As thousands of protesters occupy Wall Street and public spaces across
the country, Americans are discussing how to fix our economy.
Commentator Susan Clark is fascinated not just by the issues, but also
the process that "Occupy Wall Street" is bringing into the public eye.
The "Occupy Wall Street" protesters have been roundly criticized for
not being able to say what they want. But really? Come on. Everyone
knows what they want. They’re not occupying the shoe store. They’re
occupying Wall Street. Due to corporate greed, and flawed governmental
regulation, 1% of Americans have most of the wealth. The protesters are
calling themselves the other 99%.
It’s obvious what they want.
What’s not obvious, at least not yet, is how they think they – or,
statistically, we – should get it.
Traditional organizers worry
that "Occupy Wall Street" is doing it upside down – first you define
your demands, then you protest. But that might be because they aren’t
part of the wiki generation.
The new tools – Wikis! Blogs! Tweets! – aren’t just
effective. They’re also changing the way we think. Technology today transfers
information at speeds, and in interconnected ways, unimaginable a few
wiki-style organizers, every connection is an end in itself. The
Millennial Generation, in particular, values simply fostering
connections and watching where they go – confident that great new ideas
"Emergence" is the term used by systems thinkers to
describe the phenomenon when many local collaborations produce global
patterns. The people occupying Wall Street – and more recently, dozens
of cities and 80 college campuses on 4 continents – are all part of the
same, emerging wave.
The same way that schools of fish or flocks
of birds move in sync, these emerging meta-level patterns are naturally
self-organized and not under any central control. There’s a reason
they’re hard to define: When people work together, our efforts aren’t
simply the total of your work plus mine, but also the vibrant synergy
created by the interaction. The whole is greater than the sum of its
Researchers at Stanford call it "working wikily": an
emergent, bottom-up style of decision-making named after wiki web sites
like Wikipedia where anyone can contribute or edit information.
not left-wing or right wing. Arguably, the Tea Party started out the
same way. It’s also not guaranteed to create the change they’re calling
for. Occupy Wall Street may not feel satisfied by the time winter forces
them to disperse. And their energy now is no guarantee they won’t get
But keep an eye on their creative, emergent process. It’s a look into our future.
the lack of one charismatic leader. Observe the consensus efforts.
Increasingly, businesses, non-profits, and, slowly but surely,
governments are switching to more decentralized, self-organized
strategies that reward innovation and information sharing. This is where
the new solutions will come from. Those who continue trying to hold all
the power at the "command-and-control" center will be left behind.
other words: get used to it. Maybe not the sign-waving and yelling, but
the slow, inclusive, unabashedly public process of saying "we have
something in common. Let’s work together to find out how to move
This is what a decentralized, network-based culture
looks like. Or, in the words of the protesters: "This is what democracy