Revolution in Business as a Basis for Political Reform

by Peter Bearse dsc2000@aol.com

 

Introduction

 

Wonder of wonders! Miracle of miracles? Irony of ironies! -- business as an incubator of practices and models for political reform! Who'd a'thunk it back in the '60's (or even now?), when there was (is) a strong current of opinion that held (still holds) business to be the source of backwardness in politics -- of retrograde conservatism supporting backward powers that resist "progressive" change. Yet, it is both the gurus and practitioners of the new economy and even some leaders of "old" big corporations that write and talk of "revolution." When was the last time you heard that incendiary word being used in politics? The subtitle of Tom Peters' "summa," THRIVING ON CHAOS, is "The Management Revolution." The book's first chapter is entitled "Facing Up to the Need for Revolution." When was the last time a so-called political "leader" even felt "the need," let alone faced or expressed it?

 

There are a number of ironic contrasts that might cause Jedediah Purdy to cry in his carrot juice:[1]

 

REFORM

POLITICS

BUSINESS

Increase participation (P)

N.A.T.O.;[2] P diminished by the growing influence of money and other influences discussed in this book

Increasingly effected via teaming, visioning, flat-tening hierarchies and other ways

Reinvent relationships

Not at all or in the wrong direction

More emphasis on relation- ships that are mutually collaborative & satisfactory

Promote self-organization & self-management

Nil; people & local political committees expected to toe the party line

Encouraged and enabled

Increase responsiveness to "customers," clients or constituents

Only via form letters, if at all

Improved, often inter-actively, in keeping with "the customer is king"[3]

Empower people to be more effective in their roles

Nil; even dis-empowerment except for check writing & Internet chat rooms

Employees provided with tools, information & authority

Promote entrepreneurship & innovation

Favoring wealthy candidates or the already politically self-interested.

Encouraging & enabling much broader segments of the population

 

Improve flows and quality of information

Top down

Bottom up and 3-way (up, down and across)

Better leadership

Traditional organizational hierarchy plus media

Enabling, mentoring, facilitating

Better accountability

 

Lacking but for government agency self-evaluation.

Via performance measure-ment; increasingly trans-parent, even "open book"

Experimentation

 

 

Nil; "Civil society" experi-ments divorced from politics[4]

Increasingly employed using sophisticated tools

Truthfulness

 

Not a goal; sacrificed when expedient. "Spin" the way.

Increasingly honored internally; in advertising much less so.

Enhance the power of choice

Power lessened

Power increased

Build community

Divide and conquer; political parties in decline

Recognizing the need to, and increasingly so doing, both internally and externally

Search for excellence

Not widely practiced; good examples scattered & ignored

Greatly increased since Peters' 1982 book.[5]

Upgrade human resources

Limited political training; decline of "civics" education in schools

Raised to a prime concern; billions expended on training and education

 

 

These are just an obvious "baker's dozen" of differences among the most familiar features of reform. To the extent they are not obvious, the shorthand contrasts will be elaborated as this section continues. Before belaboring the "obvious," however, note several contrasts that are not. The reason that some of the most important contrasts are less than obvious is because they appear at what Bill Bradley would call a "higher level of the game" or what philosophers refer to as a "higher level of discourse." That is like moving the level of conversation up a notch from a barroom exchange to a seminar debate. What is interesting to note here is that, unlike politicians, business men and women have addressed their issues at all levels, from the highest to the lowest, from the nitty gritty to the philosophical.

 

What is even more remarkable is that business people, unlike their political counterparts, have learned not to segregate issues arbitrarily into categories that presume that some are "higher" and some are "lower." The most detailed features of business practice; e.g., how a "low level" company representative interacts with customers, may have "high level" implications. Thus, unlike political "leaders," business leaders have increasingly looked to encourage two-way flows of communications between "lower" and "higher" levels. The "management revolution" which Peters and others have promoted has occurred at all levels to effect changes in basic attitudes, behaviors and structures. Starting in the '80's, "industrial policy" in the U.S. proceeded "from the shop floor and the bottom up."[6] The Japanese, once touted as models for U.S. policymakers, have continued to view "industrial policy" as a higher level, primarily governmental concern.[7]
 

Thus, the higher level(s) at which the American business community has addressed issues neglected by those in the political world have to do, not with hierarchy, but with the breadth or comprehensiveness of approaches to change,. These include:

 

·        A systems or systemic approach -- business people have really worked to honor what '60's activists only talked about; that is, "changing the system"(s).

 

·        Structural changes that go beyond the '80's fads of "reinvention" and "downsizing" to decentralization via subsidiarity, flattening hierarchies, self-organization, self-management, broadening ownership, and "disintermediation."[8]

 

·        Reducing or eliminating barriers and constraints to change, so that an on-going process of change is built into business systems.

 

·        Transforming business systems into "learning organizations" so that, not only can people learn from past mistakes, they can proactively learn how to face the future.[9]

 

·        Renewing and refreshing the springs of competition; overcoming some of the faults and failings of market systems;.

 

·        "Balancing inquiry and advocacy," of which one finds little in the political arena.[10]

 

·        Recognition of the usefulness and importance of metaphor -- largely lost in politics as the quality of political speaking and writing has markedly decreased.

 

·        Recognition of the importance of "environment," not only the natural environment but man-made, organizational environments within which people spend most of their lives, and hence, the need to transform these to make them more people-goals' enabling and "user friendly."

 

·        Institutionalizing science and technology so that the processes through which discoveries are made and applied are integral features of "the system."

 

·        Changing business cultures.

 

·        Identifying and constructively employing structure, patterns and opportunities in the "chaos" or turbulence of our times.

 

·        What Tom Peters and other business writers call "Mastering Paradox." This is so generic and fundamental a shift in the very perception of what change is about that we will devote a whole section to it further on.

