Communication is the heart of all human endeavour.

Occupy Wall Street: You say you want a revolution

In Uncategorized on November 2, 2011 at 10:11 am

Part 1: Are we unhappy enough with

the status quo to pay the price for change?

This is Part One of a four-part series on the formula for creating change.

By Geoffrey Rowan

TORONTO – Changing the world is a messy business, and for the Occupy Wall Street group camped out in a Toronto park, it’s also a cold, damp one.  But it can be done. There’s even a pretty good formula for figuring out whether beating a drum and sleeping on the ground is likely to provoke change or whether it’s just so much earnest, feel-good street theatre – the Change Formula.

There are variations of “the Change Formula” but most are similar to this one favoured by the Harvard professors who teach at Omnicom University, the excellent leadership skills development program that Omnicom has been running for nearly 20 years.

It states that likelihood of creating change increases if the product of dissatisfaction (D) with the status quo, times vision (V) of the changed state, times the quality of the process (P) to achieve the changed state, is greater than the cost (C) to those who will be affected by the change.

In other words, how miserable are we, how attractive is the promised land, how hard is it to get there, and is all that more than what it’s going to cost the people who have to pay for it?  (DxVxP) > C.

The OWS movement seeks really big throw-the-bastards out change, fundamental change to our broad society.  This isn’t just a new strategic direction for a company. It’s a new vision for how society and most of its institutions function. It is change on the scale of the American and French Revolutions, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Cuban revolution or the Arab spring.

Are we as dissatisfied as those people were?

Is "mad as hell" mad enough?

Maybe,  says the movement. Their placards say 99 per cent of us are disenfranchised and downtrodden. If that’s true, then a political solution is a sure thing. We don’t need a violent revolution, like Libya, or a complete social and economic collapse, like the Soviet Union. What candidate for political office wouldn’t want to be on the right side of an issue that has the backing of 99 per cent of the electorate? Even motherhood, babies and singing high school vampires aren’t that popular.

Any candidate promising to use taxes to redistribute wealth, cut bank executive salaries to minimum wage, pay everyone’s university tuition and outlaw brogues wouldn’t even need the full 99 per cent of the repressed. Candidates polling a mere 90 per cent, or 80 per cent, or even 70 per cent of the popular vote would still be assured a cake-walk sweet enough to make their teeth ache.

The fact that no political candidate anywhere is stepping up to run on a “raise taxes” platform suggests either that 99 per cent of us have failed to adequately communicate our dissatisfaction with the status quo. Maybe it’s just poor communication. Or maybe the number is inaccurate.

So how dissatisfied are we? It’s undeniable that some people are dissatisfied with their treatment in our society. It’s undeniable that some people in our society make a lot more money than others, and undeniable that some people, because of their wealth have greater influence in society than others who lack wealth. Is that enough?

Can the Occupy Wall Street movement make a convincing case that these disparities are so unfair and so pervasive that we must have fundamental change? Can they connect to and amplify a vein of pessimism running through society – a belief that anyone engaged in commerce, unless it is commerce related to a popular product like an iPhone, is corrupt at the centre?

It’s hard to predict the future, but it’s easy to make the case we aren’t on the verge of a social collapse into abject despair. Consider just two of countless events in Toronto at the same time as the Occupy Toronto launched:

  • The University and College Fair at the Toronto Convention Centre attracted many thousands of students and their families, all looking ahead enthusiastically and optimistically toward a future in which they are enriched by education and become contributing members of our society.
  • The Toronto Waterfront Marathon attracted about 15,000 runners in what can only be described as an homage to hope and optimism. They were cheered on by many times that number of family and friends, who took joy in the accomplishment of their loved ones. Who trains for months and then gets up early on a chilly, wet Sunday morning to run 40 kilometres without being chased by corporate thugs after our flaccid wallets? Mostly optimistic and hopeful people.

Another hint that the 99 per cent of us who are disenfranchised may not be sufficiently dissatisfied with the status quo to be part of a major societal change movement: Apple sold more than four million of its 4S iPhones in three days after it launched the new device. And the outpouring of grief over the death of multi-billionaire Steve Jobs was many times greater than that for Mother Theresa, but only a tiny fraction of what we saw expressed for Princess Dianna; only a fraction of the interest we saw in the wedding Prince William and Kate.

You can argue that our priorities are all screwed up, but if OWS can only rouse a tiny fraction of the number of people who were willing to get up in the middle of the night to watch the televised wedding  of a couple of wealthy Brits, it’s hard to make the case we are highly motivated to change. Still, the Occupy Wall Street movement isn’t wholly lacking in credibility. Its argument that the current economic system is unsustainable is supported by a couple of severe global economic crises, and its argument that our social systems are failing is supported by lots of data and countless painful stories about real people treated badly. Its challenge is

What does the OWS promised land have to look like to get us to want to go there?


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