So we completetely borked the budget ceiling negotiation last week, leading to the S&P downgrade of America (read, 'What Happened to Obama' for a brilliant analysis on Obama's utter failure to establish a coherent narrative as president).
And if that wasn't enough, last week also underscored how completely the patent laws are screwed up to the point that they're officially a drag on innovation - the exact opposite of what patents were designed to do (read the transcript from the NPR program, 'When Patents Attack' to see what I mean).
Somehow, we can no longer figure this stuff out, yet recent history suggests that we can figure out how the universe works, can figure out how to thwart Hitler and rebuild Europe after World War II, can put a man on the moon, can create the Internet, etc.
Given this seeming asymmetry between the two realms, let me submit the following:
- While everything is more complex than you give it credit for; and
- The weight of self-interest meaningfully incentivizes people who **should** know better to nonetheless screw the pooch for everyone else;
- We don't have to be dumb and blind about it.
Much of this starts with changing the old memes (i.e., ideas that virally propagate), and replacing them with new memes.
Simply put, while form logically follows function, there is a larger truth that our thoughts on the "definition of the situation," including both specifically desired outcomes and tangible constraints, fundamentally instructs function.
In other words, our thoughts codify function, which give a mandate for form to manifest in a particular way.
In fact, there is a specific term that defines how we process congruities and incongruities called Cognitive Dissonance.
It basically suggests that if your actions and perceptions are out of whack, either you need to change your actions OR you need to change your perception of the situation as it exists. To NOT do so is physically and mentally uncomfortable.
A simple example is that if you think that you are fat and need to change your diet, one of two things is going to happen the next time that you are chowing down on a deliciously greasy pizza.
One, you will feel that eating that pizza is incongruent with your new aspirational image for yourself, and stop eating pizza so much.
Or, two, you will decide that being thin is over-rated, all relative, and more to the point, life is too short not to eat pizza, which is so delicious.
So, what does this have to do with the mess in our economy, our governance mechanisms, and the rot festering within society in general?
Most fundamentally, it's that changing the narrative and the actual words that we use to establish that narrative is a first, integral step to manifesting real change.
Putting it to the Test
Therefore, next time you encounter a story about Wall Street, Insurance Companies, Congress or Special Interest Groups (like Unions, Patent Lawyers, Environmentalists, etc.) start training your mind to be on the look out for:
- Predatorial Behaviors: Ask yourself if the behavior being discussed is a case where one individual or group is taking advantage of another group by virtue of power, influence, wealth or knowledge.
- Parasitic Entities: In order to maintain its existence or position in the economic, societal or organizational system that it participates within, does the entity leech off of the lifeforce, blood, energy or money of others? Does it remove more from the system than it puts in?
- Protected Classes: Does the indvidual, industry group or company have undue influence on the rules that define its governance, and the methods and consequences by which those rules are enforced?
Now, recognize that most stories will be presented according to False Dichotomies, such as being "pro" this (e.g., business, big government, unions or jobs) or "anti" that.
It's far easier to tell a story, and sell a desired outcome, such as passing a bill or changing a rule, when the conclusions are presented in black and white terms.
Don't get fooled by this anymore. When you hear the facts presented in a way that frame the topic as an either/or scenario, be willing to question if the scenario presented is indeed a false dichotomy, and be rigorous about: A) consistently calling it such; and B) codifying what a reasonable "and" scenario looks like.
Understanding "Relative Yields: Everything is Relative
Similarly, the efficacy, or goodness, of specific outcomes are defined by the qualitative and quantitive content of what they yield.
Most yields are relativistic to multiple variables. Ask yourself what the yield is locally in your own backyard, for the larger region or nation as a whole, and/or globally.
Think about the actual impact both in the short term, measured in days, weeks, and months, and in the long term, over many years.
Also, ask yourself if there are collateral impacts that further shape yield. For example, a program that results in less expensive clothes for consumers, but that also has the collateral impact of jobs moving overseas can be good or bad, but the collateral impact is real, and needs to be factored into relative yields.
Finally, when all else fails, simplify the topic and be surgical about the words that you use to codify it. If an individual did this same type of action to another individual, would that action being considered reasonable or lawful?
If not, then ask yourself, why it's reasonable at the governmental or corporate level. There may be valid reasons, but learn to articulate and understand the "What" so as to ask "Why," and be willing to challenge conventional wisdom by saying, "So What."
UPDATE: Mark Cuban has written an excellent post arguing that we should get rid of software and process patents completely. Worth a read.
- The Great Reset: Why tomorrow may not be better than today (O'Reilly Radar)
- Why the Malaise in our Economy (and Society) is a case of The Innovator's Dilemma
- Getting Real: On Doomsday, the Demise of So-Called Experts and the New Arbitrage
- Assertion-based Reasoning: What, Why and So What