I have been reading The New Asian Hemisphere by Kishore Mahbubani. Mahbubani is a professor of public policy at the National University of Singapore and a former Singaporean diplomat. The subject of the book is how will the U.S. deal with the increasing economic and political power of the emerging Asia. (More on this in a future post.) The first part of the book is a well written economic history of the west and Asia and a very lucid explanation of why the west and the U.S., in particular, has succeeded economically and politically.
One of the themes of the book is that the U.S. should be supporting economic development and not trying to export democracy. In the development of this idea, Mabubani gives an excellent analysis of how to suppress the potential of people. There are three basic ways to suppress and demotivate people:
Racism needs no explanation and is alive and well in parts of Africa, parts of Asia and regrettably here in the U.S. (to name a few). Feudalism is the notion that one class of people is superior to another as a birthright. One of the best examples would be the caste system in India, but anyone familiar with Latin America will know that a class system is alive and well there too. Ideology is the notion that one value system is superior to all others. Good examples would be communism in the old Soviet Union and, according to Mahbubani, the U.S. democracy initiatives.
I agree with Mahbubani that exporting democracy is not a viable strategy for the U.S. There is a better strategy. If the U.S. supports economic development consistently, the logical follow on is democracy. Empirical evidence supports this view and Taiwan, Korea and Indonesia are good examples. These countries were run by post-war dictators but managed to build strong economies. As the economies grew, a middle class emerged and became a significant portion of the population. A middle class with a vested interest in stability and prosperity and access to information through their new televisions, computers etc. spawns democracy.
Now, if you have read this far, we will draw some parallels to management and start ups in particular. I see examples of all three factors that suppress human initiative in early stage companies (in south Florida). Racism is the most subtle, and technically the following example may be feudalism, but when everybody in a company comes from the same country, for example Venezuela, the company owner is exercising discrimination and restricting the available pool of manpower and ideas. The class distinctions from feudalism are evident in the absence of Indian descendants (Mayans, etc.) in management positions in south Florida despite a huge Latin workforce. (This, of course, could just be a carry over from Latin America.) Ideology, the imposition of one point of view, may be the most common factor amongst entrepreneurs. By imposing their views on the work force and not encouraging discussion and alternative ideas, entrepreneurs behave like Soviet era communists with the same demotivating effect.
Now, if you have decided to not to become a dictator and have opted instead for entrepreneurship, make sure you are not suppressing your work force by any of the three methods. Be especially careful about ideology because it is probably the most difficult to recognize. For further guidance on avoiding the pitfalls of ideology, see this post on delegation.
I found Mahbubani's book through Ben Casnocha's blog.