Thought Leadership and Idea Meritocracy
What shall we do? We should outthink the oppressor. We should be smarter than the oppressor. If your enemy is physically stronger than you, the only way to beat him is by outthinking him.
The oppressive regime is evidently mightier than those that oppose it. They have the secret service, the police and the soldiers, and all the state’s resources at their disposal. They are physically more powerful than the people. You cannot win against such an empowered enemy in terms of resources without outthinking the enemy. The battle becomes that of strategy.
As established in “Senzeni, Todiii”, the role of intellectuals is critical. The fight for democracy needs to be backed by intellectuals, people who are gifted with the ability to strategize. Thought leadership is another way of putting that principle across. It calls for the fight for democracy, freedoms, rights, and progress to be led by thought leaders. It places thought leaders at the apex of the struggle.
The problem with placing thought leaders at the back of the struggle is that they tend to be ignored. If the brawn is leading the brain, the brawn can easily fall into its default setting of ignoring the brain. These are some of the mistakes that the political struggle has encountered over the last two decades, as spearheaded by the Movement for Democratic Change. It is a pitfall. The brains should never be relegated to some back office. They belong to the front office.
Thought leaders understand what needs to be done. They can zoom in and zoom out. They can take a bird’s eye view, at the same time they can laser-focus on specific issues. Every aspect of life has thought leaders. Politics, political science, economics et cetera all have thought leaders. The struggle in Zimbabwe ought to have thought leaders. People who are known to produce the best ideas in the fight for democracy, rights, freedoms, progress, and justice. These people are out there in Zimbabwe. They need to be found and placed where they belong, at the forefront of the struggle.
How do we uncover the diamonds that hidden in the dirt? How do we bring the thought leaders to the front of the struggle? This is where “Idea Meritocracy” comes in. Idea meritocracy simply means let the best idea win. This was developed by Ray Dalio at his investment management firm. In practice it simply says, the best idea should win regardless of where it comes from.
The problem that many organized efforts at carrying out tasks have is that of a structure. The typical structure is hierarchical. Hierarchies stifle the flow of ideas. They enforce a top-down order flow of ideas due to the flow of power, authority, and responsibility. Ideas rarely flow from the bottom to the top. The fight for democracy, because it is and has always been heavily centralized, suffers from the flaws of hierarchical organizational structures.
The hierarchies within the MDC and other outfits prevent the flaw of great ideas from the bottom to the top. Instead, those at the top try to force their ideas down on everyone, and these ideas might not be the best ideas, because those at the top are typically the brawny ones, not the brainy ones.
Unfortunately, it is not easy to correct this undesirable feature of hierarchical organizations. The first step is to be aware of it. The second step is to consciously do the unnatural thing, that is, actively solicit ideas from those in the bottom layers of the hierarchy. This will then encourage the flow of ideas to the top. As time flies, this becomes established as a culture of the meritocracy of ideas.
The above way of changing the organizational culture so that it is more supportive of the “idea meritocracy” is easier than the hard way of attempting to eliminate hierarchies. Most of the hierarchical layers in most organizations are so unnecessary. They are just there because we secretly love bureaucracy.
David Graeber exposed our secret joys of bureaucracy in his book entitled “The Utopia of Rules”. Have you ever been to an organization where there are so many titles and managers that you fail to keep up pace with who does what? Consider a Finance department that has a CFO/Finance Director, Finance Manager, Assistant Finance Manager, Assistant to the Finance Manager, Management Accountant, Manager- Accounts, Financial Accountant, Accounting Regional Manager, etc. Those within that department or those who work in accounts in similar companies find it very easy to explain these roles but to an outsider, the roles just don't make sense.
The reality is all these roles probably should not be there, but there were created because of our secret joys of bureaucracy, justified as needs. The reality is that the structure can be streamlined, and the hierarchies can be reduced to create a flatter structure. Instead of having a manager supervising a two-man team, you could have the whole finance department as one finance team under one team leader (the CFO). The same number of employees will exist, performing the same roles, but without the burdensome hierarchy that is so difficult to maintain in terms of administrative and emotional effort.
Political parties are very much like companies, if not worse, in terms of hierarchies. They are too hierarchical. For this reason, I dedicated an entire reading to decentralizing the political struggle. Decentralization of the political struggle would naturally encode “Idea Meritocracy” as a feature of the struggle.
Idea Meritocracy calls for the best ideas to dominate not necessarily the best individuals. Even though the best ideas typically come from the best thinkers, idea meritocracy would keep the door open to everyone to contribute intellectually to the struggle. Matters that do not require secrecy need to be out there in the open for all people, big and small, to deliberate, ponder and come to conclusions.
By encoding the principle of Idea Meritocracy, the struggle will be able to get the best ideas on the table. The struggle will be able to uncover the best thinkers, the best strategists, and the best analysts, from wherever they are hiding, depriving the struggle of their talents.
That is the first-order answer to the “what shall we” do question. We shall outthink those that oppress us. To do so, we must rope in thought leadership and idea meritocracy so that we get the best ideas on the table to be deliberated by the best brains we can have.