 

Nevertheless, all the changes brought about in U.S. business, even those that can be labeled "radical" or "revolutionary," have not succeeded in improving U.S. politics, democracy or government, nor could they be expected to do so. Business has changed the "system"(s) for which business leaders have direct responsibility -- their own. From the standpoint of the larger, overall business-political (etc.) system called the U.S.A., the changes in the business system are a mixed blessing, amounting to what systems analysts would call "sub-optimization." The resultant, growing gap between the business sub-system and the political/governmental subsystem -- one progressive (guess which one!); the other backward -- is problematic and may be destabilizing for the country’s system-as-a-whole unless we can also succeed in changing our political system, too. Many of the changes that business leadership has effected have been highlighted. By returning to the "baker's dozen" identified in the boxes above, the nature of the political challenge we face may become clearer if not "obvious."

 

Note that the reference to business "best practices" in the next section does not imply that the practices identified have been adopted by the entire American business community or even a significant proportion of businesses. The degrees to which they have spread among businesses vary greatly by industry, area, firm-size and other factors. The purpose of what follows is to identify business policy and practice models that can help inform a political reform agenda.

 

Business Best Practices as Good Examples for Political Reform

 

One of the innovations in business practice that was first to achieve widespread adoption is a systematic way for business to diagnose its own weaknesses and identify ways to improve relative to the "best practices" of competitors. This is "performance benchmarking" (PBM). PBM has found only limited application within the interlocking worlds of politics and government.[11] By itself, this lies at the core of a basic reform question: How to achieve accountability in those worlds? This issue is discussed further on. At this point, the focus remains on "best practices" in business that can help inform a political reform agenda. So let's now return to the topics highlighted by the beginning set of boxes.

 

Increase Participation: The importance of political participation, as well as the ways it has declined, is discussed at length in Chapter 3 of the author’s forthcoming book.[12] Thus, the many ways that businesses have increased; indeed, "empowered" employees' participation in workplace decisions may be relevant to a broader politics, not just to the internal politics of corporations.[13] These include flexible teaming arrangements, inclusion of employees in processes by which corporate visions, missions and strategic plans are defined, and encouragement of self-organizing, self-managing work groups.  

 

Business' drive to democratize the workplace began in response to the Japanese threat -- the drive to achieve quality assurance. Senge describes the changes that result:

 

"Levels of supervisory management are removed…Quality inspectors are eliminated permanently. Authority to study and improve work processes is pushed down to front-line workers."[14]

 

Little of the latter "authority" is enabled or even allowed by the state committees of the major political parties, while grass roots political participation is devalued.[15] The debate on campaign finance reform, moreover -- the only form of "reform" receiving serious consideration, reveals (by omission) how the value of any time that people voluntarily invest in political participation is discounted or denied. 

 

Reinvent relationships: In order to spawn the collegial, cooperative, communicative (in all directions), collaborative and interactive arrangements required by the new economy, businesses have found that they need to "reinvent" relationships. The implications have been most telling at intermediate supervisory levels. Large numbers of foremen and other supervisors were let go, in spite of strenuous efforts to retrain them, because they were unable to relinquish old attitudes and behaviors in order to develop new relationships based on facilitation and mentoring rather than command and control.

 

Relative to the business world, the worlds of politics and government exhibit far less awareness of the need to reinvent relationships. It is if the "Third Wave" hasn't yet even curled its lip, when in fact it has long since broken like a tsunami to flood our shores. These worlds still largely rely on hierarchical relationships, one-way information.flows; guarded, self-protective bureaucratic ("CYA") behavior, and intra- and inter-organizational competition.

 

Promote self-organization & self-management: A prime concept in the new economy is that of self-organizing systems. The concept arose from natural scientists' attempts to understand the dynamics of physical systems.[16] "Self management" arose in a very different context -- out of 19th century attempts to bridge the gap between capital and labor by promoting labor owned and managed companies. The two now come together at three levels:

 

n      System-wide: Systems designed for human beings and/or that emerge from their interactions in situations where organizational patterns are perceived, observed and deliberately adapted;

 

n      At the company level in the form of employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) among some companies (even though most ESOPs are not self-organizing); and…

 

n      At the intra-company or micro-micro level in the form of self-organized, self-managed teams.

 

Political parties and their various units are not "self-organizing;" moreover, they are "self-managed" only within constraints that severely limit their ability to provide dynamic, developmental.responses to emerging political problems and opportunities.[17] Their hierarchical and bureaucratic forms of organization and management are derived from old economy forces that Toffler called "Second Wave." Relative to developments in the rest of American society, business included, our political parties seem like dinosaurs. Their adoption of the Internet represents a technological overlay, not a revolution in their organization, management or behavior. When will parties truly graduate from the 19th century to the 21st and "get with the program" of the new economy?

 

Increase responsiveness to "customers," clients or constituents: The private sector in the U.S. has led the way towards achieving greater responsiveness to customers. The public sector has been playing copy cat by urging its agencies to become "customer sensitive" as part of government "reinvention" initiatives. Some agencies have improved their performance substantially in this regard. Political responsiveness is quite another matter. Neither parties nor politicians are especially responsive to citizens' letters, suggestions or complaints. Nowadays, it is unusual for a citizen who has taken the time to write a letter to an elected official to receive back even a canned, form letter of  acknowledgement. As for any sort of truly, un-canned, reasonably thoughtful responses, dream on; don't even dare to hope. Write to a national party official and the likelihood of a response is even less. The only letters that the author has received in response to anything sent to a politician are boilerplate thank you's for campaign contributions. Submissions of ideas, comments, complaints or constructive criticism do not seem to count. As a South Philadelphia Congressman of ill-repute once said: "Money talks and bullshit walks."

 

Empower people to be more effective in their roles: Businesses have effectively empowered people in their organizations through:

 

§         Inclusion, in processes of corporate-wide "visioning" to generate and adapt company mission statements and strategies;

 

§         Information flows -- Requiring and facilitating improved flows of information every which way -- vertically, both up and down; horizontally, internally and externally.

 

§         Provision of Tools, such as intranets, extranets, mobile data entry tools and computer-guided equipment, 

 

§         Education and Training --  that is not just narrowly job or task-specific -- via education benefits as well as classroom and on-the-job training.

 

§         Enabling…

 

Ř      Self-organization and/or self-management, as indicated earlier;

Ř      Employees to get involved as volunteers in activities that benefit their communities.

