The Business Of Revolution Is Business
Why change the world when you can work overtime?
by Greg Smithsimon
Have you been inspired by the excitement of street protests that swept
through Seattle, D.C., Prague, Philly and L.A.? Want to make those
corporations take notice? Want to feel the energy, irreverence and fun of
the coolest global movement since blue jeans? Then Gary Hamel's Leading the
Revolution just might be for you. A no-holds-barred, practical handbook for
revolutionaries, visionaries and activists, this book teaches the nuts and
bolts of building coalitions, writing a manifesto and picking targets for a
campaign. But watch out: Hamel won't let you rest easy in your armchair.
"One person, one vote represents not the full ideal of democracy, but its
most minimal precondition. If you exercise the rights of citizenship only
once every four years, at the polling station, can you really claim to be a
citizen?" Democracy means activists redirecting society toward their
ideals"be it feminism, environmentalism, [or] racial equality."
One hitch before you ask for it at your local book co-op. The jacket
promises this to be "An action plan, indeed, an incendiary device" that
will "ignite the passions of entry-level assistants, neophyte managers,
seasoned VPs, CEOs." Those corporations took notice of the street protests,
all right, and decided they were too exciting not to rip off. So steal this
book they did. "Activists are the coolest people on the planet," Hamel
recognizes, which is dandy as long as he can quietly redefine "activists"
to mean people who work extra hard at their job.
This Wall Street Journal bestseller assures readers that it's every bit as
exciting, hell, every bit as ennobling, to be the employee that convinces
Sony to design a new audio chip as it is to desegregate
buses or liberate South Africa. This is the sexiest thing that's happened
to engineers since they stopped
carrying slide rules in their pockets: One minute, they're the ultimate cog
in the wheel, the next minute, they're revolutionaries rubbing elbows with
Hamel's role models: Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Vaclav Havel, and the
founders of Amnesty International and Greenpeace. Revolutionaries or
corporate motivators? "These are people who change the world. And you can't
change your own company? Give me a break."
The book fires up readers with a practical guide on "how to start an
insurrection." First you write a manifesto; Thomas Paine's work during the
American Revolution is a good guide. Then you build a coalition to maximize
your influence, just like "a labor union organizing a strike." Does "pick
your targets ... co-opt and neutralize" sound like veteran organizer Saul
Alinsky's "pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it"? It
should. Hamel calls Alinsky's Rules for Radicals a "classic." Likewise,
"winning small" in the beginning to build momentum might as well have come
from an ACORN community organizers' handbook. If executives have paid any
attention to the protesters at their doors, they should already know
Hamel's game plan. We've been running it against them for years.
What's hardest to swallow after reading the book is not that the
counterculture has been ripped off yet again, with no royalties paid, or
that the determination of environmentalists is presented as inspiration for
corporations seeking to extend their dominance over the planet. The tough
part is considering the possibility that there's something in here for
progressives to steal back and profit from. OK, not much. Leading the
Revolution mainly consists of some radical lingo ladled over the same
lukewarm hash that's been sold in trendy business books for years. (The
formula is for the head of a consulting firm, like Hamel, to write a book
that tantalizes potential corporate clients into paying for the full
story.) Personally, what I want to adopt is the business world's ability to
print whole books in full color with hip graphics. Beyond that, it's time
to put corporate platitudes about empowerment into action for ourselves.
Hamel's claims that smart businesses "let youth be heard," "listen to the
periphery," and "let newcomers have their say" are hype that hide corporate
hierarchies. But plenty of good, hardworking NGOs don't use the ideas and
innovations of most of their people, either. For starters, groups could
try out Hamel's suggestion that half the attendees at the next strategy
meeting be people who have never been to one before. Next consider the
promise that business makes whenever it talks about workplace "teams" or
when Hamel proposes "listening to new voices." They're talking about people
having a real say in what their employer is doing. They're talking about
workplace democracy. While Hamel, like progressives, recognizes the payoff
of giving people a real voice, that's one strategy corporate America can
never use. But a genuine, carefully crafted system of workplace democracy
could produce for progressive organizations a wellspring of creative new
strategies, successful projects and high morale.
Back in the corporate world, the next step would be to follow the advice of
Hamel's pal Saul Alinsky, and hold companies to their promises. They want
suggestions on improving the workplace? Great. Self-managing teams? Here
we come. An end to old workplace hierarchies? Couldn't agree more. And a
revolution from within the corporation? I'm so there.
I'm not sure that Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King would
be the ideal employees Hamel imagines them to be. But they sure would be
fun to sit next to during employee "empowerment" meetings.
To get in touch with the authentic revolutionary vanguard, Greg Smithsimon
has temped at management consulting firms.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Mar 09 2001 - 20:15:03 EST