The Wrong Side of History

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – Thomas Jefferson

Caution is fine with large change. Taking care with change is important. However, not all change can be approached gradually. Major societal changes will be binary when they enable new human potential.

Softly Softly

The softly softly approach works until it doesn’t. Caution breaks down when change is at a scale that sits outside the normal gradual evolution because it dramatically enables human potential. These step changes have consequences beyond work for business, society and our lives. These social changes give rise to new actors, new behaviours, new approaches and new values.

Nobody will be perfect. Thomas Jefferson wrote those stirring words on an inalienable right to liberty while owning slaves. His plantation ran on the backs of slaves. The Founding fathers of the United States were aware of the conflict slavery represented. Confronted with conflicting values, they chose to move cautiously. To this day, it remains a mark on Jefferson’s otherwise extraordinary reputation

The Wrong Side of History

There’s more risk when you change too late on a major societal shift in how we view human potential. In quick time you go from being cautious to out of touch, or even bigoted. Shifts in social approval on these issues drive network effects that can accelerate quickly.

Take care standing against changes that enable increasing human potential in work and society. When these values change, we look back and think “what were they thinking?”. Arguments constructed in historical logic fail the new tests of humanity. The historical examples are many: slavery, racism, the emancipation and equality of women, child protection, factory working conditions, civil and political rights, indigenous affairs, etc.

Many of these changes are not yet fully resolved. Newer battles for human potential are playing out across the future of work and society as we decide what kind of future we want. Whenever we stand against enabling others’ potential or pursuit of happiness, we would be wise to consider the potential for rapid shifts in social values.

Take care with the big social changes in human potential. Once you stand on the wrong side of history, the future will not forgive.

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