Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fear of the new and unknown

Wow this is funny, and yet sad at the same time. Back in the day, with the beginnings of rail transportation, came what some historians have called "extraordinary paranoia". Apparently it was thought that trains would blight the crops with their smoke, terrify livestock with their noise, and that people would suffocate if traveling at more than 20 miles an hour! Some saw the railway as a threat to social order, allowing the lower classes to travel too freely, weakening moral standards and dissolving the traditional bonds of community.

Sound familiar to what has been predicted with constant changes in technology, and the explosion of social media? Or how about the fear and paranoia surrounding same-sex marriage ... "weakening moral standards and dissolving the traditional bonds of the family".

Fear of the new and unknown can stop innovation at best. At worst, it can cause a chasm and huge divide between adopters and dissenters. You know what I'm talking about - and have probably heard some of these refrains... "Facebook is for college kids. It won't catch on for business". "Social media opens us up to our customers' being able to post their discontent with our company for all the world to see". "We don't want to create opportunities for customers and prospects to actually interact in case our customers have a beef with us". "Allowing same-sex marriage threatens the family". Really?

Trains run every day, some upwards of 200+ miles/hour, and no one suffocates as a result. Social media has responded to customers' desire to state their truth and their positions (whether we like them or not). The post-industrial world and all its opportunity has caused lasting changes in the world of work, the role of women and the family, long before the idea of same-sex marriage.

So on this Thanksgiving Day I am thankful for all the pioneers who are much smarter than I, and those willing to take great personal and professional risks to expose us to the new. Some of it may not stick. Some of it may not be judged helpful. But change and curiosity is nothing to fear.

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