The Prosperity Paradox
No one knows more about disruptive innovation than Clayton Christensen. I’ve been reading is books for years, but this is the first time I’ve actually written about his work because The Prosperity Paradox is his first book that directly takes on the kinds of issues I worry about professionally. While prosperity is not always a key to understanding Peacebuilding, the way he describes the role of innovation in creating a wealthier society is filled with implications for peacebuilding especially as we consider creating a movement in support of our efforts.
Like all of his recent books, The Prosperity Paradox is based around the notion of a “job to do” that essentially makes the case that the innovator’s job is not simply to make cool new products but to fulfill real needs as well. He is particularly interested in what he calls market creating innovations that simultaneously meet an unmet social need (or what he calls non-consumption) and then addresses longer term prosperity issues as a consequence of filling that need. And, perhaps most importantly for us peace builders is his sense that those innovations have to be driven and the market has to be created from the bottom up in much the same way we talk about local peacebuilding.
He distinguishes between push and pull innovations and development projects in general. Just like in peacebuilding, when outsiders try to impose their own plans, the odds of reaching lasting success are not high. If, by contrast, local entrepreneurs discover needs that aren’t being met and develop local solutions/products for them, something different can happen. Not only do people buy the new product (e.g., cheaper eyeglasses in Mexico) but the new products leads to the creation of more jobs and more prosperity in the new company itself and in the rest of its ecosystem.
Christensen thinks of himself as a theorist, which he is. But he is also a master story teller. And, this book is filled with them, from Singer Sewing Machines to the rise of Kodak and the spectacular growth of companies in South Korea and Japan.
Peacebuilders, however, will want to focus on the general principles which can, indeed, be applied to our work as we think about building a movement that changes our political culture and then leads to policy change later on. That is our job to do.