The Occupy (Wall Street) movement is as much about the destruction of the job market as anything and, as such, has the earmarks of a workers movement – perhaps less obvious because so much of the US is out of work. In essence, the Occupy movement is a strike called against the culture as it has been transformed by establishment elites. Targeted at “corporate exploitation and greed” represented by the icon of Wall Street and the financial apparatus that is subsidized and protected from consequences and responsibility by the government, it tries to address the havoc wreaked upon the average person’s opportunities to pursue a vocation and an individual profit.
Instead of offering yet another agenda with yet another national spokesperson, it has decided instead to *be* fundamentally different – in other words, to first address structural issues. That’s quite profound. The Occupy movement, far from being a flash in the pan, is a cultural innovation currently in startup mode, currently discovering its own identity by creating its own organizational culture counterintuitively – that is, by rejecting traditional hierarchical approaches. What you see, if you go to a meeting in your local area, is that those who contribute have a voice, those who participate have a say, those who invest, who risk, who add value get to make recommendations. In short, it’s got a lot in common with healthy companies which also tend to turn away from traditional top-down corporate cultures and innovate from the ground upward.
One can’t help note, therefore, certain strong links between healthy companies with a deeply satisfying internal culture and some amazing external results, and successful grass roots movements and revolutionary or protest ‘projects’. Here then is a brief survey of commonalities:
They have a project-based mentality that is agile and lean: Where you find the most interesting countercultural thinking in business (constructive alternatives and counterintuitive innovations in problem solving) is in project management and project based operations. The discussion is over how you get a maximum of burn with less money, fewer contributors, and yet still be able to respond quickly to changes, needs, and opportunities. Think Che Guevara for a minute. Regardless of how you feel about his politics, his movement could turn on a dime, and run without a surplus of fuel. His tactics were revolution of a particular type that is studied in West Point, CIA training, and political science departments alike. “Corporate greed” (or the corporate compensation model) encourages individuals to “go it alone and cover their own butts”  – that means corporations that work like that require more people to succeed, a lot of funds, and top-down hierarchical control. They can’t react quickly, and they can’t be very open-minded to the need to change.
They have service-based teams which help each other be successful: In unhealthy corporate environments, you get silos – people who play god, as Early Jabay says, and create bottlenecks – if you want x from me, you have to do what I want you to do – etc – and it really harms companies by worming them out from within – it’s all about personal power, domination, and controlling others. Someone is always concerned with who has too much power, how they can get some, and how they can withhold it from others. It’s toxic thinking. In a healthy company, departments are service-based teams that look to solve problems that other teams need solved. Marketing figures out how to help sales achieve its goals of more adoption of what the organization offers. IT and tech helps every department address underlying needs like what technology will let them share project data internally, or coordinate schedules, or keep track of team members’ contact data effectively.
Contribution is preferred over control: Healthy democratic movements are about service, also. Martin Luther King didn’t lead by telling people what to do – instead, he risked the most, contributed consistently, and people naturally followed. Nelson Mandela didn’t demand people do things his way – he contributed – he capsulized the movement as a whole by contributing every day – he spent a good chunk of his life in prison as part of that, and people naturally looked to him, because his contribution level was so high and extraordinary. In healthy democratic movements, they’re less about leaders and more about contributors. The same is true with healthy companies.
Questions always arise. How do we maintain a healthy culture and implement planning without a harmful hierarchical structure? How do we coordinate without telling people what to do all the time? Technology provides some solutions (like project spaces to help individual teams track their contact info, schedules, and foster internal discussion and planning) but treating goals as projects, teams as service providers, and contribution as more valuable than control, ensures democratic movements don’t sacrifice their core identities by reproducing the mirror image of the entities they are challenging. In short, healthy companies and successful democratic movements avoid getting sick by not acting like the less successful versions of themselves with which they set out to compete.