Long-Haired Leaping Gnomes

By Jim Whitt, Contributing Editor

Who do think of when you hear the word radical?

  1. a) Bernie Sanders
  2. b) Hillary Clinton
  3. c) Donald Trump
  4. d) An overfed, long-haired leaping gnome

The last answer is a lyric from Spill the Wine by Eric Burdon and War, which was released in 1970, the peak of counterculturalism in the 20th century. An overfed, long-haired leaping gnome might be an appropriate poster child for that era when many Baby Boomers rebelled against the so-called establishment. The establishment considered them to be radicals.

Your answer to the above question depends on your definition of radical. I learned about the origin of the word while listening to a rerun of an old-time radio program: “Radical comes from radix, the Latin word for root. Today, radical isn’t much more than a term of abuse. Before the 18th century, radical essentially meant a person who wanted to get to the root of a matter. Toward the end of the 18th century, a group of English politicals became known as radical reformers because they wanted to revamp the existing political setup. They became a hated crew because folks didn’t like change and radical became a term of low reproach.”

Even though this commentary about the 18th century was aired on a program produced in the middle of the 20th century, it rings just as true in the 21st century. A Sanders versus Trump showdown in the last election would have been truly radical because both candidates were on the outer fringe of the establishment. Sanders lost out to Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate for the Democrats and Trump won out over several establishment Republican candidates. In the general election, voters chose the radical candidate over the establishment candidate.

If people don’t like change why do you suppose the radical candidate won the election? Enough voters finally reached the conclusion that the establishment was failing our country. Something had to change or the state of the nation would continue to deteriorate. For years the establishment campaigned on bumper sticker platitudes, but once elected it was business as usual. As Peanuts creator Charles Schulz observed, “There’s a difference between a philosophy and a bumper sticker.”

Donald Trump’s philosophy was considered radical by many people, but enough voters believed this overfed, long-haired leaping gnome in a business suit might be exactly what was needed to rock the establishment’s world.

 Establishment can be defined as a constituted order or system. Industries and businesses are no different than political parties. Over time organizations develop a constituted order. It’s ingrained in its culture and systems. That order becomes resistant to change — even when the organization’s survival and success depend upon it.

While the political world is being rocked by a radical president, the business world is being rocked by radicals on multiple fronts. Online shopping is rocking the traditional brick-and-mortar retail world. Uber and Lyft are rocking the traditional taxi cab world. With its purchase of Whole Foods, Amazon is rocking the traditional grocery world.

Agriculture may be the industry most affected in this radical new world. There will be fewer players as consolidation accelerates. The survivors will be those who make radical changes. They will be the leaders in adopting and developing new technologies. But to take advantage of new technology they will have to make people their number-one priority. They will become people magnets — attracting the best people because they will have the reputation as being the best places to work. They will invest in developing their employees as people instead of just training them to do a job. The businesses that help their people reach their full potential will be the businesses that reach their full potential. They will have the human resources to expand and grow. Those who fail to do this will eventually have to go.

Political establishments fail because the world changes and they don’t. Business establishments fail because the world changes and they don’t. Radicals succeed because they are the ones changing the world. It’s a good time to be a long-haired leaping gnome.