less grip, not more.

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Paradoxically I say we need both more grip AND less grip.

We need more of a grip on our values and fundamental organizing principles. And we need less of a grip on the ways in which we express values and organizing principles.

No amount of tightening the grip on the economy by government will solve the problems of a very loose grip, or no grip at all, on values like integrity, honesty, transparency, and "doing the right thing", or organizing principles like, expose signs of weakness and failure before things collapse, or do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (The golden rule, if lived, could solve a lot of problems)

Where the G20 leaders, and organizational leaders need to focus is on values and organizing principles, and then they can confidently unleash peoples' creativity.
Do we value greed Y/N
Do we value huge disparities in opportunity and income Y/N
Do we value regulation to constrain our worst excesses Y/N
Do we value control over our people Y/N
Do we value consequences for those who put the system at risk Y/N

Complex adaptive intelligent human social systems work best with a few simple rules and all the freedom in the world for its members to self-organize.

So I'd say to the G20 leaders, "get a grip!" - on your values and principles not on the freedom of intelligent people to take responsible actions.

I'd distinguish "grip" versus "clench."

What we need less of is "clench" and "cling."

But we need to "hold" to what we care about, and keep our "grip" on what's important.

Contraction with openness & connection = holding, gripping.

Contraction as vision narrows and fear rises = clenching, clinging.

Excellent post Anne.

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