THE NEW ART OF REVOLT
We often speak of revolutions. Astonishingly, today a revolution is a positive concept for us in Western Europe and North America. The last revolution we witnessed was the fall of the Berlin Wall almost thirty years ago — if one wants to call this a revolution. Since then, we have mostly seen revolutions from afar. And let’s be honest, we like less what we have been seeing. But this is precisely what revolutions are all about — chaos, the downfall of all ruling conditions. A revolution knows no plan, it is characterized by terror, by the rise of forces not democratically legitimated, by enormous, uncontrollable dynamics. Revolutions too often end up not where they were intended to end up at all. The tide carries them away more than one would like. A revolution is total. Above all, a revolution always has losers — and by far not only those who deserve the defeat, the downfall. There are very good reasons to fear revolutions…
Digital Transformation, Not Digital Revolution
What about the intrusion of all things digital into our world? The profound changes affecting almost every aspect of our lives? Are we facing a revolution? Well, don’t get carried away. This is a transformational process, which questions a lot of things we do and also the way we do things. To talk about it as a revolution might be overkill. At least we do not need a revolutionary approach to deal with it inside our organizations. We do not have to stop our conveyor belts immediately and take up arms, and surely, we do not need total destruction, no losers, and above all, we need no fear.
Revolt — A Positive View
What I would suggest is another, more positive explanation, another metaphor. I plead for the concept of revolt. I do not see a revolt as a total, uncontrollable disruption of all existing conditions, but as a local path of non-conventional adaptation to a new reality. I would suggest that revolt be thought of as a way of productive subversion and of creative infiltration and undermining. As an attitude of disrespect towards invariances, laws, and principles never questioned before.
Revolt is about Re-Creation, Not Destruction
The aim of the revolt is not destruction and chaos, but rather creating and rebuilding. A transformation, however, which requires many skills, a lot of courage, a lot of imagination, a high willingness to see things differently. From this perspective, revolt is nothing but art. Was Dali’s soft watch not a revolt? Was the impetuous idea of the Impressionists to radically change the formal focus of academic painting and to place the light and the atmospheric conditions at the center of their creative concept, not to the highest degree subversive? Have not these images, these ideas, which they have released into freedom, altered our entire world and made it more free and open?
Art And Craftsmanship
And by the way, art is always about craft and sturdy skills. Without craftsmanship there is no art and without art there is no revolt. Look at the photos taken of great painters, conductors, sculptors at work… They are craftsmen. There is an anecdote that Marc Chagall told. He designed the windows of a Parisian church. Painters were at work in the same church. In the intermission, the craftsmen and the genial painter ran into each other — both over and over covered with paint. The workers wondered whether he was one of them, maybe someone from another team or something. Sure, Chagall answered.
The Networked Individuals Paradigm
If we call revolt an art and art a craft, then we must also see the individualistic aspect. In contrast to blue or white-collar workers, craftsmen work extremely individually and responsibly on their own — as oppose to small teams, however, which are highly interlinked, for example, for house building. In contrast to this, a revolution is a movement of the masses, it is in its essence anti-individual and anti-humanistic. The revolt always begins with individuals.
The Revolt Next Door
If you have the feeling that what I am talking about is just theory, or perhaps wishful thinking, then look around. The walls around us have long since been cracked. The boundaries of companies are starting to fade. Digital technologies disperse classic market axioms. Employees can no longer be streamlined; the time of people processing is over.
Smart companies have recognized it. They look very closely at the young people who start their individual revolts and work out new ways to shape their lives and success: in start-ups, in NGOs, in think tanks. Smart companies do not even try to make these people corporate animals, control them and manage them. They trust them. “What can we do to be part of your revolt?” That is the question they ask.
Is there the reign of chaos in these companies? Not at all. There is an impressive innovation speed, high flexibility, enormous profitability. These companies are highly efficient. Not although, but precisely because revolts exist in their ecosystems…
I am convinced that we have to develop a new art of revolt. We have to find smart ways to achieve digitalization, paths that are characterized by productive subversion. We have to train and to learn the skills and the crafts necessary to start a revolt. This is the mission of XU. That is why we are here. For you — and with you.