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Is Facebook Robbing Us of Our Political Power?

On March 25th the Human Rights Campaign launched a social campaign to raise awareness for the marriage equality debate currently being deliberated by SCOTUS. You probably saw the campaign, which asked users to change their profile picture to that of a red square with a bold equal sign.  When I checked Facebook Wednesday morning, my entire feed was covered with these logos, as a good portion of my Facebook friends had decided to participate. As I thought about it over my morning coffee, I was struck with the thought that all this activity, while potentially raising awareness inside the walled garden of Facebook, might not actually result in anything of substance. And in fact, it might just be completely meaningless. After all, changing one’s profile picture is a transactional gesture, regardless of the scale. It costs nothing, takes no time, and involves very little risk on the part of the participant.

To which, I posted this: “Changing my profile picture was what really tipped the scales on that political issue” – said nobody ever.”

And then a few minutes later, I pushed the idea even further: “If only Abraham Lincoln had the ability to change his profile picture, perhaps the civil war could have been avoided.

And finally, teasing out the thought to its most ludicrous conclusion, I wrote: “Can everyone on Facebook please change their profile picture to a non-perishable food item? This way we can ensure that the starving children of the world never go hungry again.” (The Huffington Post did a spoof of this 2 years ago which lampooned the issue far better than I could have.)

A good deal of my Facebook peeps were not amused. All in all, those 3 comments generated almost 30 responses. Most of these were enraged for even daring to suggest that this act had no meaning or effect. “It raises awareness!” said one person. “It’s a show of solidarity!” said another. And, in the mother of all ironies, some wrote (on my wall) that I shouldn’t express my opinions (on my wall) about the things they choose to support (on their wall).

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EVERYBODY PANIC! Overcoming Cultures of Fear in the Age of the Attention Economy

Prior to joining WPP, I had the experience of working at an agency that was in the midst of trying to change from a traditional mindset to one more focused on digital and emerging technologies. What was fascinating to me was not how resistant our clients were to this change, but how flummoxed the internal culture was by these deviations from the ‘norm’. In ways that I could have never anticipated, I watched people react irrationally and illogically to the pending ‘threat’ of change, oftentimes based on assumptions that were never based in reality.

Pharma has this same issue. It’s terrified of change. I mean mortally terrified. And that presents a problem because, as we all know, change is inevitable. In ways you may not realize, the inherent terror that pervades the industry may be the reason why innovations fail to take root on a consistent basis.

Think about it. All innovations have change as the underlying common denominator. Since most people working in the digital, social or the technology fields are often asked to be agents-of-change, we deal with the results of fear-based risk-assessment all the time. Too often in that process, discussions will drift to analyzing the consequences of sometimes wildly speculative assumptions in order to determine what the worst-case scenario may be. When conversations head down the fear path, they are rarely productive.

So as innovators how do we overcome these sometimes-irrational responses? Are there better ways to evangelize new ideas? Will more data or facts help correct the problem? Hopefully better understanding the causes will better arm us all to more effectively drive change.

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