Liberty: the True Innovation, Stronger than the Storm

by Julie Anixter

Today, the Statue of Liberty in New York’s harbor reopens after being damaged in Hurricane Sandy.  To paraphrase the wonderful New Jersey campaign, she, and we, are stronger than storm.  On CNN this morning, a Park Ranger said that it never ceased to amaze him that people from all over the world weep when they first see Lady Liberty. Why do they cry?  What is it about this global symbol that moves us to tears?  It must start with the idea of liberty.  Liberty is the value of individuals to have agency (control over their own actions.)1  The word comes from the Old French liberte “freedom, liberty, free will, from the Latin libertatem, “freedom, condition of a free man, absence of restraint; permission.”2

And from the dictionary, always worth checking out, lib·er·ty [lib-er-tee]  noun, plural lib·er·ties.

1. freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control.

2. freedom from external or foreign rule; independence.

3. freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.

4. freedom from captivity, confinement, or physical restraint: The prisoner soon regained his liberty.

5. permission granted to a sailor, especially in the navy, to go ashore.

6. freedom or right to frequent or use a place: The visitors were given the liberty of the city.

7. unwarranted or impertinent freedom in action or speech, or a form or instance of it: to take liberties.

8. a female figure personifying freedom from despotism.

What creates lasting liberty?  A constitution that allows us to govern.  As we watch the events in Egypt today this is especially poignant.  What did our founding fathers have to do and find within themselves to sit for 100 days of debate to come together to revise the Articles of Confederation and then decide to (unconstitutionally) abandon them in favor of creating a new US constitution.  Oh to be a fly on that wall, to have listened to them argue and draft the words that gave birth to our Constitution.   My friend, the author and communications guru Judith E. Glaser has, for the last few years, been deconstructing the US Constitution through the lens of Conversational Intelligence. Working with historians, neuroscientists, and the National Constitution Center, she has developed a thesis:

America’s Founders had a hundred day conversation in which they embodied an unnervingly high degree of interpersonal intelligence, civility, and intentional commitment in their conversations:  they passionately spoke their hearts and minds, and then they listened to each other.  They built trust, handled conflict, engaged in negotiation and compromise, and ultimately created a new form of government, one that eerily paralleled the constitution of the Iriquois Federation, and created centuries of political stability that, while imperfect, is a beacon.

That kind of intelligence is conversational intelligence, and it transformed history.  Judith’s work on this is just beginning and we will be sharing more of it in the months to come because we see the direct relationship between conversation, innovation, and yes, liberty.  It’s worth noting that the first book in our Books as Tools series, How Stella Saved the Farm, is also about gaining mastery in the innovation conversation.   It is an article of faith for us at IX that the capacity to have the right conversations about innovation, no matter where you are on the path, is the first, critical competency of leadership.

As an American citizen, it is humbling to think about the humility, patience, energy, and moral courage that our Founding Fathers embodied in those conversations.   Many people I know, including me, are so disappointed in our current Congress’s ability to even have the conversations that it turning us into activists all over again.   (Occupy Congress could be coming to a theater near you.)

And, in a personal note, it is why our team at Innovation Excellence works overtime to create a persistent space for global conversation that is of the people, by the people and for the people. And we intend to keep it that way, so please, join in.  And if you think something is missing, or needs greater amplification, tell us.  We are listening.

A famous story  from McHenry’s The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 about founder Benjamin Franklin goes like this… At the end of the convention a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well,  Doctor, what have we got – a Republic or a Monarchy?” Benjamin Franklin is said to have replied  “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Liberty.   Freedom.   A value, and a way of life, to treasure, to honor, and to respect.  I for one am FOR keeping it close in our hearts, guarded, safe and secure. Thank you Founding Fathers, thank you signers of the Declaration of Independence.  Happy Birthday America.

sources: 1  Wikipedia    2

Image credit:  A Herrero

Wait! Before you go.

Choose how you want the latest innovation content delivered to you:

Julie Anixter is a principle at Think Remarkable and the executive editor and co-founder of Innovation Excellence. She also serves as Chief Innovation Officer of Maga Design, a leading visual information mapping firm.The co-author of three books, she’s working on a fourth on courage and innovation. She worked with Tom Peters for five years on bringing big ideas to big audiences. Now she works with the US Military, Healthcare, Manufacturing and other high test innovation organizations.


  1. Well spoken, Julie. And thank you for sharing the work being done by Judith Glaser about Conversational Intelligence and her examination of the process used in the creation of the US constitution by America’s founding fathers. Being able to have candid conversations is essential both in business and the process of self-government.

    • Thanks Joan! It’s great to see you here on the page and it reminds me that it’s been WAY TOO LONG since we talked! Let’s connect soon.

  2. Julie, thank you. As it strikes me, most leaders and organizations, need not only breakthrough inspiration or discontentment (like our forefathers) but also breakthrough form or structure (like our Constitution) to create ground-breaking futures and move beyond existing ‘comfort zones’, which are typically not that comfortable nor producing what we truly want out of an effort or enterprise we care about. America is the best enduring example imaginable of combining both of these elements.

    Hopefully, our best leaders and organizations can begin to engage deeply in the conversations required to create the needed growth mindsets and skillsets across America. Our current 2% growth track will end America’s century of economic leadership around the globe. Advancing innovation, a nation, or anything requires not only knowing what we want but how to get there. Let’s celebrate the great work of our Founding Fathers, and also applaud everyone who is participating in advancing innovation, growth and prosperity. Expanding these boundaries often lies outside of our familiar comfort zones…but we’re not the first to forge such paths with constitution.

  3. Thank you Julie. Perhaps you have described the “test” by which we should assess our lawmakers — are they having the conversations or not?

  4. “Occupy congress”… I love it!

  5. YES! YES! YES! and YES AGAIN!

Leave a Reply