October 22nd, 2010 // 4:00 am @ Oliver DeMille
The problem with revolutions is that they throw out the good with the bad.
Promoters of revolution gather support by peddling hate of the current system and those who lead and benefit from it, so when they get around to making changes they have actually discredited much of what is good in society.
Indeed, this is why some scholars have argued that the American Founding was not truly a revolution like those in France and later Russia.
Reforms, many thinkers rightly suggest, are gentler than revolution and can still result in positive improvements.
Unfortunately, reform thrives by re-empowering entrenched institutions, systems and even groups that are often more than just a little invested in doing things without change.
Reform tinkers with the edges while leaving the majority of the failing system intact.
Making reforms can certainly bring needed improvements to an organization or society, and sometimes little changes are enough.
The rule of thumb is to avoid revolution unless those things you hold most dear are under attack and clearly threatened, and to rely on reform when the issues and consequences aren’t quite so drastic.
Revolution throws out the good and bad of the past and replaces it with an all new system, while reform leaves the system mostly unchanged but alters certain procedures, institutions or personnel.
There is another option which approaches things very differently, and which can bring major change without the pain of revolution.
This option is Renaissance.
Renaissance is unlike revolution and reform in many ways, but can often deliver the positive results of both.
Renaissance operates from a very different premise than the other two, because it focuses on drastically changing people instead of things.
It changes people from the inside, and then leaves it to them to alter their lives, choices and actions in ways that reform the past and revolutionize and redirect the future.
When societies emphasize progress through revolution or reform, they focus on institutions, laws, policies, funding, credentials, resources, and other manifestations of the physical world.
In contrast, renaissance emphasizes the soul.
When people change their ideas, feelings, goals, dreams, loves, beliefs, passions, ideals, objectives, wishes, relationships and other intangibles, the future is forever impacted.
While these may seem ethereal to some, their impact on history is certainly concrete and momentous.
In times of consistent economic growth, plentiful jobs and easy capital, the characteristics of success are often consistency, schooling, training, expertise, steadiness, reliability, obedience, compliance and longevity.
Schools in such environments teach memorization, fitting in, impressing superiors, and excelling within the guidelines, and jobs tend to reward these things.
But when the economy is struggling, jobs are difficult to get and keep, employers are laying off and reducing costs, and/or capital is scarce and minimizing risk, a different set of values dominate.
Traits like capability, skill, ability, initiative, resiliency, optimism, inventiveness, ingenuity, ability to inspire others, frugality, resourcefulness, tenacity and especially enterprise are most valued by the economy.
Schools and parents in such times need to help students increase creativity, imagination, originality, individuality, mental agility, emotional resolve, innovation, risk and entrepreneurialism.
We have been in a general growth period for nearly fifty years, and we are now in a struggling economic era, so the values are in transition from the first list to the second.
Parents and grandparents are still likely to dispense advice from the old economy, emphasizing things like test-taking, credentials and impressing superiors over the new economic realities such as initiative, individuality, originality and entrepreneurialism.
The government is stuck in the same rut, trying and failing to fix major societal challenges with trivial, albeit expensive, reforms.
Where they do attempt to make huge changes, such as in health care and financial reform, their symbolic and revolutionary-style agendas are creating more anger, frustration and deficits than actual solutions.
Tea Party responses further fuel the revolutionary rhetoric in the media and on Capitol Hill–but things remain mostly unchanged.
This lingering “business as usual” in Washington is alarming in a society with significant problems and major challenges in many fields of life.
From the obvious economic problems to unending international quagmires in Afghanistan (now the longest war in American history), Iraq and a number of other places, to a decaying infrastructure of roads and bridges, rising health care costs (unsolved and further complicated by the new health care law), decreasingly effective schools, high unemployment, unsolved levels of crime, and so on, we need real leadership and solutions that actually remedy our national problems.
Revolution is not the answer.
There is much that is good in America, and we want to surgically solve our problems without undoing the many positive things we have built into our society.
But the reform mentality isn’t working either, and the problems have been piling up for over a decade.
We need to drastically improve society, deliver solutions to overcome our most pressing problems, and simultaneously maintain the things which are already working.
Despite the attachment of both political parties and nearly all of our major public and private institutions to reform thinking, we need something much more effective.
We need change from within, a drastic alteration of attitudes and goals and thinking across our nation.
We need people to imagine a better future, to really believe in the reality of what we can do, and to take action.
We don’t need more stirring speeches from the President or any other leader so much as we need millions of individual Americans to get work–alone and in small groups–on solving our problems.
In short, we need a renaissance. And we need it soon.
The Power to Change
Fortunately, the greatest power in all of this may simply be individuals taking action and parents discussing the new values (initiative, ingenuity, tenacity, entrepreneurialism, and so forth) with their children and youth.
In fact, the American spirit of resourcefulness, optimism and enterprise is alive and well. More of us just need to take the leap.
The difficulty, of course, is that the old values were against risk.
