To Win-Win in a Balanced World: Ask John. Ask Irene. Ask the BIG question.16 January 2015
The last three TWOGs have presented various aspects of Rebalancing Society, my new book.1 Last week it was about “Lose-lose in the global world.” This week’s TWOG, my final one in this sequence, draws these together in five points that consider how we can shift toward win-win in a world of balance.
First: We need radical renewal, to get past the pendulum politics of left and right as well as paralyzed politics in the center, toward a world that balances engaging democracy, responsible enterprise, and widespread inclusion. (See the diagrams below.) This is no longer a battle between liberals and conservatives: well-meaning people of all stripes want to conserve what is precious in this world and replace what is dragging it down.
John is a friend, an American physician-researcher who sees himself as moderately conservative. He would not likely have read Rebalancing Society had I not asked him for comments. He has since become an enthusiastic proponent of many of its ideas. In an email, he referred to the many good folks of America who are “being bamboozled by corrupt politicians and fat cats who are ruining the country.”
So much for left and right. Is this a conservative position? You bet it is. A liberal position? Sure.2 So here is The John Question, as I see it: How to reach people like John who might not normally be exposed to “radical” ideas that they may well find reasonable? (Mid-week I intend to post a Guest TWOG by John, who has just written with his take on the John Question, including some salient comments about personal engagement in radical renewal.)
Second: Radical renewal will have to begin in the plural sector, so that necessary reforms can follow in the public and private sectors. As noted in a previous TWOG, many governments today are overwhelmed by the entitlements of private interests, and, in the private sector, corporate social responsibility will not compensate for all the corporate social irresponsibility we see around us. This leaves the plural sector as the place to begin the serious rebalancing of society.
What is this plural sector? Each of us and all of us. While many of us work in the private sector and vote in the public sector, but we are the plural sector—in our personal lives and our social affiliations. There are renowned institutions in this sector too, owned neither by governments nor private investors, that are doing wonderful things: Greenpeace, Doctors Without Borders, the Grameen Bank, and many more. Yet, as institutions, they will never be able to do enough. This renewal has to be about us as people, in communities, beyond the institutions that may or may not be representing us.
Irene is a Canadian finance manager who has worked in the private and plural sectors. She is married to Joe, who helped me on the book. So she read it too. Her reaction: “I did know what’s been going on . . . but not the extent to which it’s embedded in the laws that I thought protect us, the companies that ‘serve us’ and the governments that are powerless to help…. I’d like to do something; I just don’t know where to start.”
I call this The Irene Question: What can I do? More and more of us will have to be asking it, to take back control of our societies. We vote, to preserve democracy, knowing that our individual vote will not matter: rarely is any election determined by one vote. What matters is that we all vote. Well, today, with voting mattering less, acting matters more, but again, only if we all act—through social movements and social initiatives.
Third: We don’t need occupation movements, directed at some general “them”, so much as slingshot movements, targeted at specifically corrupt practices. David didn’t picket Goliath; he leveraged the power of a clever blow to the head of this malevolent giant. We have many such giants around these days.
In the late 1960s, in San Antonio, Texas, people who were fed up with their utility company overpaid their bills by 1¢. This simple cent, multiplied many times over, tied the bureaucracy in knots. It got the message.3 And these “activists” didn’t even need to leave their homes!
We certainly need better prosecution of white-collar criminal activity. But far more insidious is the legal corruption so rampant in our economies. (Read about it in the daily newspapers, for example what Goldman Sachs did with recycled aluminum.4)
Fourth: The world has maybe a million social initiatives that are doing great things for people on the ground5; it needs millions more. Confronting unacceptable practices is important; circumventing them by developing better practices is more important. We can spend our energies picketing gas stations. Or building windmills. Danes of all stripes have been making remarkable progress in developing sustainable forms of energy in their country; Bangladesh was the starting point for the micro financing of village women; In Chile and Peru volunteers go into schools on Saturday mornings to supplement the education of poor children. On it goes—and should go on.
Fifth: No matter how many social movements and social initiatives we have, the relentless march to imbalance will continue until the plural sector get its collective act together. There is a growing divide between all the micro good being done by many people and all the macro destruction ensuing for the benefit of a few. This has to be reversed, but isolated efforts, no matter how numerous, will not do it.
Business has become a powerful force in the world today because when it comes to common cause—for example, lobbying for tax breaks—businesses that normally compete with each other are able to speak with one voice, in their chambers of commerce and other institutions. The plural sector may be about cooperation, yet it rarely gets its act together with such effect.
This is what I call The BIG Question: How to consolidate the disparate efforts of the plural sector into a movement for radical renewal? Don’t think that I am looking for some leader, or lead institution. To repeat, the plural sector is us, beyond our institutions and our leadership. By internalizing a compelling set of beliefs, we will be able to act naturally and vigorously for the radical renewal of this troubled world.
As noted, John’s comments on this TWOG will be posted here mid-week.
1. The book can be accessed at
2. In 2011, a prominent American made a speech with the following points: “(1) that the United States is now governed by a ‘permanent political class’ drawn from both parties, which is increasingly cut off from the concerns of regular people; (2) that these Republicans and Democrats have allied with big business to mutual advantage to create…’corporate crony capitalism’; (3) that the real political divide in the United States may no longer be between friends and foes of big government, but between friends and foes of vast, remote, unaccountable institutions (both public and private). [The speaker] went on to condemn corporate lobbyists, special interests, and ‘the collusion of big government and big business and big finance to the detriment of all the rest…’” These words came, not from any left wing radical, but from Sarah Palin, darling of the U.S. Tea Party Movement. (in Giridharadas, A. 2011, September 9. “Some of Sarah Palin’s ideas across the political divide.” New York Times. www.nytimes.com/2011/09/10/us/10iht-currents10.html)
3. Gutierrez, J. A. 1998. The making of a Chicano militant: Lessons from Cristal. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
4. Kocieniewski, D. 2013a, July 22. Moving piles of aluminum is a bonanza for Wall St. International Herald Tribune. (Also: A shuffle of aluminum, but to banks, pure gold, New York Times, July 20, 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/business/a-shuffleof-aluminum-but-to-banks-pure-gold.html)
5. Hawken, P. 2007. Blessed unrest: How the largest movement in the world came into being, and why no one saw it coming. New York: Viking Penguin, p. 3. An appendix of over 100 pages lists many of these activities.
© 2015 Henry Mintzberg