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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Are We Ready for a Change?

I first read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” back in the spring of 2000. It’s been 99 weeks on the Globe and Mail Best Sellers list. The book is a “how-to” primer for modern retail politics. Gladwell says modern changes occur when three characteristics coincide, contagiousness, the fact that little causes have big effects and change is not gradual but happens “at one dramatic moment.”

With these awareness’s expect political campaigns to change big time. For an example of this just look at Democratic candidate Howard Dean, the internet based political phenomenon that was – and then all of a sudden, wasn’t – just one “scream” later. Contagion, little things creating big effect and then, all of a sudden, it’s over.

Couple this with James Surowiecki’s 2004 book “The Wisdom of Crowds” where he illustrates the amazing accuracy and effectiveness of “disorganized decision making.” There is a power of collective wisdom in decision-making that result from the participation of a diverse collection of independently deciding individuals. Even with insufficient data and personal biases when pooled and applied, there is an amazing accuracy. Sounds like a rich decentralized network of people not a centralized hierarchy of power brokers, right?

In the Internet age of networked independent, effective, connected communities of interest based relationships, I can see a new political paradigm emerging. This is especially true in Alberta. The SuperNet is starting to “light up” in libraries all over Alberta. Albertans will likely be the most powerfully connected place and people on the planet. With citizens having a direct access to this network and its power, it will be hard to control political events and information from a top-down, command and control centralized source – like the Legislature – or worse yet, the Premier’s office.

This shift is already happening but on a modest scale. Blogs are the canaries in the political coal mines for the traditionalist politicians. Blogs are a contagious, disorganized “decision making” reality that is the beginning of the end of the traditional political class. Anyone who believes and/or hopes that the past centralized top-down elite driven political power and authority will continue into the future is wrong. It will not!

We are approaching - or may already be at - a “tipping point” in Alberta politics and the PC leadership results could be the proof of that new reality. We saw the tipping point at work in the last Edmonton Mayoralty race. Voters started to question conventional “media wisdom” and the appeal of the two front runners. The erosion of their support happened slowly at first, but time took its toll. In the critical last two weeks of the campaign, everything changed because people wanted real change and the so-called third candidate was seen as real change. Mandel won handily. Messrs. Dinning and Oberg should read Gladwell and Surowiecki and get ahead of the change before it’s too late.