In the old economy, the one that dominated from 1945 to 2008, risk was scary and often unrewarding.
A lot of people made small to large fortunes in entrepreneurial ventures, small businesses, network and multilevel marketing, and other non-traditional enterprises, but a lot more lost money in such attempts and ended up dependent on jobs like nearly everyone else.
The lesson for many people was just to get a decent education, a regular job, and a secure benefits package.
Like in Defoe’s classic Robinson Crusoe, many parents shared the advice not to aim too high or too low, but just to be content with “the middle station” in life.
A decent house, two cars, cable television, a good grill and a family membership at the local rec center — these were the dreams of two generations of Americans.
Robert Kiyosaki develops this theme in various interesting dialogues in the best-selling Rich Dad, Poor Dad (affiliate link).
But in the new economy, such a course is likely to create permanent economic struggles in your life. In this economic environment, without risk few people get ahead.
Tenacity, ingenuity and enterprise are the new job security.
This is true even among much of the traditionally employed population. The stakes are higher now and success is more difficult across the board, and thinkers, leaders and innovators are needed.
But how to get the population on board with the new values? Most of us were raised, educated and lived our careers in the old economy, and shifting to the new realities is proving troublesome.
If the Great Recession is just a blip in history and the days of easy credit and consistent growth return for a decade or more, people will justify this refusal to transition their thinking.
But if, as all indications and evidence seem to suggest, the times of high unemployment, a difficult growth environment and a sputtering economy are here to stay for a while, we are kidding ourselves and hurting our futures by refusing to adapt.
No policy, institutional plan or governmental debate is likely to shift the national mentality from employee thinking to entrepreneurial values.
A renaissance is needed. Our vision must change, and our dreams must imagine the great opportunities available in the new realities of the future economy.
We must, as a people, engage a massive migration toward the new economy.
We can lead the economies of the world, but we have to embrace the new reality and get to work. Until a mental renaissance occurs, we are stuck in a rut of old thinking.
Of course, even if the majority refuses to move forward in this new world, each of us can make these changes and get started on our own journey.
In fact, those who get started first are more likely to benefit and profit than the latecomers. This is true in any nearly any industry and endeavor. The early bird gets the worm.
And, as the early adapters get to work, it is empowering to those who are waiting for validation or credibility to justify the risk so they can get on board as well.
There are already a few who are pioneering and building in the new economy. For example, the “downshifter” trend took successful people from the coasts to small towns to build an entrepreneurial new economy starting in the late nineties.
Likewise, homeschooling and the organic foods movements addressed problems in education and health care using new economy thinking long before the 2008 economic meltdown.
Both continue to grow as the rest of the economy unsuccessfully grasps for solutions. Indeed, few whole foodists were (or are) too concerned about health care reforms–because they are, simply, healthy.
Participatory religion continues to grow, as the old-line religions dependent on Priests and Professionals watch their numbers dwindle.
Public schools and teacher unions are increasingly concerned with the growth of charter and other non-traditional educational offerings, and the rise of for-profit career colleges has the old educational bureaucracy hiring lobbyists and badmouthing these “upstart” competitors.
With just one of these schools, The University of Phoenix, quickly becoming the largest university in the world, the old system sees its monopoly fading.
There is a shortage of new economy thinking because the whole nation needs to make the shift, but there are numerous examples of leaders and groups making the transition.
Indeed, literally thousands of online “tribes” are slowly moving (and many are going more quickly) in the right direction.
A few guidelines for transition to the new economy and values include:
- Start young, or if you are older, help the young get started
- Don’t seek to impress the old elite, but rather go after real results
- Get past the old value of not taking risks
- Be experimental, not limited by old systems, methods or models
- Don’t be limited by old obstacles like office space or business cards
- Don’t get stuck on hierarchies, titles and power struggles
- Think virtual, tribal and international
- Be inclusive, open and interconnected
- Be mindful of the way information grows
In the Information Age, revolution would cause as many problems as it might possibly fix, and reform has proven too feeble to really bring necessary change.
We need a massive internal renaissance of the great explorer, frontier, pioneering, and entrepreneuring values which took Pilgrims to the Mayflower, 49’rs to the plains, and led generations of Americans to build the businesses, families, schools, churches, and communities that made our nation great.
We need to accept that we live in a new economy and embrace the new values which bring success in our new environment.
Chief among these are initiative, cheerfulness, persistence, and an enterprising mentality. We need to engage the powerful flow of information in this age, and help it spread and lift the plight of peoples worldwide.
Each of us has a vital role helping the future emerge, and it is time to take the leap and get to work on those things we have always felt we should do.
Or, if we are already hard at work doing our part, it would be well to smile, laugh more often, and give our full attention to watching a sunset or contemplating a tide as it comes in.
It is time for a renaissance, and if the whole nation doesn’t lead out, each of us can embrace it anyway.
Above all, it’s time to take a deep breath, exhale any doubts, and sit down with our youth and share our vision of the new world and the renaissance ahead.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.