 

How much of this does one find in the world of politics? -- very little. Many party state committees provide training, but it's primarily for candidates. There is very little training for local committee members to enable them to do their jobs better. There is little "inclusion" in top level strategizing or planning exercises. Information flows are primarily one-way. There is insufficient provision of "tools," "enabling" or other efforts to build the capacity of local political party committees.[18] Party committee members and committees get little or no encouragement from their parties, individually or organizationally, to get involved with others in community projects that don't appear to have some direct or immediate political payoff. 

 

Improve flows and quality of information:

 

Flows of information from the shop floor have developed way beyond the old employee "suggestion box" model. Pro-actively and systematically listening to people, and engaging them in processes to identify how things can be done better, have been keys to improvements in businesses' productivity and competitiveness. In other words, "micro"-level changes have been keys to the "macro"-level trends that marked the longest U.S. economic expansion in history. Improvements in the flows of information every which way have already been noted. But the quality of information conveyed through these flows is at least as important as the quantity. The quality lies in concerted efforts to engage everyone in a company, from the bottom up, in processes of "continuous improvement," including changes in business organization and systems, not just incremental changes in small tasks.

 

Meanwhile, on the political side of our society, what have we seen by way of improvements in "the flows and quality of information?" We have seen the rise of C-SPAN, but this is watched by only a minor portion of the American electorate. We have seen an explosion in the quantity of information we can access through the Internet and increasing numbers of Cable TV channels. Who among us, however, would claim that there has been any increase in the quality of information on matters political from major media?; rather the contrary.

 

More specifically, what have political leaders, elected officials and parties been doing to improve the flows and quality of information? Damn little. The newsletters of elected officials are good examples of self-promotion rather than information provision. Parties do not engage their members in processes of self-critical self-improvement. Communications run from the top down rather than the bottom up. The ability of parties to provide useful information directly to voters has decreased as parties have let their local "infrastructure" atrophy. Campaign decisions and information provision have been relegated to "experts," P.R. people and "spinmeisters."

 

Better Leadership:

 

The concept of "servant leader" has found its way into the business community but not into the mainstream political arena. Parker Palmer introduced the concept in an inspiring sermon ten years ago.[19] The more enlightened segments of the business press and leadership picked it up, gave it currency in the business community and adapted it for application by other business leaders. According to Palmer, a servant leader is one who creates "settings which give you identity, which empower you to be someone." The italicization for emphasis is Palmer's own.[20]

What is it you say? -- we elect "public servants," so that our elected officials are "servant leaders"? Look again. The servants of our political system have become its masters. When you hear a candidate say: "Elect me so that I can serve you;" in most cases, you can translate this to mean, "Elect me so that I can advance my political career." When you ask a candidate to sacrifice family, income and peace of mind to be your "public servant," recognize that, if elected, he is likely to act like a devoted servant, even a "Step'n Fetchit" in terms of constituent services. This serves to purchase your continuing support and thus obtain the leeway he wants to exercise power and effect policy at higher levels rather than via grassroots’ political hustings. In other words, by playing "servant," most politicians aim to become “master”(s); that is, to empower themselves, not you.

 

More Accountability:

 

The American business community has made considerable progress in improving its accountability to the public. The most remarkable development in this vein is the adoption of "open book" accounting and management by many businesses, as reported by several articles in INC magazine and some business books.[21] The workings of the political community remain obscure to any except insiders or political junkies.

 

Experimentation & Learning from Experience:

 

Even the "old" business community has adopted "new" science. This is evident not only with respect to corporate R&D to exploit advances in the natural sciences but with respect to the application of scientific methods to the many human sides of business. With respect to the latter, the reader familiar with Taylorism and "scientific management" might say, 'So what else is new?' What's new is science. It has evolved far beyond the crude attempts to apply the mechanistic, bastardized "paradigm" of the "old," Newtonian science to business in order to better control the workforce via "time and motion" studies, et. al..

 

Relative to the old, the new science enables liberation of human beings rather than its misuse to achieve control of people and domination over them.[22] The best examples are provided by businesses that are working to transform themselves into "learning organizations" following Senge, et.al.,  as referenced earlier. Experiments, both controlled and uncontrolled, are keys to enabling a more systematic approach to business development than simply "learning by doing." Many alternative ways to effect a sense of "ownership" of businesses among employees, for example, have arisen in the business world. Many studies have shown that actual ownership by employees in the form of "ESOP's" (Employee Stock Ownership Plans) leads to significant improvements in businesses' performance. Thus, former U.S. Senator Russell Long (D, LA) and his former staffer on the Senate Finance Committee, Jeff Gates worked to encourage and enable the adoption of ESOP's by the American business community. Gates' efforts continue to this day. See his recently published book THE OWNERSHIP SOLUTION: Toward a Shared Capitalism for the 21st Century. 

 

By contrast, what do we observe in the political world? -- continued misuse of the old science to increase domination and control of the political class relative to the great majority of citizens. "Scientific tools" such as focus groups, polling, statistics, controlled experiments and market studies are employed in order to better "sell" political candidates, parties and proposals like business sells soap. This is not science but scientism run amok. Ironically, political consultants have adopted marketing methods from business while ignoring the more progressive scientific directions in which business has been moving. They and their political "science" colleagues can claim to be "scientific," but they are pedaling an already outdated, ideological, reduced form of science in service to narrow political analysis or winning campaigns. To them, "Power to the People" is just an irrelevant old saying from the sixties.

 

Further on, we will see that there are "experiments" going on to try to demonstrate how people can be "empowered," but they are outside of the mainstream of politics. They are not really empowering, politically, with respect to people's participation in electoral politics where allocation of power is the aim of the game. Organizations devoted to electoral politics, such as political parties, are not conducting experiments to test how to empower people. They do not even have any systematic ways of learning from their own experience.    

