Tuesday, July 10, 2007

For Fred Wilson (and others) to Ponder

I do like the variety of non-technology issues Fred tackles on his blog and the sometimes lively (and thoughtful) discussion it generates. Fred seems to be enamored with the idea of change, but he never actually thinks about the problem of change realistically. He focuses on specific issues, but the problem when it comes to change is that no matter what the issue, we're the same people.

I believe the bigger issue to tackle is how to accommodate human nature in the best way possible to produce actual results (change). My belief and it can somwhat be quantified is that on very difficult issues where the change necessary is palpable, it’s very hard to move the needle much, if at all, because of human nature. We gravitate towards things that make us feel good and run away from things that cause us pain and that's just how we operate in general.

Whether it be global warming, healthcare, poverty, hunger,issues with obesity, or whatever, it seems that nothing actually happens because the pain to change is greater than the perceived threat of current or future pain.

Regardless of what the issues are, the principles of pleasure/pain are at play. Change is hard and usually comes with some “pain”, which we naturally avoid. Throw capitalism on top of it, and it becomes even a steeper hill to climb. If the people like Fred who suggest that something needs to change with our current health care system are in fact correct, how much do you think will be spent to keep things as they are? I’m guessing in the billions of dollars would be spent by the insurance lobbies to preserve the status quo.

Is the world really better off because of anything that happened with Live Aid, Comic Relief, etc., etc. I wouldn’t dispute that some individuals were helped by these events, but did it actually change anything? If you try to quantify this based on anything statistical the answer seems overwhelmingly to be: no.

All it seems to have accomplished was making people “feel better”. I view this as not much different than what goes down with the people who are self-employed as panhandlers in San Francisco. They do provide a service, they make people feel better about themselves by allowing people to think they made a difference when they gave the panhandler money.

I am not sure it matters what in particular you’re looking to change is, people will generally be resistant to any lifestyle change or anything that costs more money and if it’s something that someone else makes a lot of money on already, they will spend heavily to keep things as they are.

Can this generic problem be solved for? If it can, it can be applied to anything and everything that “needs change”. I’m not certain there is not a solution to this generic problem, but I’m certain it isn’t easy and even more certain that without solving for this, you will not be able to solve any individual circumstance where it seems that change is required.

Is it possible to come up with a new way of thinking about these things and get people to embrace such thinking? I don’t think you get to “real change” without it seeming pretty radical for a large % of people, and the notion of “radical” on some level equates to pain, which by human nature we avoid.

My question for anyone with a mind to think about this is: can this be overcome and if so, how would you overcome it? It seems that if you can’t solve for this generic problem, thinking on health care, global warming, obesity, whatever, is just in the realm of mental masturbation. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE thinking about it, but I’d love to actually see some things change too. Can you point to some examples of thinking paradigms that produced REAL change when there was no immediate threat to our overall survival as a species?

Finally, is there a way to actually promote radical thinking that would produce actual change without it seeming radical?

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