Institutions are not designed for revolutions

Alex Hillman writes On Economic Development and Coworking, where I came across a quote he paraphrases from Geoff DiMasi that is fantastic: “Institutions are not designed for revolutions.” Alex Hillman elaborates in the context of city government trying to spur innovation:

If you are in an institution, you’re not leading the revolution. I promise.

In fact, you’re probably what the revolution is working to change. Look outside of your institutions for leaders on the fringe, and support them the best way you can: stay out of their way.

In the best cases, look to the trenches for collaborators. Let them know they’re doing a good job, and see if they need help. Give them an opportunity to ask for what they need. Help them understand what it is that you can provide. But don’t build it for them.

“Institutions are not designed for revolutions.” This might be obvious, but often major institutions speak the language of change, innovation, and implicit revolution. By their nature, their purpose is the opposite—stability.

Revolutions are messy things, and tend to destroy and disrupt as much as they create and sometimes more than they create. (This is why conservatives are cautious about this sort of disruption. Distinct from cartels that seek always to thwart it.)

While “disruption” is thrown around a lot, “iteration” is not. And if there’s something institutions can do well, it’s iteration—incremental, systematic improvement in brand, board, processes, product, whatever.

Once a revolution is won, the winning social entrepreneur or nonprofit should probably focus more on answering the question, “How can we consistently iterate?” rather than cling to the mantra of disruption.

Clinging to that mantra, once you’re an institution, is just a series of loud noises.