 

Seek the Truth & Try to Effect Truthfulness:

 

The latter section is closely connected to this one. For experimentation and learning are major ways to seek the truth about ourselves, how we act and what we can accomplish together. For all the "spin" that businesses may include in their advertising, business has learned that better products and services are based upon truth seeking procedures, not upon the manufacture of illusions as in "The Unreality Industry."[23] A business that, among other things, does not seek to know the sources of defects in its products or how its customers are using them, is a business that may fail or at least be severely punished for its lack of attention.[24]

 

As both scientific and religious communities have demonstrated for hundreds of years, truth-seeking is a community activity, not simply an individual undertaking. Thus, Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian at Duke University, shows how it is hard for any of us, individually, to be truthful if we do not live in a "truthful community."[25] More recently, Os Guiness warns us that we are in danger of losing our freedom nationwide as an American community whose:

 

Ř                 Behavior, standards of judgement, language and attitudes have been so corrupted by the moral relativism of a "post-modern" philosophy that truthfulness has little or no currency; and…

 

Ř                 Politicians, exemplified by a sitting President, have so corrupted public discourse and political life through their un-truthfulness that we now live (un-free, Guinness would say) in a "world of lies, hype and spin."

 

Business professors Mitroff and Bennis had issued an earlier warning:

 

"A pervading, powerful sense of unreality infiltrates the land…to avoid coping with a complex world…Unreality is big business." They go on to write that the "end result" is an inability to distinguish between reality and unreality (or between truth and falsehood) and "a society less and less able to face its true problems directly, honestly and intelligently."[26]

 

Thus, building a truthful American political community should be a major goal for us all.

 

Build Community

 

Having been a major factor in the destruction of the traditional American community

over the past century,[27] American business has nevertheless rediscovered the value of

"community" over the past decade or so, both within and without the context of its own organizations.[28] Many businesses are encouraging community spirit, activities and formations as, for example, via:

 

·        Formation of intra-corporate communities such as teams and R&D "skunk works," as well as promoting the corporation as a working community with a shared vision and/or mission overall;

 

·        Incentives for employees to volunteer to participate in activities that help to build or improve communities, both place-based and issue- or "good cause"-based;

 

·        Advertising businesses as good corporate citizens of various communities, such as environmental, place-based or American-national.

 

Meanwhile, our political process seems bent on undermining whatever semblance of political community has been inherited from the past. Our local, community-based political infrastructure has been re-gressively (one dare not say "pro"-) left to atrophy, deteriorate or fall into limbo. Political advertising is often designed to divide the electorate or play upon deeply rooted divisions. The local political "infrastructure," such as it is, is effectively divorced or separated from other community-based organizations (CBO's) whose prime roles are building or maintaining communities. Thus, pointing the way towards rebuilding the American political community from the ground up is one of the prime goals of the author’s forthcoming book.

 

Broaden the range of choice: Few would deny that businesses in our consumer-oriented economy have served to broaden the range of purchasers' choices enormously. Development of new products and services plus products'/services' differentiation keep multiplying the variety of offerings available to buyers of all kinds.

 

By contrast, even though the political class tends to view voters like businesses view consumers, it has been offering a diminishing range of choices to its "customers." Increasingly, we hear citizens say that they have had to vote "for the lesser of two evils." Increasingly, many elected offices are uncontested. Increasingly, people interested in public life are declining to run for office. Increasingly, it seems that politics is becoming a game for the rich and famous. The supply-side of politics is drying up. "Mr. Smith goes to Washington" has become a myth.

 

Search for Excellence

 

Ever since the Japanese challenge of the '80's and Peters' and Waterman's 1982 book of

the same title, American business has been engaged in a "search for excellence." What about the world of politics and government? No such search process seems to prevail. There may even be a process of adverse selection. Candidates are often elected if they can present an image of being more like us; that is, more like the average Joe rather than someone who has excelled in a demanding field. Politics is demanding but there are also prevailing "go along, get along" pressures. Thus, rather than elect someone who has succeeded in a field outside of politics, voters are more likely to go for someone who has shown how he or she can get along in a political environment featuring lowest common denominators. 

 

Consider education, for example. It's now issue #1. But only two states pay teachers on a merit basis by providing bonuses and other stipends to reward exceptional performance. Educational excellence anyone?

 

Upgrade Human Resources

 

Many leading large corporations have traditionally provided aggressive education and training programs for their employees. Now, much broader segments of the American business community are engaged in efforts to upgrade their human resources. Some of these efforts are self-defensive or remedial -- to make up for shortcomings in public education systems. Obviously, they are driven by the self-interest of companies in having competent workforces in an era of rapid technological change. 

 

What about the interest of a self-interested political system in upgrading human resources? Candidates and volunteers need to be trained. Citizens need to be informed. The founders of our republic emphasized that the health of democracy rests upon an educated citizenry. Yet, training programs traditionally run by political parties are dwindling. What passes for "civics" education in the schools is sadly deficient, even a disgrace in many areas. Successive reports document increasing ignorance of American history among young people, not to mention practical knowledge of how American democracy works. The human resource base of our democratic system is decreasing in quality at a time when it needs to be increasing.  

 

Master & Manage Paradox

 

Another Professor of Business Administration, Kim Cameron, has identified mastery and management of "paradox" as keys to "organizational effectiveness" in a time of turbulent change.[29] In the course of so doing, Cameron provides a definition of paradox that is clear and useful. It avoids the confusion that often surrounds use of the term.

 

"Paradox…involves contradictory, mutually exclusive elements that are present and operate…at the same time. Paradoxes differ in nature from other similar concepts often used as synonyms such as dilemma, irony, inconsistency, dialectic, ambivalence or conflict….Paradox differs from each of these concepts in that no choice need be made between two or more contradictions. Both contradictions in a paradox are accepted and present. Both operate simultaneously."[30]

 

Cameron borrows from an author whose book on paradox provides an additional slant germane to "truth seeking:"

 

"A paradox is an idea involving two opposing thoughts…which…are equally necessary to convey a more imposing, illuminating, life-related or provocative insight into truth than either factor can muster in its own right."[31] In other words, truth is a two-sided coin.

