We sit here with systems whether they’re healthcare, or education, or government, or community systems, that have been around forever. And we all know that we can do better in the 21st century and that we could use technology to solve the challenges of citizens, or patients, or students in a different way. The problem we have, is we’re stuck in these old systems, and we have no capacity for R&D to explore new ones. Why aren’t we experimenting with different health care systems or different education systems, while we’re still supporting the core system, and why are they… I talk a lot about this notion, I call it connected adjacencies. Every time we try to do exploration of a different model, we build huge antigens to it, we’re allergic to it, and we try to isolate it, and we never learn anything from it. We treat it as the enemy. Uber is the enemy if you’re running a taxi cab or a limousine service. Why don’t we have these platforms for exploring new models, that truly are R&D labs where we’re trying to capture the learning so we can decide when does it make sense to move to a different model? What capability set can we use from that to strengthen the existing model? We should have more connection between the R&D and the existing set of models in systems than we do today. Innovation at the social system level has become you could argue either too hard or some would say impossible. We don’t have a path to explore new models and systems.
Throughout my whole career, my whole theory of change was… I call it the proselytizing model. We were smart. We were articulate. We could write great Powerpoint decks and we could go out and give great talks to leaders, and the idea was that if we kept talking loud enough, and smart enough that we could convince more people to change. And it didn’t work because the people who didn’t want to change didn’t change. It didn’t matter how smart we were or how compelling our — the books we wrote or the papers we wrote or… it didn’t matter. And so now, I’ve got a whole different theory that comes from lots of black and blue marks and being old which is, find people who know they want to change, who want to be enabled, and connect them in purposeful ways and enable them because if you can do that, then you can start to demonstrate that we can build a different future.
So I don’t try to convince anybody to change anymore that doesn’t want to. That doesn’t matter to me. All that matters to me is to find people who know that we need to do this in a different way, are motivated to do it, and then help them find other people that are like that, and then to enable them to bring their stories out, to connect their stories, to figure out what capabilities and methodologies will help us to do the R&D for new models and systems that’s going to be necessary to make this happen; and that’s the mission that I’m on and that we’re on here at BIF.
It’s a weird thing we’ve created. We’ve got all these people that are working in these large organizations that we’ve beat them up so much around this is your role, this is what you can do and this is where we value you. We don’t value you, you know, because of… when you’re wearing a customer hat; we don’t value you in terms of your ability to share stories about what we’re doing, right? We basically tell our employees you’re forbidden from talking about work, because we have a department whose job it is to talk about the work and get approval from lawyers around what we can say.
So here come all these social media platforms which would allow organizations to open all that up, all that conversation and connection amongst their — even their own employees, and they’ve got it completely boxed up, completely boxed up. And it’s all, again it goes back for me to… it’s because they’re trying to drive efficiency into their business model, and for them efficiency means this is the department that controls our message. This is how we get input from the customer.
And the fact that we have 50,000 employees, each with their own networks, that are an incredible source for information on what the customer wants, or channels for communication about their work and the excitement about the mission of the company, we don’t use any of that. Somebody told me the other day, I had a great conversation with someone who came out of a very large company, who worked in the internal communications department there, and who was telling me that their research suggested that if your employees communicate about a new product or service or anything, that is viewed three times more credibly than if the CEO comes out and says it.
Makes sense right? But do we — but we don’t allow our employees to talk about anything. This is driving all the people crazy that are sitting there, all these younger employees that have all kinds of communication channels and are having all kinds of conversations in their life, they’ve completely separated out the work stuff, because they’re afraid that they’re going to get fired if they say anything. It’s just bizarre that these old organization models are really getting in the way.
You know a handful of people are going to get silly rich and the rest of us are going to be driving cars for Uber part-time or whatever the business model is. And I don’t think — and I like to see us evolve into an era with a constant proliferation of business models that meet the needs of smaller subsets of the population, as opposed to a predominant business model that meets the needs of a lot of people, but a lot of people’s needs go unmet because the model wasn’t designed for them.
And so I’m hoping we get into an era where there’s a constant flow of new business models and some of which will get huge, and yes people are going to get rich, and that’s okay with me. But those business models are constantly going to be challenged to meet the needs of smaller subsets of the population, and it’s an exciting time. I’m very optimistic about this because it’s the proliferation of these business models that are going to allow us to solve some of the big social challenges that we have, and I want to see the environment that allows those to proliferate a lot more. So I’m optimistic about the future, but I’m not naive about the impact of those transitions, and what it means for us in society when we’re affected by them. You know it’s what I said in — what I said in Alex’s book; you know when they asked me a quote and I said “Everybody loves innovation until it affects them.” And it’s just true.
We grew up in an era where we looked to leaders in those Ivory towers: the big institutions, whether it was academia or corporate or government. We thought they were responsible for driving the change. I’ve come to believe that the change is not likely to happen that way. I mean if we’re waiting for existing institutional leaders that have responsibility for the current models, to come up with the models for tomorrow, and move us there, they’re not going to do it. It’s not in their interest to do it. There are some exceptions to that, but by in large most leaders are incented to strengthen their existing models and their existing positions. I think what’s really exciting is what I call self organized purposeful networks. This messy thing that we see emerging where people are using new technologies like social media to connect and share information to exchange ideas, like you and I are doing here today, and I think we’ve got the exchange of ideas, done pretty well. We’ve learned how to connect with each other. I call it colliding with the unusual suspects to figure out what’s interesting in the grey area between us. I think the thing that’s starting to happen that’s going to happen more tomorrow, is we’re going to figure out not only how to exchange ideas, but we’re going to figure out how to create purposeful networks, combine our capability set to have an influence to actually put pressure on and to change these models and systems.
And I think it’s that pressure from that happens organically from the bottom up, combined with a subset of leaders in existing institutions, not all of them, in fact probably not most of them. But a select few, that are going to realize that they have the capability set to invent the future and it’s in their best interest to play a leadership role in creating the future. And those two forces are going to put allow us to reach an inflection point, where everyone else is going to have come along for the ride. But it’s a big shift because we used to wait for the institutional leaders to drive the change and I don’t think that’s going to happen.