What a difference a year makes.  While last year’s SuperBowl ads optimistically touted the latest in “green” cars, this year’s most-talked-about SuperBowl ad called the alarm on our current social crisis.  Yes, Clint Eastwood’s “It’s Half-time in America” pep-talk left a deep, if confused, mark on its audiences.   Whatever your personal reaction, the inescapable and poignant message remains:  “What are we going to do now?”


Eastwood's “half-time” metaphor was a powerful and contextually perfect construct for urging a leadership huddle all across America.   Indeed - we face a time where we need to look candidly and honestly at where we are, and figure out how we will “play the game” in the future if we hope to be successful.  We are perched at a point where our next plays could serve us very, very well, or very, very badly.


I applaud the ad, innovative in unintended ways.   Still, I can’t help but notice that Eastwood’s metaphor feels stifling to me.   "Half-time” is not, in my view, the place we are in.  The very idea of settling for a future which lasts a couple-hundred years, and ends in big winners and big losers makes my heart sick. The concept is a non-starter.  Indeed, who is even the opponent in this game “America” is playing?  No, what we need is not two more quarters of our current game.   What we need is to change the game – its premises, its interactions, its rules, its definitions of success -- and we need to change them soon. 


Luckily, America changes it rules rather regularly.   From the abolishment of slavery, to granting women the right to vote, from the first industrial age to the civil rights movement, and from automation to globalization, America has changed its rules time and time again.   Disruption is central to this process.    But as a living system, committed to staying alive, the creative changes that insist on emerging at each key juncture ultimately prevail, and the systems around them adapt.  


What is the game change emerging now?   It begins with the “comeback” itself – the regenerative return of American manufacturing, as modelled by Eastwood’s Chrysler.  But a “comeback” is not enough.  In 2012, a return to turning out cars that top out at 31 mpg* is a return to the past, not a platform for building the future. 


A platform for building the future will require much more.   A platform for building the future will require new performance expectations, new collaborations, new points of view and new paradigms.  Fundamentally, it will require triple-bottom-line thinking which understands that people-planet-profit must grow together if they are to thrive.  It will require regenerative social ecologies and creative industrial ecologies, which use the wastestreams from one industry to feed the input needs of another.   It will require collective intelligence and full-press collaboration.  It will also require expanded courage and risk-sharing, and the dissolution of false enemies and their creativity-consuming dynamics.  


Half-time or not, how will we transform this game?




* Forgive my impatience.  I’ve been getting 40-45 mpg since 2003. 

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Comment by Diana K.H. Lee on March 4, 2012 at 2:23pm

Very thoughtful, Sue.  Did you see this article in the NY Times recently?  It's about Bell Labs and gives an interesting perspective on innovation before what we think of as the tech era.  Wonder how this would work in today's environment?

excerpt:  Why study Bell Labs? It offers a number of lessons about how our country’s technology companies — and our country’s longstanding innovative edge — actually came about. Yet Bell Labs also presents a more encompassing and ambitious approach to innovation than what prevails today. Its staff worked on the incremental improvements necessary for a complex national communications network while simultaneously thinking far ahead, toward the most revolutionary inventions imaginable.

Indeed, in the search for innovative models to address seemingly intractable problems like climate change, we would do well to consider Bell Labs’ example — an effort that rivals the Apollo program and the Manhattan Project in size, scope and expense. Its mission, and its great triumph, was to connect all of us, and all of our new machines, together.

In his recent letter to potential shareholders of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg noted that one of his firm’s mottoes was “move fast and break things.” Bell Labs’ might just as well have been “move deliberately and build things.”



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