One of the constant complaints, here in America, is “gridlock”. It seems politicians like to talk past each other and not get things done. And people complain about things not happening in “Washington.” But they aren’t happening in Paris, London and lots of other world capitals. Gridlock is a hallmark of democracy and many people like democracy.
A quick scan of the political headlines as I write this article and I can see: economic development, immigration, healthcare, education and a host of other classic issues popping up. These are issues that some suggest shouldn’t be raised in polite conversation. Others will tell you these are the types of issues where we must “agree to disagree.” And I agree.
One of the funny things about a democracy is that we will never all agree on everything. Some will have one view. Others will have an alternate view. And we all hope that in the next election “our side” will win and we’ll get the changes we want pushed through.
All this while we hope that the courts and laws protect the minority. We don’t want to go so far in majority rule that the minority loses its voice. With majority rule, in its purest form, there would have been no Martin Luther King or gay rights. And there would be a lot more Adolph Hiliters.
As a business ownership lawyer I deal with businesses and issues related to their ownership and control on a daily basis. And while on a theoretical level a properly formed corporation should run somewhat like a democracy (of the shareholders) the goal of most corporations (and LLCs for that matter) is to maximize value for the owners. And the ownership is usually unequal.
And because businesses aren’t truly democratic and votes are usually distributed based on the percentage of the company owned we don’t have the same controls we have in government.
This means the end of gridlock. For reasons we examine this may not be a good thing.
Gridlock Keeps Us In The Center
As much as gridlock is criticized for its inefficiency it is also highly efficient. Before you reread that last sentence 10 times let me explain.
While gridlock on one issue — particularly an issue we care deeply about — is frustrating it does serve a purpose. When we are gridlocked on one issue we can keep moving forward on other issues and the status quo, for good or bad, is maintained on the gridlocked issue.
This means, as a system, our gridlock tends to keep us centered. Only those issues where a majority of political leaders agree can be acted on. And the rest waits.
Because of gridlock we stay in the center politically. But it companies this isn’t the case. One or two leaders or strong shareholders can take an action and engage the whole company in support of that action.
We are watching today’s tech companies have a number of issues, particularly with privacy and security. Almost all of these issues can be traced back to individuals or teams who implemented without listing to all sides of the issues. Imagine if there had been internal discussion on these issues. We’d have less speed to market but we’d have more balanced risks.
Gridlock Slows Things Down
Another one of the common complaints on gridlock is that it slows things down. And it does. Without gridlock things move fast.
Going fast, of course, raised the question of how fast is too fast. In government we generally don’t want to change too quickly. This can cause issues with getting the word out about the new laws, ensuring compliance and putting administrative elements in place.
Because of gridlock laws pass slower and change is less frequent.
But in the business world, without gridlock, things can happen fast. Things can happen, literally, overnight. Corporations have changed policies, banned users or discontinued services in the matter of hours, days or weeks in many cases.
While speed is generally good sometimes others are caught up in your changes. Users, suppliers and employees are generally relying on business to continues. Quick changes can surprise and disrupt the lives of those that rely on the business.
Too Fast Means Little Protection
And as we go faster we protect less. One of the reasons gridlock happens, and is so frustrating, is that there are conflicting points of view. The systems of government we have allow representatives of minority viewpoints to raise their issues, hopefully have them heard and provide a process that ensures (hopefully) that others are informed as to what actions and happening and that they are agreed to on an informed basis.
When we don’t have similar processes in companies things can happen quickly. Sometimes this means forgetting the right or impacts on others. The news has been covered in headlines of big companies doing bad things. One has to wonder if there was discussion and consideration of the consequences at least some of these instances could have been avoided.
Sometimes It’s Healthy To Avoid Tough Issues
Gridlock also keeps us, generally, from dealing with really tough issues. Under modern democratic systems a strong political will and drive is needed to make action happen. And sometimes the energy to deal with an issue is too much so we keep the status quo.
Efficient companies, however, can deal with tough issues and quickly. And while this is great for keeping costs down it doesn’t protect minority viewpoints or less popular opinions. Often issues will be handled when the status quo may have been better for most involved.
The Issue Will Only Get Worse
The big concern here is the future. We are starting to see companies with great power making decisions quickly. And from the political and societal feedback many of those decisions have not been popular. Just look at the recent political actions to look at the past and future actions of big companies.
AI and machine learning are emerging as popular and useful technologies. As such we can expect decision making to be more centralized and involving fewer and fewer humans.
The ethics of AI is a deep issue but whoever, at the companies deploying AI, is programming the AI has great power. Telling the AI what information to consider and how will drive outcomes and actions.
We in turn will be dealing with those decisions — whatever they turn out to be — as members of society.
It’s time we start having some deeper conversations about power and the world that we, as citizens, want.
I’ll be exploring the future of business and how it impacts business owners in my future work. Subscribe to say in the loop here.
By: The Our Shawn McBride, is the man you call when you want a keynote, training or a consultant to get your business ready for The Future of Business. He’s the host of The Future Done Right(TM) Show and a long-time business attorney.
Do you really want to make plans that work?