Democracy, racism and innovation
By Cristian Welsh Miguens, CMC | IMC Brasil

Strange times we are living these days! 
Having to cope with a pandemic and its damaging effects seems to be not enough, now we have to get used with social unrest too.

Recent rallies and public manifestations have caught my attention mainly not for easily transforming themselves into a mob, which it may be expected when there is real unrest. It is not either their alleged purpose and ideals, which most of us would endorse. The problem is their proposals, because they don’t address the problem, they simply point out someone to be blamed and then to be punished and/or demand privileges for themselves, denying them to those that they oppose at the moment.

Those that say they defend democracy and its principles, propose anti-democratic measures, mainly reducing liberties. Those that say they are fighting racism, intolerance and discrimination, they simply propose that the privileges that characterize such situations change hands, not understanding that they are becoming racists, intolerant and discriminant such as those they are opposing to, but with opposite signal.

We could discuss the consequences of such behavior in a sociological, psychological, or ideological point of view. This is not the place to do so, although there should be more public content being produced on these matters. My proposal is to analyze this phenomenon on the light of business management and the promotion of best practices in businesses and environments enhancing value generation, productivity improvement, social and economical development, in sum, enhancing progress.

Using Andrés Oppenheimer’s book “Innovate or Die! : How to Reinvent Yourself and Thrive in the INNOVATION Age (English Edition)” and his conclusion as a reference, he states that while innovation will be a key issue for future development and improvement, innovation itself is intimately linked and is produced mainly in environments that somewhat support and stimulate diversity.

To start with, creating environments stimulating diversity is the opposite of promoting a shift in privileges from one side to another. It has to do with eliminating privileges and enforcing it, not only through regulations, laws, bills or any such instrument but through real actions and examples, specially from those “influencers” (in management language, leaders) that are appreciated, admired and followed.

The second issue to take into account is what Mosés Naím, a Venezuelan author and article writer, wrote in his book “The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn't What It Used to Be”, in 2013. Power and the way it is used, is essential to be considered regarding the decision making process leading to proactive action. What Naím tries to show is that while powerful people and institutions, or at least those that are broadly accepted as having such power, keep having much power, internet and social media are causing power redistribution, reducing slowly but systematically the real power in the hands of those we yet perceive as being powerful. This is also true inside companies.

The third and last issue I’d like to consider in this article is what businessmen and consultants should do to promote innovation and progress within organizations. In the light of what I wrote above, it should be to find means of creating environments in which diversity plays a main roll. Supporting such environments and their development is an extremely difficult task. 

Although digitalization, an agenda present in organizations for at least the last five years, was already underway decentralizing decision making, approximating clients, other stakeholders and organizations, none of the proposed solutions, specifically addresses the need to create a diversity environment within organizations. 

Some people may say that it is too late, that creating these environments is not only not enough but that it will increase social unrest and conflicts. They will argue pointing out to the fact that it is useless for people to engage in discussions just because people are not open minded enough as to be able to change their minds. They will point out also to the fact that nowadays people gather around together only with people that think the same as themselves and that this behavior has created the actual polarization in society. I still believe that these facts are not definite.

To create environments embracing diversity, where discussion and contrasting arguments should be the rule, change is required in people’s attitudes. Not only respect to each other’s opinion should be stimulated, it should be enforced; educating people to understand that opinion is not just what each one likes but it should be based in knowledge and research; discussions consume time, a lot of time - time spending in discussions must be tolerated; a debate has rules - people should be educated on such rules, never allowing a discussion to deviate into personal attacks; dissent will appear - leaders within the organization should set in place rules to deal with such dissent; leaders will lose power - they should ask themselves if they are ready to lose power; last, but not least, consensus is not the target - making a majority within certain amount of people doesn’t mean they are always right, so, what instruments will be used to rule discussions and final decision making?

Constant arguing is not the right way to deal with specific issues and tasks either. This means that, at some point during a discussion, someone should be able to freeze it and make the team accept a final decision and then start working on the issue. This culture will not be achieved immediately. It is a confidence developing and construction process within the team. 

Another issue to be addressed is how will improvement be measured? It must be measured somehow.

In a complex world, innovation will make the difference. Innovation, to happen, needs environments embracing diversity and rules to discipline interactions and engagement between people.

Hierarchy and authority as an exclusive decision-making instrument is not anymore efficient enough by itself. We don’t have yet a general agreement regarding a new model to substitute it, meaning there will be a need to create new models. Change is required.

Consultants must engage in this effort. Consultants have chances to experiment new solutions. Consultants have the specific opportunities and the specific skills to make a difference to transform organizations and then, to transform society. I hope we live to meet this challenge.