As I write this, Russian troops appear poised to invade Ukraine. It is a desperate step for Vladimir Putin, who wants to return to the former days of Soviet glory. It also is instructive for innovators and builders.
The reason why the
Soviets Russians are going back to the 1968 playbook – moving troops and pulling last minute maintenance on their equipment – is this: they have no ideas.
Ideas matter in a way that they didn’t before. Let me repeat that, since it seems like a bizarre statement: Ideas matter in a way that they didn’t before.
Ideas used to be smothered by geopolitical realities, corporate scale, and a general “that’s how we’ve always done it” malaise.
But the recent and sudden decline of dictators (Mubarek) and companies (Nokia) demonstrate how new ideas, fueled by our new interconnectedness, can quickly be organized for real impact. The simple reality for the average young person in Ukraine who is thinking about his or her future is that the opportunities and ideas are blowing in from a westerly direction. Since Russia has no relevant ideas about how to create opportunity and growth, nor any interest in empowering the powerless, they are left to rely upon geographic proximity, historical ties, and armored divisions.
Companies too have relied upon cultural ties (your parents shopped with us, so you should also), geographic proximity (we’re in your neighborhood), and intimidation (prop up our derelict industry or else thousands of workers will lose their jobs). Sometimes this works for a short while. But new ideas – about distribution, about brand loyalty, about how people want to live their lives – will always overcome the old guard seeking to hang on to the old models.
I have no idea what will transpire in Ukraine, and I hope nobody lights a match to that tinderbox. But over time, Ukraine will inexorably move toward the EU and the West despite Russian obstacles, because that’s where the ideas are.