Our Brand is Crisis

We need to invent new words.

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

[Antonio Gramsci]

    A campaign team engages a battle-hardened American political consultant to help re-elect a controversial president in Bolivia, where she must compete with a long-term rival working for another candidate. Jane/Bullock comes up with the slug line, “Our Brand is Crisis,” which ends up focusing the campaign and winning the vote. It's just business, as she says: 

That's the world, that's politics. That's how it works. It starts out with big promises and ends up with jackshit happening. But like the man said: “If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal.”

    The movie was panned in the reviews. I found it interesting because the story line is based on actual facts. In 2002, Bolivian politician Pedro Gallo hires American James Carville's political consulting firm, Greenberg Carville Shrum, to help him win the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. GCS brings in Jane Bodine to manage the campaign in Bolivia. Battling her arch nemesis, the opposition's political consultant Pat Candy.

    “May you live in interesting times,” says the English expression attributed as a translation of a traditional Chinese curse. Irony is a great tool to shine a light on deeper truths, especially in a complex world. In a similar class with aphorisms, zip files that require mental software to unlock.

    We live in interesting times, and by the sound and look of it, our brand is crisis.

    Hurricanes, earthquakes, other natural phenomena that are affecting us create real crises. The way we still organize our economy and institutions is also creating crises that are very real in their consequences — poverty and lack of infrastructure being the most visible. But there is also a conversation that is not as visible to the eye because it's wrapped into the crisis brand — and that is confidence.

    “The world is once again living an interregnum. It is poised between inward-looking old powers and reluctant emergent ones,” says Roger Cohen in The New York Times. We're led to believe that we need more trust, that trust is the problem. But trust is not the real problem, trustworthiness is.

     So the question becomes not about whether we trust someone or not, but whether that person is trustworthy. Unlike the plea “trust me,trustworthiness relies on evidence. Consistency of character over time builds it and not photo opportunities or generic claims. 

    We become trustworthy by being honest, competent, and reliable… over time. No shortcuts. Transparency makes the trust leap possible, and the technology can make it possible, when the people building the technology are trustworthy. Principles and not sound bites is how we start to tell the difference.

    At the end of the movie, Jane/Bullock says in an interview:

Who are my heroes? Well, when I first started in this business, my heroes were politicians and leaders. And then I met them.

    Along with the idea of leaders, peer-driven networks have been emerging in many corners of the economy. Although we're still organizing some known companies in the old ways, with a corporate entity or office taking the lion share of the monetary value, technology is building trustworthiness in peer-to-peer situations.

    Ratings, reviews, and repeat business are the feedback mechanisms. We become trustworthy by delivering on our promises, and voting with our feet has become easier. This is part of the opportunity technology has given us as individuals. Trust(worthiness) is the antidote to fear, we know fear doesn't help in crises.

    There are also better ways to organize economically, creating the structures that mirror the emergent forms of collaboration and work. Entrepreneurship has been on the rise with younger generations for a number of years. But it's not just younger people — more experienced professionals are increasingly joining the ranks.

    In addition to the economic benefit of finding a niche and making it work, many accomplished entrepreneurs are creating ecosystems, using Mastermind groups to learn from each other, share most practice of what works and build an infrastructure of mutual support.

    Scottish-American naturalist John Muir says, “When you try to pick anything out by itself, you find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” Social is not just about connection, it's also about interdependence.

    Our brand doesn't have to be crisis, we can think differently about everything — from leading to organizing (2.6 million co-ops with more than 1 billion members globally, generating US$2.98 trillion in annual revenue#), all the way to customer experience — and build on principles and purpose rather than sound bites.

    We need to invent new words, the old ones have failed to keep up with our imagining.


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