 

Paradoxical combinations of qualities in organizations enable them to successfully adapt to changing conditions. Such combinations as can be observed in the business world are highlighted in the sections to follow. They include:

 

> Ends – Means: Advanced management practice views business as a system of inter-acting elements, not as a bundle of "means" quite separable from a bunch of "ends." End products or services are designed so that they also serve as means to other ends. Thus, products are sold in packaging designed to enhance the companies overall image in the mind of the buyer. "Means" are selected and implemented so that they also contribute to desired "ends." So a piece of CNC (computer numerically controlled) machinery is not just a tool to produce product; it is a tool that enables quality assurance, higher precision, on-the-job training, product development, et. al. Services and tools developed within companies for internal use (as "means") have been found to be the basis for a new market niche serving external customers ("ends"). The separation and isolation of means and ends helps turn an organization into a non-adaptive creature like a dinosaur.

 

The latter is one reason why political organizations are quite "non-adaptive" and why so-called political "leaders" are not genuine sources of leadership. Not only do they operate on the basis of artificial, "separation and isolation," the way they do so is often downright unethical, as in "the end justifies the means." More specifically, any political organization or campaign involves at least two paradoxical ends/means elements: winning elections and building for the future. Even though it is well known to those involved in politics that a truly good campaign brings "new blood" into politics, the benefit of "building for the future" has been increasingly less apparent on the radar screen or agenda of the political class. The goals' tension is real; it will never go away, but the possibility of its creative management -- to balance ends and means -- is lost when a "winner takes all" philosophy takes hold. 

 

> Acting – Learning: Real-time business process monitoring and evaluation systems enable producers to systematically learn from experience; for example, to trace the sources of higher product defect rates. More generally, some businesses have been turned into "learning organizations," a la Senge, as indicated earlier. The conventional, long-standing view, that acting and learning are quite separate and conflicting activities, runs contrary to the notion of a dynamic organization trying to adapt to a changing environment.

 

What do we see in the world of political actors that amounts to systematic attempts to learn from experience? -- nothing in the political world per se. There are, of course, a variety of external agencies such as institutes, "think tanks" and academic political science programs, but they do not address what is at issue here. One can even question to what extent such agencies comprise a "learning system" for those engaged in political-electoral or party activities. Campaign after campaign, as well as in other ways, whatever has been learned on the basis of hard experience is often lost and so has to be relearned another time around. Even though some of the experience gets codified into the practice(s) of political consultants, this means that knowledge obtained in the public arena has been appropriated for private gain. There is no evidence that political consultants, unlike some of the leading business counterparts, are helping clients to transform themselves into political learning organizations. If they did so, perhaps there would be less future demand for their services.

 

> Higher -- Lower: The growing debate on the issue of growing inequality rests, in part, on an assumption that higher and lower strata represent opposite segments of society in conflict. A similar attitude was long prevalent in the American business community, but many businesses have moved away from it over the past 10-12 years by recognizing that there are elements of "higher" in "lower" and "lower" in "higher." As indicated earlier, for example, businesses have "flattened hierarchies," involved lower level employees in higher level discussions, enabled two-way flows of information, and "empowered" their employees. Here, too, there will always be tension, but it can be more creatively managed for the benefit of all.  

 

The political world is more strictly hierarchical, as the business community once was. Local committee people defer to state committee people; state to national. Similar pecking orders pertain to candidates, elected officials and appointed officials. Higher is higher and lower is lower, and that's that. Yet, more and more problems come home to roost at the local level as both state and national authorities devolve or impose mandates on localities, etc.

 

> Small – Large: In the past, "small" and "large" were viewed as opposites. A business was one or the other. Successful businesses in the new economy, however, have learned how to be both, simultaneously. Large corporations decentralize, devolve or spin-off operating responsibility to small-scale units so that they can be run in more entrepreneurial ways. Networks and consortia of small firms can operate as if they were large, by sharing resources and/or engaging in joint marketing, R&D, product design or purchasing.

 

Corresponding to a stricter hierarchy of "higher" and "lower" roles, the political world also displays greater divides between "small" and "large." For all the talk of decentralization and local initiative, neither national nor state governments have learned how to enable creative localism; that is, how best to pass power and money to "small"(er), "lower" level organizations.  And whatever happened to the interest in "neighborhood government" that surfaced during the '60''s?[32]

 

> Public -- Private: The larger the company, the more its activities are likely to impact people, areas or factors that fall into the public domain. In fact, a strong case can be made that any company, whatever its size, exhibits a mix of both public and private features. The larger the business size, the more public its nature and the less credible the claim that it should be treated as a legal person similar to an individual. Perhaps the most obvious example of the mix is the private 501©(3) corporation serving public goals. Like other paradoxical combinations, this one, too, spells tension between the poles. Some businesses manage this tension well; most don't. The ways of mixing and balancing the two continue to evolve. Public/private "partnerships," for example, appear in a variety of mutable forms.

 

What is most important to note from the business side of society is that private businesses have created organizational forms that explicitly recognize, embody and express their public sector side(s). We may not like some of these; e.g., in the form of  trade associations and lobbying organizations, but they exist for a reason to serve legitimate purposes.

 

The boundary between "public" and "private" has been blurred, some would say warped.[33] What is "private" depends a great deal on what rules, customs and/or conventions regarding "privacy" are honored by the media and others. If the government can require "private" entities to reveal information about themselves, or the media are not constrained in their ability to release their revelations, then the "veil" separating public and private has been pierced.

 

Indeed, it has already been pierced; some would say shredded, in the political arena. No instance or private behavior by public officials, however prurient, is beyond public scrutiny. The likelihood that private "dirty laundry" may be aired in the media has become a deterrent to many people getting involved in politics.

 

> Quantitative -- Qualitative: These terms from social science denote another genuine, paradoxical tension within most organizations. On the one hand, nearly any organization has a need to generate numbers that reflect, at least for management purposes, the financial health and some features of performance of the organization. This is the "quantitative" side of accountability. On the other hand, there's a need to pay some attention, albeit less frequently, to features of organizational structure, incentives, relationships, attitudes and behaviors that cannot be appropriately or completely represented by numbers. This is the "qualitative" side. The latter, in fact, takes priority, Numbers only make sense within a certain context which qualitative descriptors describe.

