The Busting Bureaucracy Hackathon

Risking survival

By Nirvana Cable on March 14, 2022
I see bureaucracy in my organization in... 

Bureaucracy happens when people choose to follow the rules rather than risk thinking for oneself and risk losing support deemed necessary for survival.

Bureaucracy makes my job harder or easier by... 

Bureaucracy makes my job possible as I lead communities to examine where bureaucracy and cultural norms keep them from their dreams.

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michele-zanini_4's picture

Hi Nirvana, thanks for participating in this brainstorm... you're right to point out that bureaucracies encourage conformance and alignment vs. initiative-taking--this is a real obstacle to innovation and personal engagement. Do you think it's possible to create discipline and alignment in companies without resorting to bureaucratic methods? Have you seen that work in any of the communities you lead?



Hi, Michele,

In a word, yes.

I'm working inside a 41M person bureaucracy: Kenya. I've been in International Development for 36 years, and my professional journey brought me to Kenya in 2000. I studied Kenyan culture from 2000-2007 when I began training Kenyan youth to lead communities out of the mindset of poverty. My definitions:

Poverty: the stressful belief that one cannot create what is personally meaningful.

Wealth: the action of investing one's time, talents, networks, and resources to create what is personally meaningful.

In my experience, there is no difference between a country rooted in poverty and a corporation rooted in bureaucracy. In both enterprises, the participants are relegated to dependents of the Chieftans. Each constituent serves at the pleasure of their chief.

As Gary points out, the [chiefs] historically had the most information as the main job of the subordinates was to pass and collect information owned by the boss.

Our task in this hack is to invent new protocols now that information is owned by all.

I've had the great joy of working with the Maasai. Other than buying mobile phones, this tribe has, amazingly, sat out the entire consumer revolution. Maasai youth feel intensely thwarted by their elders. The youth have been sent to school, yet the information they come back with doesn't go anywhere. Same dynamic that Jeremiah speaks to: "elder"asks for input; stall; "elder" ask for input; stall.

In a conversation between the elders and the youth, we facilitated an inquiry into why the elders will not take up innovation. Goosebumps and tears as we discovered the barrier: no one wanted to be THE ONE responsible for LEADING changing the culture for fear of spoiling it! The takeaway was to always ask, any tribe, if the new clearly advantageous behavior would spoil social cohesion.

Where are our global leaders who willingly risk spoiling social cohesion in pursuit of addressing any of our global hairballs?

Globally and corporately, we are headed dead aim to "icebergs." The data is in. Yet…

As Ben Horowitz says in his new book, The Hard Thing About The Hard Thing, "There may be nothing scarier in business than facing an existential threat. So scary that many in the organization will do anything to avoid facing it. They will look for any alternative, any way out, any excuse not to live or die in a single battle."

Horowitz speaks to this with one of his most important leadership lessons:

“Ben, those silver bullets that you and Mike are looking for are fine and good, but our Web server is five times slower. There is no silver bullet that’s going to fix that. No, we are going to have to use a lot of lead bullets.” 'Oh snap.'
"As a result of Bill’s advice, we focused our engineering team on fixing the performance issues while working on the other things in the background. We eventually beat Microsoft’s performance and grew the server line to become a $400 million business, and we would never have done it without those lead bullets."

To steer away from the "icebergs" we need lead bullets publicly challenging stupid authority. Anyone holding this gun becomes a world leader.

This hackathon has the Margaret Mead Leadership Capability to invent the course correction.

Yet, notice how the confirmation bias enters here! You couldn't be the one to lead corporations into a new social dynamism! Who do you think you are to lead MNC away from the brink? What the hell do you know, anyway?

⁃ The peeps in this hackathon know how much it sucks to be stuck inside a poverty-mentality-run corporation and/or nation.

⁃ We have access to all the information in the world.

⁃ We have access to anyone, anywhere.

You asked Prashant , "why it is difficult to shift people's mindsets away from bureaucracy--my hypothesis is that it has a lot to do with the fact that people can't imagine alternative approaches, or that they don't think they have the room to experiment with some. That, is most employees live in a state of learned helplessness…"

We can be that small group of thoughtful, committed citizens creating the hack that busts bureaucracy.

When it comes to killing bureaucracy most leaders are still fiddling at the margins.

I'm fully committed to creating the hack that has us avoid the damn icebergs.

Looking forward to creating together!