Revolutionary’s Revenge

Sometimes I think I studied the wrong field in college, I should have been a political scientist or a historian. Having studied in those fields it may have helped me understand that the worst thing that can happen to a revolutionary is to win the war and end up governing.

A true revolutionary is not doing what they do because they are seeking power, they are championing an idea, a culture or a different way of life. They believe it; to the point where they’ll risk their lives in a real war, or their professional career if they work in a corporation. We’ll stick to corporate revolutionaries for now, it’s a little bit safer.

The thing to remember is that most revolutions fail, which is great because the corporate revolutionary can move on to the next place with their ideals intact and their pride unblemished. They haven’t had to face real decisions that would affect how they view themselves and their core beliefs.

But what if the unthinkable happens and the revolution succeeds? Now you’ve got a bunch of idealistic, stubborn, socially awkward and politically unsavvy people running your organization. No one wants that, you’ll be replaced by “real managers” the second you make a big mistake.

First, believe that a powerful force is waiting on the sidelines to determine whether the result of the revolution is a new paradigm that improves the old, or a purveyor of ideals that must be snuffed out quickly lest they infect the entire organization. As the new governing body, you need to exude ineptitude while clandestinely shoring up political position and making some new friends of old enemies. Once you’ve established a culture and moved systems beyond the point of no return, you can show your true hand, your competency, and institute the revolutionary ideals that were the driver of all the change.

This is where reality sets in. Running a revolution and governing a semi-stable organization are two distinct beasts. In revolutionary times, it’s us against them, there’s always a big enemy out there to drive camaraderie and take the brunt of negative emotions as they crop up. However, once the enemy is gone, the emotions turn inwards and now you are left arbitrating disagreements between former allies and making decision you know are bad, but are necessary to prevent chaos.

The skills of the revolution are not the skills of maintaining and building incrementally on top of established practices. If you cannot make the shift to sustaining governance, everything you fought for will eventually collapse and regress to the mean. Temperance, consensus, collaboration, compromise are all words that would cause the revolution to fail, but are necessary to sustain the new system over time. Operating in the same environment for multiple years is massively more difficult than moving to new gig every year. It is also massively more rewarding to see a system build, grow and become the new normal. After five years it is firmly in place and no longer can be replaced, that is, until the next revolutionary comes along…