 

The tension between the two arises from more than one source. For example, there is the familiar tension between the "bean counters" and the "decision makers" as to what accounting measures are measuring. This tension is aggravated during a time of increased competition and change, when organizations are challenged to measure their performance at the same time that they may be "reinventing" in ways that undermine the efficacy of existing measures.

 

As some of what was noted earlier indicates, drawn from a renaissance of business literature that says far more, a significant portion of the American business community over the past 12-20 years has succeeded in managing this tension quite well, by…

 

1.      Implementing performance benchmarking, activity-based costing and other sophisticated methods of measuring and diagnosing business performance;

 

2.      Aggressively addressing the "qualitative" side as well, by making significant changes in the attitudes, structures and behaviors that influence business performance; and…

 

3.      Progressively interating between 1.and 2.; that is, using quantitative diagnostics to make qualitative changes and qualitative changes to improve quantitative diagnostics.

 

Political bean counters prevail. They love numbers -- the kinds derived from polls, surveys, Census, political focus groups, market research and other techniques borrowed from business and political science curricula. They use these numbers to do superficially quantitative analysis via statistics that they use to do targeting, profiling and priority-setting for political fund raising and campaigns.

 

This is quantification, all right, with a vengeance. But it is schlock social science, designed to provide a veneer of analytic authority for an old agenda -- political manipulation rather than political empowerment; marketing rather than informing. The "qualitative" side is missing -- like looking at the foreground and ignoring the background. The so-called "quantitative" analysis is anti-structural and a-historical. In order to learn anything of the deeper, longer-run "structural" factors that might help to explain the snapshots provided by political analysts, we'd have to go back to school and study things other than the political non-science we are being fed. There is no "creative tension" or management of the quantitative/qualitative paradox as in business. It is as if politics had fallen in love with only one industry and one aspect of business success -- advertising and marketing.

 

> Loose/flexible organization -- Tight/functional organization: Cameron states that:

 

"loose-coupling…encourages wide search, initiation of innovation, and functional

autonomy…tight-coupling…encourages quick execution, implementing…and functional reciprocity…"[34]

 

Thus, as with other paradoxical features, an effective business organization needs to be able to effect both, together, even though they are conflicting qualities. Cameron's studies of business organizations found that "effective" businesses were able to do so.

 

Political organizations are both too loose and too tight -- "too loose" in the sense that lower level committees are left too much to their own devices without knowing what is expected of them; "too tight" in the sense that higher level people would be surprised and concerned if there was a resurgence of lower level initiative. One reason is that the higher levels have become increasingly focused on fund raising and some of their power has shifted to campaign committees dominated by existing elected leadership. The hierarchical, overly bureaucratic nature of the organization of the major political parties has already been highlighted.

 

> Specialization -- Diversification: The tension between these poles owes to the fact that any organization needs to build on its strengths at the same time that it needs to diversify in response to new challenges or opportunities. Since the '80's, American business has been managing this tension more sensibly and strategically than during the last wave of mergers and acquisitions (M&A's). That became known as a "conglomerate" fad -- the tendency to buy up businesses in unrelated lines of business. During the 90's, conglomerates sold off much of what they had acquired. M&A activity has come to focus on related lines of business. Nevertheless, balancing the conflicting goals of specialization and diversification remains a great challenge. How it is struck both internally and externally depends upon:

 

(1)   leeway in the form of investible resources;

(2)   the need for diversification -- whether specialization shows signs of reaching diminishing returns; and

(3)   size of the market (specialization is associated with greater market size).

 

Corporations have also learned to appreciate what lines of business they are in so that they do not become too narrowly specialized. Thus, railroads are in the "transportation" business; steel companies are part of the "materials" sector.

 

The "business" of politics is also changing. Unlike corporate business changes, however, it is not changing strategically so that the tension between specialization and diversification works to improve development, organization or participation. Political organizations per se, those mandated by election laws, are becoming more specialized -- as fund raising vehicles and money laundries. Diversification is occurring by way of politics as a business, as political consultants, political internet firms, political paraphrenalia supply firms and others gradually take over more of the functions of old-fashioned political committees and campaigns, financed by money that the latter have raised. An overriding focus on money is self-destructive for traditional political organizations, and this trend represents no "creative management" of paradox. 

 

> Continuity -- Change: Here is another basic, paradoxical source of tension. As Cameron notes:

 

"Continuity…permits stability, long-term planning and institutional memory." Change… permits increased innovation, adaptability and currency."[35]

 

Many "old economy" corporations have succeeded in managing this tension very well, maintaining a sense of corporate history, tradition and mission while changing substantially to take advantage of "new economy" opportunities. Some have not; e.g., a major old-line, insurance company that is being sued by its shareholders.

 

Meanwhile, one of the "Big 6" management consulting firms has been advising clients to honor its "First Paradox Principle" -- that "positive change requires significant stability."[36]

 

This "Principle" is not honored by political organizations. They hardly seem aware of the tension. Thus, they are not consciously managing it at all and, unconsciously, managing it poorly. The big change is Internet use -- political web-page design(s), "chat rooms," e-mail networks, et. al. This leaves most local political organizations behind and traditional, direct, person-to-person politics unattended. This amounts to placing a premium on dis-continuity. Only a small minority of local political party committees have their own web page.[37]

 

> Expansion / Outreach -- Consolidation / Integration: Another source of strategic tension is that between expansion into new areas and/or new markets and the consolidation or integration of existing activities. This is obviously related to other paradoxes of the "stand pat" vs."develop" variety. Effective business organizations have recognized this paradox and managed it well. Recognition of it, reinforced by improved company communications and teamwork, has often pointed to improvements in existing products as opportunities for expansion. This has been the case in the housewares industry, for example, with respect to better design and imaginative use of new materials that have given a whole new lease on market life to many of the most commonplace household items, such as pots and pans.

 

Political "leaders" and organizations are so fixated on expanding their political base(s) and reaching towards higher office(s) that they neglect or lose sight of the base(s) that they came from and the people that voted them into office. Local political committees can and should be the focal points for consolidation and effective integration of political activities and participants.

