Beware of the Progressives Part 2: Intermediate Innovation

I’ve have written about Intermediate Innovation before in  Does social change always need a great leader or innovator? citing Trevor Baylis’s wind-up radio as a prime example, Trevor is the archetypal opposite of a progressive to my mind. Of course, progressives don’t always come in the shape of individuals, some organizations embody this way of showing up in the world. The Gates Foundation or The World Bank are good examples. Currently by way of illustration the World Bank are advocating massive electrification schemes across the Global South, all in the name of progress, with little to say about the devastating impact to ecology and to rural villages and indigenous cultures.

Sadly, time and again progressives engage in overreach. By overreach I mean going beyond one’s personal or institutional capacity to a point where you or your organisation becomes counter-productive. My observation is that progressives have a productivity bias, they only consider what they do as productive or non-productive, but they do not consider that what they do could be counterproductive. They also have a growth bias. They like big things or schemes that can be brought to scale, they are expansionists. Therefore the idea that progress is contingent on understanding your limits does not enter their heads.

Hence why we should beware of the progressives.

A kind word to progressives: Typically, if we search them out, at the edge of our competencies there are others who can do what we can not. Especially those who play outside institutional space in the civic realm. If we honour them, mind the gap and play nicely in this interface between the limits of our capacities and the full potential of theirs we can begin to form genuine change making efforts. And who knows we may even discover that the real meaning of progress and partnership, is in large part, the capacity either to just get out of the way or to serve while walking backwards.

Cormac Russell


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