Fast Company

Can America truly change?

Is change really coming to America? After all we did elect a President who ran on the platform of change. I do however wonder if we as Americans really have the capacity to change.  And if we do, why are we so slow to change?

Is it because we haven’t had strong leadership driving change? Personal political views aside, I think its safe to say that throughout history, we’ve had some good leaders so I don’t think the speed at which we change as a country is driven solely by the strategies set by our leaders.

Is it because we have the freedom not to change? After all, we can choose to change or not change without fear of retribution. This could again be part of it but I still don’t think it’s the main reason.

I would put forth the old adage, “no pain, no gain”. I think America, as a society is slow to change because the pain of not changing isn’t greater than the pain of changing.

Why, well look at the auto industry. Until now the pain of not changing has been less than the pain of changing. Gas hasn’t been $8 a gallon and we haven’t yet run out of oil.

Yet, despite the fact that an American company called Better Place (www.betterplace.com) has put together a holistic and new infrastructure for electric cars based on the model used in the mobile phone industry which makes owning electric cars more convenient and more affordable than owning gas powered cars – we don’t hear much about it.

Other countries, some of which seemly have very rigid cultures have been much quicker to change.  Israel, Denmark and Australia are all moving forward with the model before the U.S.  It seems that their governments recognize the no pain, no gain theory. They are taxing emission cars at much higher rates (100% in some cases) than electric cars to instigate change.

Maybe the tough love message sent to Detroit in the past few weeks was meant to make the pain of not changing greater than the pain of changing and change will truly finally arrive…in the auto industry at least.

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2 Comments

  • James Mackenzie

    So you've made me think (no mean feat). Capitalism enables change (or at least innovation) via a competitive marketplace - so long as it serves the immediate interests of its investors.

    And those interests obviously don't want to make sacrifices for societal change; unless there's an incredibly powerful force making it more painful not to invest in change, as you put it. Right there and then. And not just in the swing/counter-swing pattern of political histrionics; but as additional bits of weight to an out-of-balance system of checks and balances. More granular, but longer-lasting.

    Which would mean that there need to be other kinds of market forces, pushing back against short-term fears and interests. Maybe a truly brave and self-aware corporation would empower and incentivize its customers to be its conscience with a stick - going beyond greenwashing or trend-pandering. In its absence, maybe there needs to be a more active stimulation of *market* demand for change. Smart subsidies will help a lot right now; but imagination, creativity and smart thinking can get a movement going, too.

    I heard that 'fear pushes, but vision pulls'. If boards of investors' natural fears are pushing against change, it's a worthy cause to help their consumers pull for it. We could all play a part, whether as researchers, agencies, or influencers of any kind, to really listen hard and advocate. (After all, there's a lot of lobbies for consumers to check and balance, too!)

    Obviously, this is what a lot of people are already doing - but often in an antagonistic way that forces companies to pick a side (their money or ...what? The twittering of an unruly mob?). We've long talked about co-creativity, in recognition of people's abilities to participate in an experience that's worth their time; maybe a similarly co-operative 'co-conscientious' strategy is a worthwhile experiment. And maybe it would have an objective of 'Inspiring our consumers to lead the change we need - and prove our shareholders wrong'!

  • Richard Jacroux

    I'm no cultural anthropologist, but behavioral change in the USA seems to follow attitudinal change which is often, but not always, based on necessity/need (Necessity is the mother of all invention)...so I agree...pain=necessity, so change will follow. I wonder how our attitudinal change toward smoking over the past 30 years fits into this model. Was it the pain of disease that changed our attitude and bahavior? I don't know, but the fact that South Park makes fun of the extremely strong anti-smoking attitude out there just shows how much we have changed in a generation...