Ending dissent – How can we find a solution to student and occupy protests?

9th November 2011

Do you believe in coincidence?

When I wrote the article ‘Capitalism isn’t working‘,  I was thinking in general terms.  What were they actually arguing about, who ought to be discussing it?  Then two things happened within a couple of hours.

First, I got a mail from Stewart at Mindful Money, asking if I’d seen this blog post.  It fascinated me – much as we have a “special relationship” with our cousins across the pond, it is irritating that they are actually doing what I was talking about doing (and it seems like nobody in the UK with significant authority has even thought about doing); trying to work out what “capitalism” means and what it should be in the modern world.

Then Ray commented on my blog post that he thought the concept had been “hijacked and ‘bastardised’ to suit the need of a narrow minority”

That rung a bell.  You have to forgive me, I have a sort of split personality professionally, writer, psychologist on personal finance and occupational psychology consultant.  The consultancy element is the main business, the “day job”, but when I’m writing or on radio and when I’m dealing with finance I sometimes forget the things I do most days.

One of the things I do is to try to get better management into organisations, by coaching, selecting and by changing organisational style.

A lot of organisations run on the military principle, command and control.  That works pretty well in the army, if you say – “lieutenant, take that hill” – you are going to have trouble if they argue about moral imperatives or the rights of man.

While it works in battle, it’s often not so useful in the modern business environment.

In my experience, and that of a lot of business psychologists, most organisations don’t lack smart, well informed people.  What they lack is the ability to incorporate the views of all those smart people and to mobilise the collective wisdom – they end up with the dictates of the “leader”, who might be just as smart, or even smarter, but is only one person.  Two heads, or even two hundred, are often better than one if you can harness them effectively.

So there are things from occupational psychology and organisational development that are designed to get a bit more flexibility into a situation.  They still require, to quote some information on one method, “a clear and compelling theme, an interested and committed group, time and a place, and a leader”.

Well, the US gives us a theme, we’ve certainly got an interested and committed group (on all sides of the issue) and a time and place shouldn’t be beyond the wit of mankind.

That leaves a leader.

As I mentioned before, it isn’t easy to facilitate this type of conversation, I’m not sure somebody from one side or the other should be in charge – not just because they are biased, but because they will try to “lead” in the military sense, to control the situation.  That’s anathema to the concepts that are needed.

I’ll mention a couple of ways this conversation can be run.  Both work on the basis that each person has their own reality, their own “mental model” of the world.  Although this perspective of reality may be valid, it is only one individual’s subjective perception.  Only in sharing one’s viewpoint and learning about alternative interpretations of reality can individuals and organisations gain a better understanding of the world and the alternatives for action.

One is the World Cafe concept, the other Open Space Technology.

Both are predicated on the fact that most organisations (or societies) actually operate “bottom up”, but most organisational systems operate “top down”.  The arguments about whether the protesters are “right”, over what they actually want, over whether “the City” (which, like capitalism, the protesting individuals, the goals of various parties etc. are never clearly defined and remain unknown) rumble on from the bottom up, with everybody trying to manage from the top down, to wrestle authority (be it law, public opinion, Church doctrine etc.) to “their” side – with nobody having a really clear idea of how many sides there are.

The idea of those two approaches is to get a collective understanding, to combine the ideas and to facilitate a view that is bottom up, “emergent”, and that gives some alternatives for action that can gain support from all sides.

To my chagrin, the US have already started – in a slightly haphazard way to judge from the comment that “The debate about how to have an orderly conversation about all these things took 45 minutes. In the end, the group divided in two.” But they have started.

Does the UK want to keep on with accusations, condemnation, passionate but largely pointless rhetoric and impasse?

Or do we want to do something to try to get a system that all, or at least most, agree is better and fairer – and at the same time end the protests peacefully by dint of the fact that the inequalities that prompted the protests have ceased?

More from Mindful Money:

Occupy London: ‘Capitalism isn’t working’

Capitalism in crisis: Time to turn to new ideologies?

Occupy London Stock Exchange: Dissent and adapt

Big Society: The wisdom of crowds

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