February 5, 2010 Is Social Business the Change We Can Believe In?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned by observing the political changes that have happened over the past few years, it’s that Americans are some seriously fickle people. During the Bush era, in the wake of an attack that shocked so many of us, we bound together and were “Proud to Be American”So proud, that we somehow justified an open checkbook to fight a war in a country we had no idea had anything to do with 9-11.We just knew 700 billion dollars was absolutely necessary to keep the terrorists away from us. (Let’s try to look past the whole almost-got-blown-up-for-Christmas incident) A couple million foreclosures and some disgruntled army family members later, we decided we wanted change. Real change. A Change we could believe in. Enter the Obamas, brought in by a coalition of young folks, brown folks,white liberals and independents. The man gets into office and begins to…well…implement some changes. And the resistance begins.
“Sure, it sucks that my insurance won’t cover the cost of having my baby because I’m…pregnant. But I don’t want any socialist, government run, death squad assembling healthcare system”
” I don’t want to ever live through anything as devastating as The Depression but you should have let AIG, a financial mammolth with the significant holdings all throughout the world, fail.”
I’m not interested in where you stand on these issues. They are complex, and various views have valid concerns. But it goes to show that most people don’t really know what they want. And even if they think they know what they want, they’re often not willing to follow their purported desires up with actions. Not just in politics, but in everything . We talk about how much we want to build wealth and invest, yet research shows that less than 40% of employees who WANTED 401k plans actually enrolled when given the chance to opt in. We may say we want certain things but we are bad at assessing what we want, that we don’t have now, and committing to what we really want through action. How many of the inventions that we take for granted today were scoffed at and basically rejected for not being useful in society. Check out this ’84 throwback commentary on the uselessness of the mouse:
The nature of the personal computer is simply not fully understood by companies like Apple (or anyone else for that matter). Apple makes the arrogant assumption of thinking that it knows what you want and need. It, unfortunately, leaves the “why” out of the equation — as in “why would I want this?” The Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a “mouse.” There is no evidence that people want to use these things. I don’t want one of these new fangled devices.
If democratically elected politicians are supposed to stay true to the desires of their constituents, and their constitutents are constantly saying they want one thing and doing another, is it realistic to look to the government as the primary purveyor of change in our society? Government is instrumental in creating big shifts in society through policy but part of the reason it takes such a long time is because momentum depends on our willingness to take steps to change. This is one of the reasons why I think it’s so important for a sector of Social Business to emerge in the market today .
If Steve Jobs asked the public “Do you want a small flat phone with no buttons, a camera, an mp3 player, and an internet connection” in maybe as late as year 2000, people would very likely say, “why the hell would I want music on my phone? No buttons? I have internet on my computer, why would I need it on my phone too? No, my motorola a760 is fine thankyouverymuch” If we left it to the government to reinvent how we communicate with each other, we would still be using rotary phones. Our human fear of the unknown would likely keep so many of us doing what we know works, that it would take an incredibly charismatic and persuasive politician to build a large enough consensus to implement iphone production. Business is remarkably good at creating small and large revolutions in society by creating things we didn’t know we were ready to use. Business has created a need for fun things like Wiis and Playstations. Perhaps it is time for it to create a need for important things like healthcare and climate change.
So a bunch of people don’t want climate change because they think that environmentalism will hurt the poor? Have a green company provide a range of services that weatherizes old homes and save members of all classes a ton of money on their energy bills. If fear and politics prevent a healthcare bill from being passed, let a new insurance company emerge that dares to throw out the practice of denying care based on pre-existing conditions. We are living through a remarkably special political moment. I have a great deal of respect for Obama. He seems honest, human, intelligent, and committed to creating fundamentally progressive changes in our country. But as he has stated time and time again, he cannot do it alone. It’s high time we stop relying solely on the Senate or even our own fleeting judgement, and consider how business can be part of a change we can believe in.