This is the basic human situation.
But this trade-off relationship between security and freedom has changed over the past decade. A whole new entitlement to security has entered our societies.
Over the years, the risks we face as a society have decreased. We don’t have to hunt for survival. Polio is not a threat to our health anymore. Neither is the plaque.
We have been given steady incomes and perceived job guarantees.
The cold war has been over for a while.
Over the past decades, we were fortunate to experience a long streak of stability. Economies in the Western World were booming, and the tempting offer was that in exchange for a college education and your dedicated time, you would get a fixed salary with the prospect of buying a house, getting married and having children, and entering into safe retirement.
A generation of corporate executives grew up and were educated in a time when job opportunities were plentiful and once in, then jobs were protected through strong market entry barriers, the economic moats of their employers. Banks cashed in the upsides from highly risky transactions, and when the sh*t hit the fan, government bailed them out. Many lost their jobs, in particular the younger ones had to rethink what their careers were about. But then there were the older ones who had amassed enough wealth to continue a highly comfortable live in the safety zone. Risk was transferred to society, the ultimate insurance company.
Over these past decades we have been provided with a distorted image. These decades of continuous growth and stability have provided us with the impression that we can have the cake while eating it. We were told that we have a right to the upsides without the risk. We have lost a unified measure for accountability.
This deal has created a false sense of entitlement to the status quo.
What we see now, is a misperception of these risk adjusted returns. To conclude the metaphor, people have been told the illusion that they can have guaranteed returns by investing in startups. They have been given the impression that there are free lunches available. Free lunches and free refills. So why leave the restaurant then?
Coming from this stable environment into the rougher seas, it is tempting to try to retain that perceived stability from the past by whatever means necessary.
As we have explored, now the volume of change has been turned up again. For those who come from the smooth riding era of stability, experiencing the triplet of digitization, climate change and corona may seem a bit overwhelming from time to time.
Unfortunately fear can have an impact on our behavior, from consumption patterns to voting behavior.
The media can even reinforce that fear of change by reporting on perceived dangers that derive from this changing world. When they move statistically insignificant incidents to significance through prime time televisions, they create a feeling of imminent danger for people.
Change, Disruption and Crisis tends to be positioned as something evil, something that harms us. Media headlines tend to be focused on how we can preserve the status quo, and on the threat that the crisis provides. From politicians, we hear that “this is a new situation”, when they have problems finding the right path of action. For corporates, the term “disruption” has become the go-to term, when it comes to justifying that competitors are taking the lead.
Thinking of it, the term “Disruption” is quite a negative term. Your train can get disrupted. There is no value in this, is there? Traffic can get disrupted. “No, not another traffic jam please.”
So our terminology has replaced the proactive, positive term “innovation” by the defensive, negative term “disruption.” I guess Clayton Christensen did not write his book with a smiley face on his desk.