“Catering To Past Patterns of Power”

What a great way to sum up one of the key roadblocks to successful innovation.

I heard this term used by Robert Johnson while speaking with Bill Moyers about fixing the international banking crisis. (Johnson is currently serving on the U.N. Commission recommending reforms for the international monetary and financial system.) 

It was a warning, a fear, an observation of how politics tends to work.

And a reminder that the higher the stakes the more forcefully past patterns of power try to assert themselves – no matter what system is being re-engineered.

Past Patterns Of Power have several things going for them that innovation does not – 

  • Security – “Hey, It’s always worked this way before.”
  • Money – Both money too lose and money to donate. Changing systems means changing fortunes.
  • Momentum – If the herd is stampeding North, and you want to take a jog to the West – well, it isn’t pretty.
  • Power – Friends in high places.  The longer the system is in place the more likely decision makers owe their jobs to it.
  • FEAR – Huge, game-changing innovation is usually a life or death decision for an organization. Cushy jobs that shovel money in the back door end up being on the line for the first time in ages. 

So, organizations that can easily talk about ‘continuous improvement’ lock up when you start talking about ‘creative destruction.’

There is a reason why so much innovation comes at successful organizations from the outside.  When you are a start-up or losing competitive ground the power shifts from ‘past patterns’ to ‘we have to do something.’ That can be a freeing experience.

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