How the Organisation Subverts its Subversives

John Atkinson – Heart of the Art

Being a subversive is hard work. That’s partly because being the odd one out takes more energy than going with the flow, but it’s also because subversion decays: yesterday’s radicalism is today’s fashion and tomorrow’s received wisdom,Ā to be challenged by the next round ofĀ subversion. If thatĀ sounds a bit like the innovator’s dilemma, that’s perhaps because it is, with some of the same consequences: you can ride the S-curve to the top, but if you don’t flip to the next curve, your subversion-fu will beĀ lost.

The reciprocal effect – which isĀ more the focus of this post – is the effect on the organisation being subverted. Just yesterday, I heard ‘minimumĀ viable product’ being used to meanĀ ‘bestĀ quick fix we can manage in the time’. The good intention was still there, as was an echo of the original meaning, but the hard edge of the concept had been lost, partly I suspect, because it had become dissociated from the conceptual context which gave the original meaning. That’s not deliberate degradation but – as the post notes – is the consequence of a virtuous attempt to bring in new thinking, only for it to get absorbed by the wider culture.

So the challenge for subversives remains: how to keep subverting themselves, how to stay one curve ahead.

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