Starship Enterprise and Steamship Democracy

When ‘Starship Enterprise’ took off 250 years ago, the middle classes began to make the modern world with accelerating speed and yes, it must be said, with some adverse consequences. But there is no better spaceship, no better sputnik, known to mankind. Working and trading are fundamental to human relations.

But business doesn’t usually factor in negative effects to the community at large – what economists euphemistically call ‘externalities’. For example, cities need open space, which business doesn’t address. Therefore ‘Steamship Democracy’ is needed alongside ‘Enterprise’. It’s a steamship, because it’s slower, but it actually needs to be faster, to anticipate business and promote the common good.

Conversation notes

  • Why Starship Enterprise and Steamship Democracy?
  • What’s wrong with politics?
  • Why contemporary elections are throwing up the least disliked politicians
  • The reasons behind suboptimal government
  • Why sortition or a jury system are the remedies to our current political problem
  • What are citizen juries?
  • How can we make politicians accountable?
  • Should there be a trial before implementing?


“There are many good elements to our democratic system. The rule of law, the separation of powers, the freedom of the press, the freedom of association etc.. But I think the lack of respect for politicians is the biggest single concern. I think that we’ve gradually lost faith in our political parties and politicians whoever they are or whoever they claim to represent.”


Why is it that today’s top businesses can look outside traditional structures and disciplines to plan for the future faster and more efficiently than our governments can?

To answer that question, let’s look at what businesses are doing well.

At the WOBI World Business Forum in Sydney earlier in 2017, globally-renown human resources expert, Professor Ian Williamson shared his views on how top businesses are adapting to a changing world.

According to Williamson, the organisations that will stay in the game are those that are:

1. Decentralising

The ‘command and control’ model was common in many areas of life, including education and healthcare. It can still be appropriate in some contexts today – such as within the military. However, that model is becoming far less effective in business. Decentralisation, or decision-making at a lower level, allows participants to feel a greater connection with organisational goals.

2. Being transparent and building trust

Businesses that don’t prioritise trust in their brand and process tend not to last. Those that do are highly transparent and comfortable sharing detailed information both with their employees and with consumers.

3. Experimenting

Being ‘agile’ means to have the ability to move quickly in a variety of ways. Today’s agile businesses are willing to trying different ways of doing things and to learn from those experiences.

4. Engaging people to find solutions

Top organisations know how to motivate people to want to help solve problems. This doesn’t just apply to employees. They are actively engaging the public through product trials, market research and social media. They use the knowledge gained to drive change.

5. Deliberately seeking diversity

The use of multidisciplinary and inclusive teams is growing rapidly, not out of political correctness, but because representation across a wide range of expertise and backgrounds has been proven to enhance efficiency, employee satisfaction, and overall performance.

We know that governments are doing some of these things, but businesses are way ahead in terms of their implementation.

In May 2017, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, founder of non-profit research organisation, New Democracy Foundation, gave a presentation outlining a citizens’ jury model that governments at all levels can adapt to build on the lessons learned from business. This model is not intended to replace the current government structure of but to compliment it.

Citizens’ juries are groups of randomly-selected people representing a wide cross-section of society just like criminal juries. They can deliberate on difficult policy areas, hear from relevant experts, draw conclusions, and report back to the governing bodies with a selection of reasonable recommendations.

To achieve this, they need to have access to all the facts along with the time, authority and resources to study the issues in depth. When communities see people like themselves participating in high-level decision-making and see the recommendations being acted on, they are more likely to trust the process and the system.


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