Rethinking the Revolution
Revolutionaries from the past tend to morph into romantic icons; think Che Guevara, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Robespierre. From the safety of history, it’s possible to admire their determination and dedication without condoning their often destructive and violent tactics.
Yet living revolutionaries are not always so popular beyond their immediate following. They threaten the status quo and, for many, a comfortable way of life. So why have I sub-titled my recently-published book, “Why Entrepreneurs Should Act Like Revolutionaries”?
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, will make violent revolution inevitable,” said John F. Kennedy. And I believe that peaceful upheaval is essential if we are to cope with the challenges the rest of the century is bound to throw at us. As Kennedy implied, the alternative could be even worse.
It’s a cliché, but also a fact, that technology is progressing too fast for us to keep up. I always think of those old steam trains still in use in India. They chug along, passengers packed in so tightly they can hardly breathe. Now India’s prime minister has commissioned the country’s first high-speed railway from Mumbai to Ahmedabad. The new trains will travel up to 200 miles and hour, so no more sitting on the roof. All those who can’t afford a ticket will be able to do is stand back and watch as the future shoots by.
This could be our fate as well, unless we can rise to the occasion and find a way to jump onboard, taking all those also waiting at the station with us too. Just consider the huge bullet trains driving through our business landscape; Amazon upending the world of retail (now with a market cap of $765bn), Spotify ($28bn market cap) disrupting the entire music business, Netflix ($142bn market cap – worth more than Ford and GE and “creeping up on Disney”) and London based Deliveroo, revolutionising the fast-food business and achieving 107 per cent growth over the past four years.
Today’s technology goes beyond previous linear approaches, with algorithms sorting through billions of pieces of data to find patterns and connections unrecognisable to humans. In the same way, we must stop thinking in straight lines, for example about major world problems such as rich and poor, science and art, policy making and regulation, left and right wing, business and public service. We need leaders and entrepreneurs with duality, who can think and act using both sides of their brain. As Einstein said: “Logic will get you from A to B, imagination will get you everywhere.”
It wasn’t so long ago that the secret of success was incremental change – a tweak to the way a service was delivered, a tightening of overhead, a slight adjustment to pricing – historically all adding up to a substantial improvement to the bottom line. But, we’ve gone beyond this now. Like the disruptive businesses mentioned earlier, we need to rethink the model, be creative, take a risk and ruffle the surface.
What technology is also doing is cutting out the middle man. Crowdsourcing is taking the place of bank managers, Airbnb, Expedia and Booking.com replacing the travel agent, Ryanair has pioneered the self check-in and journalists look to Twitter to monitor public opinion. However, this transfer of influence is only part of the current power shift. The combination of technology, social media and the way people now absorb information, particularly the younger generations, means that the top-down centralised way we have been running the world for the last couple of centuries is no longer a viable model to follow.
We have before us a time of enormous opportunities. However, these could easily slip through our fingers due to the greed and conservatism of the establishments that dominate the economy. There is always, of course, the danger that the wrong people will emerge to take advantage of these opportunities and use them for destructive purposes. ISIS has already showed us how a small organisation can create an illusion of themselves through social media.
Critics will say that revolution could give a voice to those whose plan it is to harm others and who have agendas that push civilisation backward rather than forward. But these are the minority – and it is the majority that is winning the battle and will shift the power over all.
I may not sound like a natural revolutionary; a successful Irish-American business person who has founded or bought twenty companies in nine countries over the last thirty years, but I became an entrepreneur for the joy of doing things differently, to rethink the model and to change things in ways that would eventually bring benefits to everyone. And you can’t get a much more radical manifesto than that.
David McCourt is the author of bestselling book Total Rethink: Why Entrepreneurs Should Act Like Revolutionaries. Available in all good book stores now.