Action, action, action!!

Published on Monday, January 13th 2020


We were having a beautiful summer and I was in the park reading a good book. I enjoyed the warm sunshine and the spectacle of my children playing on a big tree trunk on the grass. They used it as a balance beam and the game involved falling off it on the grass. The children were having a great time practicing the art of walking along the tree trunk and picking up sticks. I noticed how they became more and more adept. Another child came and joined in. She was at the park with an elderly couple, probably her grandparents. She had only taken three steps on the tree trunk when granddad piped up: “Wendelina, don’t do that. Come here! You might get hurt!”

I shook my head as I watched them. It was high summer, but granddad was dressed for the office. No doubt he was used to giving orders there. Clearly he had never been allowed to play outdoors as a child, never been allowed to have fun. And the tree trunk was a foot wide! Wendelina would have to be very unlucky indeed to fall off and hurt herself. I had to bite my tongue to keep from interfering.

I’m guessing granddad used to be the CEO of a big firm. In any event he demonstrably possessed the most important desired behavior in those circles - avoiding every possible risk. Out there in the park I kept my mouth shut, but fortunately I can address him through this platform. The Dutch are completely stuck in a bureaucratic swamp with an abundance of frightened leaders who have learned that they can go far in this society as long as they have fear as their guiding principle. Fearful behavior may be good for your personal career, but the resulting inertia we’ve seen it creating over the past few years is no good at all to society. Little Wendelina’s CEO grandfather stops her from falling off a tree trunk, but I know that as a result, Wendelina will not grow confident in keeping her balance any time soon. After all, we learn from making small mistakes, falling on our faces and simply trying new things.

As a society we have plenty of problems to solve. We need to come up with a new plan for our administration. More and more people are losing faith in politics, which is not surprising; it’s rare for our parliament to have a long-term vision, they seem to have lost touch with the people, and they only worry about the polls and the next elections. We have a huge problem with the waste produced by our mass-consuming society, and when are we going to start creating clean energy - and lots of it - instead of that old fossil fuel garbage? So, no shortage of problems to solve.

I think it’s time to simply take the first step. I don’t know where we’ll end up, but believe me, you don’t have to know that in order to take the first step. You need some idea of which direction to take, and a dot on the horizon. Doing nothing is not an option because we lag further and further behind countries like India and China. Action, action, action should be our motto. We must take the road ahead and accept that we’ll make mistakes along the way, because that’s how we learn. I have a list of possible first steps all ready. For example, I’d go for a much more technologically oriented administration, both in government and in the corporate world. Too often we see people round the table who don’t have the slightest idea. I would build IT facilities that are mandatory by law, in small modules, not redundant. They should be, no: they must be decentralized and used by everybody, just like in model country Estonia. Let’s stop inventing the wheel again and again. Failing privatization and senseless tenderizing by the government should be reversed. Some things are simply utilities, like water from your taps and electricity from your sockets, and that’s a job for the government. Politicians: take it up. This new digital era, where all the information is available in the blink of an eye, where we make decisions with the speed of light, the many layers of management only slow everything down. Look at the difference between fast network organizations like Google or Airbnb and the old legacy businesses. Down with that outdated hierarchy, bring on the holacratic management styles! Those management layers also create the many deadly wait states in our legacy organizations. We must take steps towards diversity too: cultural, gender, and ethnic diversity. It’s been proven over and over again that old white men think alike and hardly anything new ever comes from their oppressive tunnel vision. Unravel that old boys’ network! Surely that will be the start of something wonderful.


Hans van Bommel,
Digital Transformation Accelerator