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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sexy sloganeering, forgetful sloganeers

Mikhail Gorbachev had his 80th birthday celebration just last week. The entire planet remembers Gorby as the one who put an end to the Cold War; when his fellow countrymen talk about him, it’s the word “perestroika” that usually comes to mind.

Few remember, however, that even before perestroika (standing in English for “reconstruction” or “upgrading”) Gorbachev had another slogan: “the speed-up of the USSR’s socio-economic development” or just “acceleration.” A pretty good slogan from the mid-1980s that correlates perfectly with today’s “modernization” buzzword. Nevertheless, the “speed-up” was strikingly short-lived; the watchword fizzled out within a year of its birth.

Too bad; slogans are important as they outline for political elites a vector of where to move to redesign society. What you put into a slogan can hardly be made part of a program—the latter will wolf it down and none will get the sense of it.

Alas, this seems to be the doom for most national mottos in Russia; they die away fast. Do you recall another one that was born at the turn of the century—about “the doubling of the GDP”? Great slogan for a country that at that time didn’t expect any population growth; the guideline meant the doubling of the per capita GDP. To put it in simpler terms, the goal was set to make an average Russian twice as moneyed as he was then.

The slogan ebbed almost as fast as its ‘predecessors.’ Prior to that, there was a lot of speculation and derision about it being unrealistic. It would have been much more useful, I think, to stop booing its impracticality AT THAT TIME and think of what could be changed in laws, law enforcement, etc. to make it realistic. That would have probably made a huge difference for all of us.

The tendency persists in many Russian companies as well. Managers wake up with a strategic vision and bustle about framing it in a sexy slogan—only to forget about it next day. Isn’t it the reason why really great companies are so few in Russia?..

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