THE BLOG
01/09/2012 11:39 am ET Updated Mar 10, 2012

Innovate America in the Space Between

During the first year of the second decade of the third millennium our nation's political system lost its ability to collaborate. We diminished our national capacity to innovate as a means of economic and social recovery. he year turned out to be a triumph for super-memes -- "the powerful, pervasive beliefs and behaviors we adopt in lieu of facts" -- as defined in Rebecca Costa's book, The Watchman's Rattle.

Ideological differences of opinion regarding societal policy have left less room for compromise, collaboration and innovation. Diametrically opposed views have become infectious among political tribes and are embedded as rituals in news conferences and talk shows. It's become popular to disagree. Our candidates devote soap-box time in our election cycles to proselytize recognition of the same problems we've seen before and then offer palliative care instead of cures for our deepest national dilemmas.

We herald Populism v. Absolutism. Rich v. Poor. Right-brain creative thinking v. left- brain analytical reduction. Roe v. Wade.

We notice the stifling impact of polarization. But, we fail to devote the amount of imagination that is required to discover an oasis from which progress can be built. We fail to find the space between -- the place where innovation lives.

How are we filling the space between strongly held views? How can we co-create solutions amidst silo thinking and irrational opposition to new ideas? We've slipped into a Sargasso Sea of opposition. Our election cycle has illuminated "no" as the new cool. Even among Republican candidates, opposition remains a dominant ideology. In a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, the No. 1 or No. 2 phrase associated with the top candidates in the Iowa caucus was "No" or "No way."

It's time for a change in approach. As Tom Brokaw said recently on Meet the Press, "The country is ready for yes instead of no."

The upcoming political season will deal smartly with our economic paralysis and two clear models are likely to emerge. The Republican model, potentially led by Mitt Romney will be an effort to re-organize U.S. government in the spirit of many corporate restructuring initiatives that have been advocated and implemented by leading consulting firms over the past two decades.

These restructuring initiatives, including those led by Mitt Romney while at Bain, often resulted in a consolidation of profit among few as well as the loss of jobs and shareholder value for many.

Watch out. That could happen to the U.S. government. In Mr. Romney's words: "I have never seen an enterprise as large, as poorly led, and as badly in need of a turnaround as our federal government."

Romney's strategic plan features a priority on shifting responsibility for many societal programs from the federal control to individual states. Important programs that support personal and environmental health, employment livelihood and education would be decentralized. This strategy assumes that governments should work like corporations. It's a strategy to deflect of our national problems instead of collaborating to solve them instead of thoughtful re-design of the system.

Our society does not need corporate restructuring from of a consulting firm playbook. Instead, we need design innovation, which emerges from collaborative thinking, open-source co-creation. We also need to recognize that tectonic cultural shifts leading to economic revival will come from seeing value in the empty space that exists between staunchly held positions.

President Obama's instinct to collaborate as a leadership style has been the right instinct for the betterment of our society. Collaborative leadership inspires innovation and builds success from embryonic ideas.

However, collaboration does not prosper in an environment of ideological stonewalling. The upcoming election is likely to exacerbate this epic battle of collaboration v. didacticism until one candidate leads with a brilliant plan to reorganize our governance in a manner that breaks down the silos and establishes new norms of leading organizational change.

Our cultural and economic prosperity for the next decade will be influenced by our ability to find ideas in the space between "no" and "yes." The space between "life and choice". Between rich and poor. Conservation and development. War and peace. Reason and battle. Between the mace sprayed on peaceful Occupy protesters and music that historically imbues the signs of our times.

Innovation happens within the space between existing paradigms. This empty space is the place where solutions rest. It's where our imagination finds pathways instead of brick walls. What our country needs most right now is a master facilitator who can help re-design systems, transcend the brick walls we face all around us and see solutions in the space between. Let's find that space together.

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