 

> Entrepreneurial -- Bureaucratic: We have touched this polarity earlier, but as a trade-off rather than a paradox. Most organizations need to maintain both types of features even though the degree to which one or the other prevails at any time will depend on several factors, including organizations' stage of development. Organizations of any significant size need to effect both innovation and control. Many "old economy" corporations have transformed themselves from conventional corporate bureaucracies such as those that gave rise to "the organization man" into enterprises that promote "intra-preneurship."[38] Thus, Price Waterhouse also recommends "The Second Paradox Principle: To build an enterprise, focus upon the individual," an anti-bureaucratic advisory.[39] Another major source of advice to business leaders, Peter Senge, advises in a way that is more directly paradoxical. Much of his approach enables a " focus upon the individual" while he also counsels "the primacy of the whole" (organization or enterprise).[40]

 

Political organizations haven't followed the lead of their business counterparts to shift emphasis from bureaucracy to entrepreneurship during what President Reagan hailed as the new "age of the entrepreneur." It seems as if fear of political incorrectness has reinforced reliance upon conventional control systems. Meanwhile, political entrepreneurship is alive and well among politically interested individuals who typically invest considerable time and money to build a political base and mount campaigns to get elected to something. This important brand of entrepreneurship, however, seems more and more to favor those who have either inherited money or invested in building financial assets before they turn to public life. The potentially creative tension between entrepreneurship and bureaucracy is being mis-managed to the detriment of both in public life. Two major reasons may be the following:

 

1.      Higher level political organizations are too often leaving political entrepreneurs who are promising but not wealthy to "hang out to dry" on their own resources, by providing little support in terms of money or manpower. Ironically, this aggravates political parties' decline because, as more people get elected on the basis of their own individual resources, they owe little or nothing to the parties once elected.

 

2.      Public entrepreneurship is alive and well among many not-for-profit organizations, especially some of those that are issue-oriented, but these have intermittent, weak or opportunistic relationships with political parties.

 

In his book THE IMAGE, Nobel Laureate Kenneth Boulding remarked that any political system that can't attract talent able to address pressing public issues will be hard put to survive. Political and business systems in the U.S. are competing for talent. Guess which sector is winning?

 

> External – Internal: This is analogous to the paradox of "Expansion -- Consolidation" mentioned earlier. Tension is implicit in the underlying question: Should we "tend to our own washing" as customary or should we diversify our repertory with and/or for a somewhat different set of others? The answer to this question that is evident in the business community is clear: We need to identify and develop relationships with a diverse set of "external" others in a variety of ways -- outsourcing, joint ventures, affiliations, partnerships, collaboratives, et. al. Thus, both "internal" resources and "external" markets are augmented and enriched.

 

Higher level political organizations appear to be following the lead of corporations towards one ("external") end of this dichotomy like lemmings going over a cliff, somewhat like their fascination for business' marketing techniques. They are outsourcing to political consultants, et.al., with a vengeance while neglecting internal capacity-building. Yet they are far from exploiting the full potential of joint ventures, collaborations and the like with "non-political" public interest groups representing various aspects of "civil society."

 

> Symbol – Substance: These are often viewed as opposites, especially by intellectuals who love to carp over fine distinctions that they believe to be substantive. Indeed, advertising and P.R. often seem to favor one over the other (guess which!). Yet, one of the accomplishments of the "top leadership" of effective businesses, according to Cameron, is that they "paid a great deal of attention" to both, as follows:

 

"On the one hand, structural, personnel and curricular changes were instituted, so that the basic fiber of the institution was altered. On the other hand, substance was ignored in favor of image…to help constituencies interpret events favorably (so that the) core culture…of successful institutions was reinforced…The management of symbols and interpretations was a critical difference between successful managers and others who failed."

 

Politics has veered towards one end of this paradox, too -- "symbol" over "substance." Unless political parties and others can succeed in managing the tension between them better in order to redress the imbalance, they will consign themselves to a state to which many feel they have already fallen -- irrelevance and disrepute.

 

> Creation -- Destruction: At least since Shumpeter, business and economic development in a market economy have been recognized as processes of "creative destruction" in which the paradoxical, seemingly polar opposites come together. This has been quite evident in recent years, as business organizations of all types have been "reinventing" themselves via "downsizing," "outsourcing," a massive wave of M&A's, rapid technological changes, etc. At the same time, we have experienced the longest economic expansion and period of sustained prosperity since series of key economic statistics began. It is also well-known that higher rates of entrepreneurship (new enterprise formations) go hand in hand with higher rates of business failures.

 

How the inherent tension between creation and destruction is managed within enterprises in order to exploit their development potential as conjoined processes is, of course, one of the on-going challenges of business management in the new economy, so much so that several books have been written for business readers on how to employ "paradox as a dynamic tool."[41] "The Fifth Paradox Principle" advocated by one of the "Big 6" management consulting firms, for example is: "In order to build, you must tear down."[42]

 

 

A question implied by much of the debate over political reform(s) is: How much of conventional politics needs to be torn down or cleared away before we can create a system that works? No one has yet answered this question. See the final chapter of the author’s forthcoming book.

 

Paradox: Revolution in Business a Prelude to Political Reform?

 

The revolution in American business can and should be considered a prelude to political reform because, if our political system does not adopt or adapt much of what we have seen heralded by business publications and advanced practices, then:

 

n      The political system will fall farther and farther behind the business system and/or…

 

n      The political system may fail…

 

 with adverse consequences most of us would not want to contemplate.

 

The inability of our political system, relative to the business community, to attract requisite talents has also been mentioned. Partly because major segments of the business community has transformed themselves and their modus operandi, business appears to increasing numbers of young people to be more dynamic, interesting, challenging and powerful than politics or government. 

                               

There are two matters most at issue here. One is the quality of the political process, a concern which runs through this whole article. The other is power. Business is only a subsystem of the economy and of American society. Polanyi (1957) refers to the market system as "embedded" in society. So it should be, really as well as desirably. Yet, ironically, the "new economy" seems to be a replay of the '50's in one key respect. It seems to many as if the market has entered into virtually all spheres of American life and that "the business of American is business" or, to paraphrase former GM Chairman Charlie Miller, as if 'what's best for business is best for America.' The organizational development gap(s) that we have observed between business and political sectors of American society -- progressive vs. regressive -- spells a disparity in power that can only worsen if the political sector continues to lag. This means that Charlie Miller may turn out to be a live prophet, not just a deceased business executive. His statement may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The great majority of the American people will be increasingly powerless to the extent that they do not take charge of a political reform process that incorporates many of the elements demonstrated by the American business community. The most important of these is people's empowerment. "We, the people..." should be far more than just the opening words of our Constitution.

