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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 16 July 2015

Not a Tower but a Pyramid: #NewWay2Hustle

UPDATED - retweeted by Elsie Snuffin herself, so I must be on to something!

"Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits." – Thomas A. Edison

Earlier in the week I had a chat with a former Canadian public servant who let government because of her frustration the rampant dysfunction within the service.  She was being reprimanded by her direct manager for bringing forward innovative ideas, only to see that manager bring forward the same ideas as their own a month later.  She was being pressured by 20 somethings in the Minister's Office on what to put in her reports, regardless of what the actual evidence said.  

She recognized that the top-down pressure of our current silo-based model of governance wasn't working - not for her and not for society as a system.  If anything, it was putting increasingly unsustainable weight on the backs of the people at the bottom, destabilizing the whole in the service of a few.  It wasn't what she got into the business for, and so she left.

Stories like this are not uncommon; the Canadian Public Service isn't what it used to be, in no small part because the bureaucracy at large has become the straw man of hyper-partisan cabinets such as the one currently ruling Canada.

In theory, this is how laissez-faire capitalism works when applied to politics.the aggressive hustlers able to bend others to their will rise to the top and the system aligns accordingly, with those unable to fit in being squeezed out entirely.

Abusive middle managers who take credit for the work/ideas of underlings?  20-something political staffers with no training or life experience related to the work done by the Ministry "beneath them" directing not only activity, but policy analysis?  Above them, aggressive Ministers / proven party-line towers carrying on the will of a PM and his inner circle that equally have little to know experience with the files they're attempting to twist to their ideology?  It's all how the game is played.

Of course, in this system, as proper laissez-faire capitalism in the world beyond politics, there is still room for the aggressive seller or strategic marketer to get ahead.  It's Horatio Alger - you can come from the most marginalized community geographically or demographically, but if you hustle, suck up to the right folk and pick the right fights, you too can rise to the heights of power.

Technically, this theory refers to products/services/ideas, mind you, but in the real world it's not the value of the product that matters - only the strategic sales job of the person pitching them.  The first iteration of the electric car died a premature death not because it wasn't a good idea, but as a result of competing lobby groups.  So it's not just the ability to sell, but the ability to beat competition that matters.

Being a holder of capital in business is a bit like being in a position of power in politics; you're the President in life's card game of Asshole, determining who gets what based on what suits your purposes.  It's up to everyone else to persuade you that they (or their product/service/idea) are worthy of your investment.  As such, you can be as stubborn, pig-headed or biased as you want - it's your money and you will invest it in what you think (or feel) is in your best interests.

In politics, that's how policy and funding (or defunding) now works; if you're good for the partisan interests of the government, you're in and if you aren't, your out.  If you can make a persuasive argument for how your pitch - even if it's something like the social risks of increasing unemployment, under-supported veterans or climate change - works to the governing party's advantage, you've got a shot at support but if you can't, too bad.

Except that's not the whole story.

When everyone is only in it for their own self-interest, the parts don't add up to a sustainable whole - tragedy of the commons situations emerge.  As not everyone is aggressive, or persuasive, or gifted beyond reason in ways that still fit within easy-to-communicate social parameters, not everyone can get ahead, or entice/force the support they need.

Instead, the majority will learn to make due with what they have in a world of dwindling access.  It's the Easter Island phenomenon; people as a whole are highly adaptive, but not universally creative. As a result, "live within our means" adaptation tends to work downwards - people can get used to getting by with less, even under the harshest conditions (Concentration Camps, ISIL torture, Stockholm Syndrome, etc)

People aren't universally creative, but there are highly creative people, highly motivated people who aren't interested in a system that favours wealth and power over results and sustainability.  These people are no less adaptive than anyone else, nor are they less prone to make due with what they have - they simply find ways beyond the system to achieve their objectives.

When capital is increasingly held tightly within the clutches of a class of people who are ideologically committed to a top-down, laissez faire system, those who don't buy into that system find non-capital ways to accomplish their goals.  

This doesn't mean these folk don't need money or don't actively pursue the accumulation of money any more than it means the shift from an agrarian to industrial society meant urban factory workers stopped needing food.  It simply means that particular need became a smaller part of the picture with other pieces taking up more activity, space and time.

I mention those three things specifically because they are key drivers, even moreso than money, in the emerging post-industrial economy.

My favourite example of this is the Centre for Social Innovation's DECA (Desk Exchange Community Animator) program.  This program works transactionally, as the traditional labour-for-money exchanges of capitalism do, but by and large no money changes hands.  Participants work one day a week as administration/community animation in one of CSI's locations and in return, they get free office space, wifi access, meeting room access, etc.  A day's worth of work a week becomes their way of paying rent.  

Except the transaction has deeper layers than this.  CSI's mission is to build a community that puts people and planet before profit; by making it easier for people not only to work out of their space but get actual skin in the game they're playing, the community is expanding much more rapidly than it might if financial transactions were the only tools available to them.  Participants don't just work a front desk; they develop new skills and by helping other CSI community members/the public at large, build their own personal networks.  

In short, the workaround that CSI has developed to skirt the rules of traditional capitalism have also helped them build a counter-culture to the laissez-faire model.

The same thing is happening in politics.  Those squeezed out public servants are increasingly finding new ways of engaging in public service (many by engaging with spaces and communities like CSI or the growing Open Movement).  Some who choose to stay on the inside are finding creative ways to explore their concerns, experiment with new knowledge and connect with the public beyond what the top-down constraints of the current model of government allow.  

These Everyday Political Citizens and Virtuous Schemers are combining their talent, time and resources in subversive, even revolutionary ways that are slowly changing the system.

It's the greatest irony; those with all the capital and those with all the power have a certain understanding of how the game is played and expect everyone to play by those (their rules), ie he who has the gold/power makes the rules.  They expect everyone to come to them, as gatekeepers of money and policy, leaving them with the ability to pick and choose which winners they support.  

Only more and more people are recognizing that they can get a hell of a lot done without money or hands on the traditional levers of power.

This doesn't mean that they don't need capital or political influence to entrench system change; it just means that they don't need to focus exclusively on those things.  As it gets harder and harder to have influence or money, more and more people are gravitating towards these emerging communities of engagement, adopting their pro-social, systems-thinking people-and-planet-before-profit ideology along the way.

And wouldn't you know it - from Davos to the International Economic Forum of the Americas, we're hearing more and more capital holders and politically powerful people echoing the language and approach of the very same people who don't fit within the 20th Century's economic and political framework.

These people still need money and the ability to shape policy, just as those at the top of the pyramid still need food; it's just that their aspirations now run beyond fiscal pursuits.  It's just that they've found new ways to nudge the system in their favour, which is slowly making it easier for them to get those basic building blocks they need to succeed - that everyone needs to succeed.

Hustle while you wait; be the change you want to see in the world.  Like the re-emergence of the electric car.

What's happening now is the confluence of both, the transition to a new world alignment.  Altruism is selfishness that patiently plans ahead, etc.

And it's very cool to see.

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