Monday, October 12, 2009

A Nobel Paradox – Orpheus in Detroit

In the space of 7 days, I journeyed between a glorious meeting with James Quilligan and a small cadre of social and financial luminaries in the Berkshires hosted by Tim Murphy, to a quixotic gathering in Detroit hosted by the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s RainbowPUSH Coalition vainly attempting to use outmoded tools to stem the carnage in the minority-owned automotive business sector in North America. I reflected, as I experienced this existential schizophrenia, that we are living out a paradox not unlike the one that warranted the 1972 Nobel Prize in Economics – Kenneth Arrow’s “Impossibility Theorem”. For those not familiar with the Arrow’s paradox, it is, in brief, the assertion that when presented with greater than three options for consideration, no voting system can accurately find an acceptable and stable representation of a social group’s values. In an effort to define a socially acceptable order of priorities around which consensus can be built, Arrow postulates, complexity of greater than three options renders any attempt largely futile.

I’ve given several speeches over the past few months where I have discussed my latest understanding of the word “impossible”. To understand impossible, it is helpful to consider what “possible” is. The word, derived from Middle English generally refers to that which may be done or that which is feasible. So, when one concludes that a thing is impossible, the imputed judgment is that it cannot be done or is impracticable. I’d like us to see “impossible” in a new light – an invocation or prayer of what is about to be. Remember, when we apply the term “impossible” in our present day, what we really are saying is that, with the resources, knowledge and time that we presently have, we are unable to see a resolution manifest in a time-frame or at a cost that is acceptable. And by judging a thing “impossible” we discourage others from threatening the finitude and truth of our judgment.

Well, no time like the present to re-examine the “Impossible Prayer”. We are a few short weeks from Copenhagen when, in December, it will be impossible for the leaders of the world to arrest our rush to self-immolation. While Wall Street and Washington bathe themselves in impossible greed celebrating a recovery to their bonus-laden excesses, while cities like Detroit hold the ruins and tombs of a productivity that is impossible to replace, while water, food, and energy crises form an impossible specter too hideous to address – we find ourselves drowning in a cacophony of impossible. As a result, we sit and wait for the next shoe to fall, crushing another unsuspecting glimmer of humanity. Impossible… we pray.

I was invited to participate on three projects to envision a way to answer the impossible prayer. To show a path forward in the face of all convention arriving at the terminus of its force and sway. And, in each case, what I’ve started with is the Archimedean Theorem (by the way, don’t try to find this one because you’re reading about it here first). While the world and its power models have abused and enslaved one half of Archimedes wisdom – the lever – too little time has been spent on the real genius of Archimedes which is the fulcrum. Over the coming weeks, I am going to begin building an Archimedean Solid (you can look this one up) which can serve as the foundation for a new future – one in which we show that Arrow’s Theorem is a lever model and lacks the kinetics of a well positioned fulcrum.

There is a way out for Detroit. It involves a conceptual shift from the legacy of entitlement and set-asides where manufacturers and their suppliers maintain an unsustainable obsession with the top of the levers and those objects in motion to an understanding that the future is about well positioned fulcrum where the inevitability of the future becomes certain. Detroit will not be rebuilt on Obama’s proprietary technology “green jobs” program because the U.S. abandoned its ability to build proprietary positions by abuses in the patent system since the 1980’s. It can rise on the wings of collaborative innovation commons funded by technology procurement receivables. We will not heal the ethnic, geographic, and employment injustice if we allow the >60% of FDIC watch list banks co-located with critical manufacturing entities to fail thereby extinguishing vital lines of credit for our production base. The private sector needs to see that the road to Copenhagen will pass through the ruins of Detroit because we must see an entirely new vision in which we answer all the “impossible” prayers. Stay tuned.


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Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave