By Kevin Meyer
Over the weekend I was chatting with a couple friends on different sides of the world and the subject of Occupy Wall Street came up. I'm not exactly sure how, but our common response was along the lines of "wow – I had almost forgotten about them." That prompted me to dive into various internet news feeds, from all sides of the spectrum, and it turns out that many are feeling the same way.
In many ways it's too bad. Many of us are smack in the center of the political spectrum, socially liberal yet fiscally conservative, wondering how the crop of guys on the right can both claim to be for small government yet still wanting to dictate what happens in our bedrooms and bodies, wondering how the left can both be for jobs yet presiding over the greatest increase in job-busting regulation the country has ever seen. The top 1% does control a larger amount of wealth – and power – than ever… but also pays a higher percentage of total tax revenue than ever. Folks on the other end are hurting – but by over-borrowing we've raised our standard of living faster than it should have been raised, and therefore claim hardship and request handouts to stay at that inflated level. The system is broken from many angles. The fixes will be painful – even more so if we continue to kick the can down the road.
So OWS was interesting for many of us to watch. Also an interesting experiment with a new method of groupthink and groupaction. Unfortunately that has also created the downfall of the "organization." Somehow it seemed to morph from using occupation tactics to make a statement, to being about occupation itself. And that turned off a lot of folks, especially many local small business owners who happen to be in the 99%. It turned violent, including the blurb (finally something!) on tonight's news of a Occupy Oakland protester threatening police with half a stick of dynamite. The majority of people, including in the 99%, still respect the law, respect the rights of property owners, and don't like violence. And it got cold. Donations have fallen from tens of thousands of bucks per day to under a hundred right before Christmas.
But the real reason is the lack of clear principles, and especially clear goals and tactics supporting those goals. The Occupy sympathizers, such as Marianne Schnall, try to claim this is a positive.
One of the criticisms of the Occupy movement here in the U.S. has been that there is no clear cut agenda. But that is what makes the movement so dynamic and exciting – it is decentralized, still evolving, and incorporates many different important causes that need addressing.
Sorry, that doesn't answer the criticism. Dynamic and exciting doesn't create success – ask any number of dot-coms when they become dot-bombs a decade ago.
It turns out a bunch of the original Occupy Wall Street folks are debating the same thing – what happened to their numbers and is it due to the intentional decentralization? Welcome to reality. I said the same thing when the OWS guys had to set up sanitation, protection, and even a bank when the numbers in Zuccotti grew.
So I spent some time exploring the "About" section of the OWS website. There's a Principles of Solidarity page that lists eight items ranging from "engaging in direct and transparent participatory democracy" to "endeavor to practice and support wide application of open source." Huh? There's a very direct correlation and analogy between "open source" and "free trade" but I bet those guys wouldn't be happy with it. There are other documents detailing "Autonomy" and such. Clear? Not exactly. Think of the worst vision and mission statements you've read – paragraphs and paragraphs of redundant, superficial words.
This leads to problems such as Occupy Portland calling for a national day of action to shut down corporations and Occupy Oakland trying to shut down ports. Guess who work for corporations and ports. Yep, the 99%. Hence the rather shrill if not almost violent comments on those potential actions. It's not pretty, and it's highly destructive to the Occupy movement.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not wishing for the demise of OWS. Really. I believe that growth and improvement come from healthy debate between differing opinions – and that's been lost as the left moves more left and the right moves more right. OWS was – perhaps still is – something different. Similarly the Tea Party could be as well, if it doesn't continue to be hijacked.
OWS could use a nice dose of hoshin – perhaps after accepting the reality that there needs to be some basic layer of organization and leadership. Hoshin begins with an input of a small number of very defined principles. Transparent, participatory democracy? Perhaps -although that's still a bit vague. Open source? Not so much.
Then there needs to be a long-term strategy and plan. What does the vision of the future look like? Translate that into three-year breakthrough objectives and those objectives to annual goals. A small number of them so there is focus, ownership, and coherence. Defined so that what success looks like is obvious and understood. I, and most if not all of the employees of my company, can tell you what our principles, strategies, and annual goals are – we don't need to look on a wall or in a binder. Setting goals isn't enough – you have to execute, monitor the execution, and take defined corrective action when things go off track. Finally you need to regularly review progress, do some hansei reflection, and use that as an input to begin the planning and execution cycle again.
Being decentralized and leaderless is idealistic. But idealism by itself doesn't create change. There needs to be a clear, concise, actionable message and purpose that adds value – supported by principles and driving goals. Exciting and dynamic organizations come into being every day – and also die every day.