IS DAVID CAMERON’S “BIG SOCIETY” RIGHT FOR THE TIMES? WHAT CAN BUSINESS DO?
Author: Ebenezer Banful- New Brand Tribalism
For a decade and a half this nation, and many others, happily sailed along the seas of economic excess blissfully unaware of the iceberg of doom and gloom ahead.
An entire generation of people knew nothing but good times and excess. A new year was generally the signal for more prosperous times than the last, things just seemed to get better, and more opportunities arose for the individual. Then crash, wallop, and bang our nation and many others saw the damage that hitting an iceberg unprepared can do. And like all icebergs it’s not the bit above the surface you can see that’s the dangerous bit – it’s the nine tenths hidden that is. So, there’s nothing like a bit of a financial crash and the inevitable austerity times that comes as a result to get people thinking about change.
Is there there’s something to be said for David Cameron’s Big Society ideal? Are the values are the right ones for this age: the power of community, solidarity, engagement, social enterprise and inclusion the desire to pursue collective interests?
Post=modern society has been plagued by fragmentation. The various sectors of our communities-businesses, schools, social service organisations, churches, government –most work on 20th Century principles of mechanistic control systems, it’s a system that’s lead to many inefficiencies that have been highlighted by the need for restraint.
It is now no exaggeration to say that we are in the middle of the greatest economic, technological and social upheaval the world has seen since the industrial revolution began over two centuries ago.
Author Seth Godin points out. “There used to be only three tribes: 1) Church, 2) Work, 3) Community. Now, everyone gathers around tribes. People don’t do stuff because they want to, but because they want to be with their tribe.” And not only that, according to David Cameron – they want to get stuff done.
The rise of an industrial society based on secularism and isolationism has done much to break down the traditional things you could point to as being the tribal glue.
Phillip Blond, who runs the thinktank ResPublica has been a huge influence on the present Cameron’s idea of people taking more responsibility for their own care and communities. He says it is now time for a change in thinking. "We've been pumping money into a dysfunctional system."
“state... has dispossessed the people and amassed all power to itself... This centralisation of power has made people passive when they should be active and cynical when they should be idealistic. This attitude only makes things worse - the more people think they can't make a difference, the more they opt out from society.'
"The once natural bonds that existed between people - of duty and responsibility - have been replaced with the synthetic bonds of the state - regulation and bureaucracy."
Hence the forming of what we’ve identified as new brand tribes. Ever heard the term “Safety in numbers”? Tribes can help provide support by sharing the workload and the emotional burden. They offer the opportunity to reduce expenses by sharing resources. Above all else there will always be likeminded people who share the same cause – however narrow, local or rarefied. Ultimately, once you take away all of the practical reasons (and there are many), people being the creatures we are, we just need a place to belong and something to focus on; particularly when the future is fraught with fear. When we know we are not alone, we can face the dragons.
Another reason to reflect on Cameron’s ‘big’ idea is because globalisation is not merely an economic phenomenon, it’s a social one too and that is why the response to the challenges we face cannot simply be a singular economic one (even if there was one handy – which there seems not!). Interdependence defines the new world we live in.
Cameron’s bold plans for Big Society will only succeed when the realism is as clear as the idealism. It will take leadership of the highest class and courage to influence the beliefs of the masses. If it’s going to be about change; he needs to show how these values will stand for all ages and can be applied in a way people can believe in it. It’s a challenge of engagement.
Business too, we believe, will have a role to play in what Cameron calls the Big Society and that will certainly require some quite dramatic departures from the factory-model of a command and control era. At NBT we believe some businesses do get it and many are slowly trying to get to grips with the notion that empowerment can still mean togetherness.
So, what about the corporate’s world’s role to play in the big society?
To quote David Packard of Hewlett Packard fame, “A group of people get together and exist as an institution we call a company so they are able to accomplish something collectively that they could not accomplish separately – they make a contribution to society, a phrase which sounds trite but is fundamental.”
So at what point does big business forget that basic instinct and revert to corporate type? Maybe it’s time to usher in businesses which have social enterprise at the heart of how they conduct business - not just as some fancy CSR showcase experience. Take a look at Iceland Frozen Foods: not necessarily the most glamorous of brands on the high street - and they would be the first to admit it – but they have established a clear policy of recruiting directly from family and friends from the local vicinity of their stores. Their customers are their staff; their staff are their customers: pretty simple really. Then again – strip it all back and us folks are. Let’s be open minded and pragmatic and embrace this ‘big Idea’. Why not; anyone got a better one?
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About New Brand Tribalism
New Brand Tribalism is a consultancy focussed on building a knowledge community of people who are passionate about brand tribes and improving the performance of organisations – both internally and externally. Launched in late 2009, New Brand Tribalism is a stake in the ground about a vision, of what the business models of the 21st century could and should be about. The consultancy focuses on unifying management disciplines such as brand, culture, organisational development, and business performance and has a mission to positively challenge and inspire the current thinking around the management of brands, organisation and people.
For more information, please visit www.newbrandtribalism.com