Hopeless Causes

I have been wondering about change initiatives that are hopeless in the sense that change is virtually impossible.  What do I mean by “impossible”?  Theoretical impossibility is quite rare.  Planes that fly faster than the speed of light and the elimination of death and all taxes are good examples.  Most would agree on the impossibility of such outcomes.

My perspective is much more pragmatic.  What types on initiatives simply will not succeed in the next decade or two?  What kinds of outcomes am I unlikely to be alive to experience?  I am very skeptical of the possibility of all vehicles becoming driverless unless we reconceptualize the notion of “driving.”  I am similarly skeptical of all energy coming from renewable sources unless nuclear energy remains viable.

Yet, these are mostly technology challenges interwoven with economic and societal phenomena.  What about phenomena that are predominantly organizational?  I have long argued that the overarching goal of society should be creating and sustaining a healthy, educated, and productive population that is competitive in the global market place.  Is this possible?

This would require a major reallocation of resources away from unproductive, vested interests.  These interests would bring enormous human and financial resources to bear to thwart such changes.  Such change initiatives occasionally succeed, e.g., Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, but it requires alignment of political, economic, and social forces – and very strong leadership.

How might we convince people to ignore misinformation and disinformation sources that are prevalent on social media?  These information sources result, for example, in people accepting and following ill-founded medical advice and, in many cases, killing themselves.  The Supreme Court has ruled that people and organizations cannot be prevented from such deception and outright lying.  The first amendment of the Constitution protects them.

The solution would seem to be a mixture of authoritative sources and education to access and utilize these sources.  Yet, these possibilities can be thwarted by people’s strong inclinations to believe misinformation and disinformation, indeed their inclinations to spread untruths much faster and more broadly then truths.  Education to overcome these inclinations would seem, at best, to be a decades-long initiative.

I engage in seemingly endless meetings where the agendas are dominated by discussions of initiatives to “fix” the types of problems outlined here.  My sense is that success, if at all possible, will require many decades of concerted commitments and investments, careful definitions and measurements of success, and a strongly shared societal sense of who we want to become.  

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