Can a Negative Really Make a Positive? (Part 2)

Read part 1 HERE 

J.E. Rash 

In this multi-part blog we are looking at the concept of disruption as a tool for innovation and transformation in business and society.  Disruption can be found all around us every day and to many it seems to be the answer to the question of how to “get ahead,” whether it be in business, politics, or society.  The critical thinker, however, will pause and ask questions about both the tool and the results it engenders.

In over 40 years of lecturing and teaching I have seen trends come and go, cultural attitudes change, and global challenges rise and fall.  In those years I have seen disruption and deconstruction as much more of a threat to the positive cultural norms and personal framework of security than a force for positive change.  Thinking back just to my own university experiences in the 1960’s when deconstruction was the rage, I remember professors, at times, attacking ones beliefs in the name of intellectual liberation and self awareness. 

As we all know, the 1960’s and 70’s were a time of great societal transformation, based in part on disruption of social norms around women’s rights and the civil rights of minorities.  Great good came out of some of those disruptions. It was also a time that emphasized individualism and self-aggrandizement; we made up our own values and our own unique culture, abandoning and rejecting, in many cases, our traditional values and cultural identity. 
Fast-forward to today and we find again a culture of disruption, especially as it applies to digital transformation. Transformation, motivated by market share and product awareness, against a backdrop of millennial eclecticism (social consciousness and honesty mixed with a dose of narcissism and exclusivity) may not be sustainable.

There is a key difference between transformation through simple disruption and transformation through striving or struggling against old norms for change in constructive values based way. I would posit that the civil rights reforms of the 60’s and 70’s were an example of the latter, not the former. 

I am not condemning the process or the intention of digital disruption and transformation of a business, or even (potentially) of a society, rather I am pointing out a subtlety of language and intention.   Change based on positive language may be less compelling in the world of ‘new’ old ideas, but it is perhaps a lot more sustainable.

What is the intention behind conscious and planned disruption? Is it really for the good of all members of society? Or all employees, all customers, all clients?  Or is it only for those in power, the C suite, the Leader? 

As beneficial as disruption may be, it’s like holding wild horses. I believe it may work on some levels; disrupting the corporate mission/culture/ organizational structure in order to stay current in the digital world and foster new ideas.  It may work in terms of competitive advantage or improvement of product and attracting new markets. But it is staged as a battle between opposing forces, and that is cause for concern.
Note the disruption of the political environment today in the USA. The more disruptive destabilizing events, the less time there is to analyze, reflect, separate fact from fiction and respond.  One might even argue that that seems to be the intention.  The question then is, what is the intended outcome? Who benefits from that outcome? What are the consequences of that outcome and does it support or undermine the foundational principles of the country, the corporation, or the service organization?

The mentality of our times is competition instead of cooperation. Competition is the foundation of our economic and political philosophies.  Competition is certainly good when it levels the playing field and brings the best advantages to the consumers. But what are the rules of the competition?

There is no question that competition works, or that disruption works to promote change.  But just because something works (and maybe even work well), does that mean it’s good (or good for us as a country, let alone as part of an inter-related, interdependent global society?). An AK-47 works. A nuclear bomb works.  But is it good?  Are those the industries and technologies we really want to be investing in?  Are they tools that serve humanity?  That create prosperity, equality, and peace for all? Whether it is corporate infrastructure or national infrastructure, creating jobs and sustaining them will depend more on peace and collaboration than on war and nationalism, competition and protectionism. 

Businesses and industries around the world have gotten very good at making products and services and marketing them to people in compelling ways.  Video game producers have made video games more and more realistic.  Advertising companies have developed highly sophisticated ad campaigns that trigger desire centers in the brain and influence culture and social development.  Algorithms can now predict with uncanny accuracy the next product we will buy, who we will vote for and why. All these companies are not only very good at what they do they have mastered the interface between the customer and the product, the ‘medium and the message’.  But I ask again, just because we can be good at doing something, does that make it good?

Many people have been asking themselves just this question and deciding that language does matter. Truth in labeling is no longer the standard. Fact has taken the backseat to factious (factions/dissent) and fatuousness (mindlessness and without reality). 

But there is growing popular response; a resistance to this disruption; a demand for justice and transparency.  We see this in investment in CSA’s,  corporate social responsibility and socially conscious investments; health care for all, movement for gender equality.  One may argue that this is a reaction to disruptive forces of self aggrandizement, but it is based on the goodness in the human being; the action of those who truly care about ‘the other’ as much as they care for their own self.

These and other similar movements, are based on the idea that we must live our values on our way to success, not just give back after we’ve made it big.  This mentality may be the future of corporate consciousness; it is certainly the foundation of our four decades of work at Legacy International…Helping others to help themselves and others!

We live in a world of conflict, imbalance, and inequality. Can we really adhere to positive values when the language and methodology is deconstructive and negative (regardless of the stated and intended purpose)? 

Can we really go beyond our deeply rooted and well-insulated concepts of competition and individual advantage and embrace the values of collaboration and mutual support in the business sphere, as well as the social sphere? 

The answer is “yes.”  Tune in next time for the “how.”

J.E. Rash is President and Founder of Legacy International ( Mr. Rash’s career includes studies in law, cross-cultural communication, and comparative religion; work in advertising and media; and the design of training programs and curricula for educators, parents, and youths. He has traveled extensively throughout the US and to Greece, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, Spain, Syria, and Turkey to lecture on education, conflict prevention and resolution, dialogue, democracy and civic education, and inter-religious understanding.  His most recent book, Islam and Democracy, has been distributed in English, Russian, and Kazakh. He has also recently launched Legacy International Ventures (LIV). Drawing on four decades of regional experience, Legacy International Ventures is building a holistic business model that integrates values-based entrepreneurship with shared value for all stakeholders. Through people-based tools, a ventures incubator and digital technologies, we accelerate the efforts of social venturers to impact the most challenging local and global problems.