The ignored secret behind successful organizations (and nations) is infrastructure. Not the content of what's happening, but the things that allow that content to turn into something productive.
Here are some elements worth considering:
Transportation: Ideas and stuff have to move around. The more quickly, efficiently and safely, the better. This is not just roads, but wifi, community centers and even trade shows. Getting things, people and ideas from one place to another, safely and on time is essential to what we seek to build.
Expectation: When people wake up in the morning expecting good things to happen, believing that things are possible, open to new ideas–those beliefs become self-fulfilling. We expect that it's possible to travel somewhere safely, and we expect that speaking up about a new idea won't lead us to get fired. People in trauma can't learn or leap or produce very much.
Education: When we are surrounded by people who are skilled, smart and confident, far more gets done. When we learn something new, our productivity goes up.
Civility: Not just table manners, but an environment without bullying, without bribery, without coercion. Clean air, not just to breathe, but to speak in.
Infrastructure and culture overlap in a thousand ways.
At the organizational level, then, it's possible to invest in a workplace where things work, where the tools are at hand, where meetings don't paralyze progress, where decisions get made when they need to get made (and where they don't get undone).
It's possible to build a workplace where people expect good things, from their leaders and their peers and the market. Where we expect to be heard when we have something to say, and expect that with hard work, we can make a difference.
It's possible to invest in hiring people who are educated (not merely good grades, but good intent) and to keep those people trained and up to speed.
And it's essential for that workplace to be one where the rule of law prevails, where people are treated with dignity and respect and where short term urgency is never used as a chance to declare martial law and abandon the principles that built the organization in the first place.
Yes, I believe the same is true for nation states. It's not sexy to talk about building or maintaining an infrastructure, but just try to change the world without one.
Here's something that's unavoidably true: Investing in infrastructure always pays off. Always. Not just most of the time, but every single time. Sometimes the payoff takes longer than we'd like, sometimes there may be more efficient ways to get the same result, but every time we spend time and money on the four things, we're surprised at how much of a difference it makes.
It's also worth noting that for organizations and countries, infrastructure investments are most effective when they are centralized and consistent. Bootstrapping is a great concept, but it works best when we're in an environment that encourages it.
The biggest difference between 2015 and 1915 aren't the ideas we have or the humans around us. It's the technology, the civilization and the expectations in our infrastructure. Where you're born has more to do with your future than just about anything else, and that's because of infrastructure.
When we invest (and it's expensive) in all four of these elements, things get better. It's easy to take them for granted, which is why visiting an organization or nation that doesn't have them is such a powerful wake up call.