 

 

 



[1] The author of "On Common Things" was heralded as an insightful critic of irony and promoter of a refreshingly naďve revival of public life.

[2] N.A.T.O. = "No Action, Talk Only"

[3] For one of many recent books on this, see Bradley, Stephen P. & R.L. Nelson (1998), SENSE & RESPOND. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

 

[4] As, for example, those sponsored by the Kettering Foundation by way of a “community & politics” demonstration program. See NACL (1999), “Community  Leadership: 1996-1999 Project Report.” Dayton, OH: The Kettering Foundation.

[5] Peters, Thomas J. and R. H. Waterman (1982), IN SEARCH FOR EXCELLENCE: Lessons From America's Best-Run Companies. New York: Harper and Row.

[6] Bearse, Peter J. (1987), "Industrial Policy From the Shop Floor and the Bottom Up," THE ENTREPRENEURIAL ECONOMY. Washington, D.C., Corporation for Enterprise Development.

[7] The author observed this tendency at first hand recently (May, June, 2000) as an international consultant advising the Ministry of Industrial Development in Sri Lanka. The Japanese continue to pedal their central planning approach to other countries even as evidence of its failure accumulates on the home front. 

[8] Some of these features have been introduced and elaborated by Charles Handy in THE AGE OF UNCERTAINTY and other books.

[9] The reference here, again, is to the pathbreaking works of Senge, et. al. (1994).

[10] This phrase is also drawn from Senge, et.al., op.cit.

[11] This is not to deny or overlook notable exceptions, such as the Kennedy School of Government's Program of annual awards recognizing "innovations" in state and local government, nor the attempts of some of these to implement PBM.

[12] Bearse, Peter J. (2001), LABORING IN THE VINEYARDS, or THE PEOPLE, YES!: How “Ordinary” People Can Make a Difference Through Politics.

[13] An excellent treatment of these "internal" features can be found in one of the business-focused books that has informed this section: Gareth Morgan's (1997) IMAGES OF ORGANIZATION, Chapter 6: "Interests, Conflict and Power: Organizations as Political Systems.

[14] Senge, op.cit., pp.38 & 39.

[15] See Chapters 4 & 5 of Bearse, op.cit.

[16] For example, in Nicolis, G. and I. Progogine (1977), SELF-ORGANIZATION IN NON-EQUILIBRIUM SYSTEMS: From Dissipative Structures to Order Through Fluctuations. New York, John Wiley & Sons, Wiley-Interscience. More recently, a considerable body of exciting work emerging from the Santa Fe Institute has been influential.

[17] See Chapter 4 of Bearse, op.cit.

 

[18] One ironic twist of the debate on campaign finance reform is that “soft money” is supposed to be used for such “party building” activities.

[19] Palmer, Parker (1990), "Leading from Within: Reflections on Spirituality and Leadership." Washington, D.C.: The Servant Leadership School.

[20] Palmer (1990), op.cit., p.11.

[21] See, for example: Case, John (1995), "The Open Book Revolution," INC Magazine (June) and Fenn, Donna (1996), "Open Book Management 101," INC Magazine (August).

[22] See Bearse, Peter J. (1999), for example.

[23] The title of an important (1989) book by Mitroff and Bennis, referenced below in note 26.

[24] Note, for example, the recent case involving Firestone Tires.

[25] Hauerwas, Stanley (1981), COMMUNITY OF CHARACTER: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press.

[26] Mitroff, Ian and W.Bennis (1989), THE UNREALITY INDUSTRY: The Deliberate Manufacturing of Falsehood and What It Is Doing to Our Lives. New York: Birch Lane Press, pp.xi & xii.

[27] This sweeping claim is generally acknowledged and well-documented by many others too numerous to mention; e.g., with respect to corporate pressures for mobility and post-war patterns of development.

[28] See, for example, Gozdz, Kazimierz (1995), COMMUNITY BUILDING: Renewing Spirit & Learning in Business. San Francisco: Sterling & Stone, New Leaders Press; and Hesselbein, Frances, et.al. (ed.1998), THE COMMUNITY OF THE FUTURE. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass & The Drucker Foundation.

[29] See Cameron, Kim (1986), "Effectiveness as Paradox: Consensus and Conflict in Conceptions of Organizational Effectiveness," 32 MANAGEMENT SCIENCE 5 (May).

[30] Cameron, op.cit., p.545.

[31] Slaatte, H.A.(1968), THE PERTINENCE OF THE PARADOX. New York: Humanities Press, p.4.

[32] See Kotler, Milton (1969), NEIGHBORHOOD GOVERNMENT. New York: Bobbs Merrill. Note, however, much more recently, variations of the Kettering Foundation’s “National Issues Forums” at the neighborhood level.

[33] See Meyrowitz (1985), and Mitroff and Bennis (1989) on "boundary warping."

[34] Cameron, op.cit., p.545.

[35] Cameron, op.cit., p.545.

[36] Price Waterhouse (1995), THE PARADOX PRINCIPLES: How High Performance Companies Manage Chaos, Complexity and Contradiction to Achieve Superior Results. New York: McGraw-Hill, (Pt. 2).

[37] See Bearse, op.cit., for evidence of this derived from a national survey of local political party committee chairpersons, plus more about the prospects for "digital democracy."

[38] For example, see Lessen, Ronnie (1988), INTREPRENEURSHIP: How to be an Enterprising Individual in a Successful Business.” Ashgate Publishing Co.

[39] Price Waterhouse, op.cit.(Pt.3).

[40] Senge, Peter, op.cit., p.25.

[41] For example: Price Waterhouse (1995), op.cit.

[42] Price Waterhouse, op.cit., Pt.6.