“Become your dream.” – James De La Vega
These two quotes are from flyers handed to us last week as we wandered through a large and incredibly diverse group of citizens participating in OWS or Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park in New York. The park is next to the site of the new World Trade Center where construction is hurtling full speed to restore a 104-story tower to replace the previous structures. The contrast is inescapable.
While the establishment, from politicians to radio personalities, mock the folks in parks around the world, I can’t help but recall the early days of the Peace Movement during Vietnam, and my own time in the streets when we were launching The Hunger Project. If you are in the camp that believes OWS is composed of “nuts,” note The Hunger Project pretty much got rolling in the parks and on the street corners across the country and last year positively impacted the lives of 35 million people across the developing world. Remember the famous quote by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
I can’t say that the OWS groups will turn into a sustainable movement. I will say, ignore the message at your peril. I found many serious, committed, and, yes, idealistic folks dedicating a part of themselves to stand for a shift from a reality of personal benefit above all, isolation from real human issues, both here and abroad, and angry monologues from our political leaders. A unifying theme has yet to emerge from OWS, but we found plenty of concern for a new way of being and a desire for our society to be based on the principle of mutual responsibility. Another description is “shifting our mindset from self-entitlement to social entitlement, which means putting the society first and our egos next…” Fundamentally I heard many expressions that revolved around recognizing our interdependence.
I suppose it was not an accident we were meeting with a very powerful and visionary indigenous leader from Peru just a few days later. She was sharing her frustration around discussing human rights when she visited the north, whether at the UN or with fellow indigenous people from the north. “You only want to talk about individual rights. We have to address both individual rights and the rights of the community,” is her constant theme. Sound similar to the OWS folks?
In our work with companies we find rapidly growing interest in developing leadership and in fostering creativity and innovation. In most cases, however, we also find great resistance to letting go of control at the top to truly free people in the organization to innovate, (usually for fear of “experimenting” and making mistakes). For innovation and a creative culture to thrive, it takes real collaboration – a willingness to let go, show all of your cards, and surrender to a process where everyone learns and benefits. It is very threatening to the traditional need to control. My sense is that what’s missing in our business culture is what the folks are struggling to articulate in the park.