“Occupy Wall Street:” The Finale & Implications for Shareholder Activism

The Shareholder Activist - “Occupy Wall Street:” The Finale & Implications for Shareholder ActivismThe movement has lost steam, and faded. It’s important to figure out why. Post-hoc psychological analytics have a place in our culture, and certainly on the Street.

What went wrong? Why didn’t the momentum produce more tangible results?

Assembly and free speech are prized constitutional rights, but then what? Where do you take them, and to what end and purpose?

Why wasn’t OWS sustainable?  If we take a “corporate” vantage point, then perhaps we can gain insight.

In our culture there exists a major slogan rooted in hard-core existential philosophy and academics. “If you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.” OWS certainly talked the talk, but did they walk the walk?

Political movements must rest on a mission, an agenda, and a program. Abundant substance is required. Emotions are not (nearly) enough. Analytics, metrics, and heuristics are righteous for corporations, but they are needed in political/economic platforms too.

Frankly, I think OWS failed because they didn’t want to succeed. Shades of Freud’s Thanatos (death drive/wish)! For me, in spite of their global message and valid concerns, the organizational deficits of the OWS movement were so glaring that it makes me think that the leadership had to know they would not succeed. They did not capitalize on their initial momentum which was considerable, and on public sentiment. In today’s internet, image management world the stakes are higher than ever and the damage wrought more quickly than ever.

Ambivalence is part of human nature. It refers to the state of having simultaneously conflicting feelings toward a person or thing. In 1911, Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist, originated this psychological construct defined by the human condition whereby co-existing contradictory impulses exist at the same time. I am suggesting that OWS’s management team was ambivalent about their mission.

What makes movements thrive, achieve, succeed, have impact, and rock ‘n’ roll are the following:

  1. A clear mission with agenda specifics
  2. Smart, dedicated, resourceful leadership
  3. A platform with clearly defined goals for change and growth
  4. Public endorsement and/or appreciation
  5. Organizational personality/emotional issues: arrogance and ignorance resulting in improper assessment of one’s adversary and the challenges in front of you
  6. An incomplete understanding, if not primitive, of how the Street and Big Banks work; the Street and Banks contribute greatly to society in terms of innovation and the lubrication of a financial system that creates jobs, products, and services
  7. Lack of comprehensive consultation and/or support with strong, well bank-rolled liberals such as Gates, Soros, and/or Buffet; not all 1%centers are bad
  8. Innovation and utilization of novel community organization tactics a la The Master, Saul Alinksy, from the Chicago School
  9. Symbols: movements require powerful symbols and moral conviction which is clearly stated and adhered to; OWS’s symbols were never stated clearly, or poignantly enough

In short, OWS’s “bark was worse than its bite.” The movement did not grow and develop from within. A key construct for any movement, or for any corporation, pivots on the developmental psychologist Heinz Werner’s Orthogenic Principle. Werner contended that “development proceeds from a state of relative lack of differentiation to a state of increasing differentiation and hierarchic integration (“Comparative Psychology of Mental Development, 1951).” In other words as you grow a movement, or a business, you must become smarter, more sophisticated, more clear, more structured in creative and healthy ways, and more focused on your mission. And you are constantly refining your goals, procedures, and operations. As a result you differentiate, you expand, and the components of your enterprise integrate and synch with one another. Communication is critical. Occupy personnel worked very hard across a myriad of dimensions, but they were poorly led and organized enough. Sadly, OWS was unable to drive home their points clearly enough. They had valid points and observations, but logistical, technical, and management considerations are equally important.

Movements and corporations are organic entities. Toyota Motor Company has utilized the concept of Kaizen throughout its corporate culture and history. Kaizen refers to continuous improvement. OWS, while passionate and committed, lacked the organizational structure to succeed. Rather, they made much needed bold and brash statements, but lacked organizational acumen. And their “corporate image” was lacking, and in fact it became negative. Whether we like it or not we live in a world dominated by image management, the engineering of consent, advertising, and public relations. Human nature is manipulated by persuasion all day long.

OWS’s image deteriorated over time. Perhaps their greatest contribution is that they drew Main Street’s attention to Wall Street in a different way than ever before. Laissez faire thinking and methodology must work in concert with regulation and risk management models for an economy to thrive in a responsible manner.

Shareholders have a right to proper corporate stewardship. Being a shareholder activist is a way to sharpen one’s participation in the management of one’s financial life, and in turn health. Being passive, engaging in denial and avoidance only empowers mediocrity, depression, and ultimately failure. If you really want to play, you have to get into the game. You have to ask questions, employ your analytic thinking, and consult with investor relations on a consistent basis. After all, we co-own America. We are all in it together.

To contact Christopher Bayer directly, please email Christopher.Bayer@TheShareholderActivist.com.

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