For several years now, Winds of Peace has considered the idea of attending a business conference here in the U.S. with one or more Nicaraguan colleagues. We’ve come close to doing it, but the timing never seemed just right for what we were doing at the moment. This year, the timing is right. This is the year that Winds of Peace Foundation (represented by me), along with Nicaraguan researcher and social scientist Rene Mendoza, will attend the high-energy, capitalist-cultivating, profits-driven Gathering of the Games.
That’s right. WPF, focused on women, Indigenous, rural poor and education initiatives in Nicaragua, will wade into the alluring waters of one this country’s premier conferences for building capitalist thinking and understanding. But before you think that the Foundation has somehow lost its bearings or commitment to local solutions for local problems in Nicaragua, allow me to explain.
The Gathering of the Games features the art and practice of open-book management, the best and most effective means of engaging members of any organization. It is the outgrowth of the management approach at SRC Holdings and which gave birth to the bestselling management book, The Great Game of Business, by Jack Stack. In short, the strategy behind this concept is to help each member of the business organization learn how the enterprise makes money, and what every member needs to know in order to make his/her specific contribution to the success of the whole. It’s a process that I embraced in my business life and one that I feel could have application in Nicaraguan organizations, especially cooperatives.
But transplanting open-book management to Nicaraguan culture is no slam-dunk. It isn’t that easy in U.S. businesses, either, and for many of the same reasons: there are the ubiquitous organization leaders who are in the game for themselves; conventional wisdom and history dictate that only a privileged few can and will make good decisions; the rank-and-file members rarely receive the education or the opportunity to learn how their enterprise really works; leaders foster feelings of dependence in the minds of their followers to affirm their importance. The full list of obstacles is a lengthy one, which only serves to highlight the incredible successes achieved by those organizations which persevere through the challenges.
The Great Game strategy is an innovative and successful one within the businesses where it has been deployed. The question arises, though, as to whether it can be expected to generate the same results within a rural, grassroots cooperative in the remote countryside of the second-poorest nation of the western hemisphere. That seems a good long distance from the corporatocracy, markets and economies of the capitalist west. It is.
But there is something in the transparency and participation of the open-book strategy that reaches beyond simply good management technique. What is successful about the notion is that it recognizes the significance and need for every contributor of an enterprise to contribute. It acknowledges the strength of collective wisdom and the limitations of unilateral thinking. It embraces the individual as a critical entity rather than a disposable commodity. It rewards participants both emotionally and economically. And it touches something fundamental in the human hearts of people in collective work by affirming their importance and being a part of something larger than themselves. It suggests the spiritual dimension of life’s work, and that’s why it resonates so elementally with most of its practitioners.
There may be a temptation to think that all of this methodology would be too complex or sophisticated for a population which is severely undereducated. But the wisdom, the beauty, of the open-book approach is that virtually everyone can understand the notion of their own work. Whether university-educated or functionally illiterate, people at work can recognize how one activity impacts another. That’s all that’s required to elevate the game being played.
There may be a temptation, also, to believe that neither this nor any other western-born idea should be imported into Nicaragua, where solutions to long-simmering economic troubles ought to be solved internally, through local players and ideas. That’s true. But good ideas don’t care where they come from, and local adaptations of innovations that have worked elsewhere in the world are still local solutions. It’s why we have introduced the Spanish edition of The Great Game of Business. It’s why we have refrained from teaching and touting the concept as the salvation for cooperatives and other institutions. And it’s also why we’re bringing one of Nicaragua’s most credible and influential researchers to a conference where he will have the opportunity to hear for himself about innovation potential from many diverse sources. This is how the concept can become localized.
Is it asking too much? Can The Great Game be expected to deliver in this context? I don’t know. I’ll ask the Great Game people when it’s over. I’ll ask Rene when he’s had a chance to reflect. And I’ll share it with you in September….