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Thursday, 31 July 2008

Mystics and Revolutionaries - the Drivers of Innovation

You'll have gathered from the title "Pragmatist" and my explanatory blog, that I'm fairly sceptical when it comes to messages from our institutions, and I support positively disruptive innovation and innovators whenever possible.

Bob Mayo, of St Stephens in Shepherds Bush, is an innovator in one of the most conservative institutions on the planet, so I'm always fascinated to read his crisp observations in "Parish the Thought", Bob's weekly 200 word email. This week Bob hits on a theme at the heart of Web 2.0:
"The gospel passage for this Sunday sees Jesus feeding 5,000 hungry people with five loaves and two fishes (Matthew 14:13-21). Making the world a better place is not something limited to Jesus 2,000 years ago. Helping the poor and hungry and looking after those who are vulnerable or in need is the responsibility of us all. Nouwen (1994) says that we need to be ‘mystics’ and ‘revolutionaries’. The ‘mystic’ is concerned with changing the human heart and the ‘revolutionary’ is concerned with changing human society. In case you think of yourself as being one or the other, Nouwen also says that every real ‘revolutionary’ is challenged to be a ‘mystic’ at heart. ‘Mysticism’ and ‘revolution’ are two aspects of the same desire to make the world a better place to live. The whole socio-political world in which we live is geared against change. This should mean that we do not want to try. William Wordsworth talked about being as ‘impatient as the Wind’"
Two particular aspects chime with the disruptive trend we know as "Web 2.0". First, that the successful disruptive business models are motivated by making the world a better place to "live" - i.e. for individual people, personally. It's not about institutions, it's about each individual customer's personal experience and effort contributing in an "architecture of participation".

The second aspect is the idea that "the whole socio-political world in which we live is geared against change". One cause of our declining faith in our institutions is perhaps the realisation that regulations and rules (including the business rules by which institutions and big suppliers choose to transact with us) have tended to be written to suit the way institutions wish to do things, rather than what might suit us personally. We are told that these regulations and rules are hard to change, but become cynical when we see Parliament rush through laws that curb civil liberties or regulators move quickly to protect the banks but were slow to act when pensioners' money was at stake, or big corporates stop doing things overnight when ordered to do so by some other institution after years of consumer detriment and complaint. Yet inertia means that it takes such shocks and a lot of energy from people who are "as impatient as the Wind" to kick us all the way along the "change curve" to the point where we plan to do things in a different way.

The fascinating aspect of the digital revolution of Web 2.0 is that not only can facilitators enable individuals to harness technology to access more music or personalised holidays more cheaply, but it also provides a medium for generating and sharing the passion and connections necessary for us to find the things in the Long Tail of products that improve our own, personal lives.
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