Fairness or the Future?

“It’s not fair.”

Maybe I’m getting cranky as I get older and that’s why fairness disputes sound more and more like whining rather than uplifting discussions about the future. Maybe it’s just that our present situation provides one of the great opportunities to improve our world and we’re missing the chance to act decisively to build a better future. I’m not sure.

“It’s not fair!”

Don’t we all sometimes feel that way as we go through our lives? When I feel that way, I hear my Mom’s voice telling me “Life’s not fair.” I’m sure most of your Mothers said the same thing as you grew up. Why would we expect anything different now?

The “It’s not fair” chorus is all around us. Rich folks grumble about people on welfare while poor folks see examples of opulent lifestyles and feel jealous. Politicians scream it at us every chance they get – either to defend their own actions or enflame us about our own circumstances. Organizations succeed all the time because of location or circumstance, rather than merit. We all experience it in our everyday lives…remember that driver who cut you off or stole that parking spot?

All the noise about fairness distracts us from tackling the important work of preparing for the future. The future marches on and doesn’t particularly care about fairness. I fear that if we obsess about fairness, we will miss clear trends and the opportunities to do what’s right for the future.

Few times in history present clearer trends or bigger opportunities than what we face today – especially in Wisconsin manufacturing. The major trends are very clear. Demographics are creating a Body Gap that will affect every organization in the state; cutting-edge technologies will transform competitive manufacturing; and all of us will be stressed by these changes and how they affect our lives.

And that change keeps accelerating! Thomas Friedman introduced me to the concept of exponential change in a world of people with linear capabilities. Change in today’s world moves at an exponential rate (think Moore’s Law). You still can’t relate? Have you ever gone from 0 to 70 in a powerful sports car? Exhilarating, huh? That’s exponential change in action. Now, think about travelling that way from Milwaukee to Superior – not too comfortable. Still, that’s the pace of change we face in modern life. That pace is way too fast for any one person or organization to handle alone.

The future marches on and won’t wait for us to figure out what’s fair. The Body Gap provides opportunities to react in a way that pulls whole classes of people out of poverty and solidly into the middle class. Applied research and new technology will make American manufacturing more competitive than at any time since the 1960s. All of us can benefit from a more connected and interdependent world – provided we focus on what’s right for the future.

We can waste tremendous amounts of time arguing and being distracted by what’s fair when it’s much easier to agree on what will position the next generation for success. It’s much faster to create solutions and approaches that provide broader opportunities to more people. The future is calling and we know what needs to be done to make it a better and brighter place.

I challenge you to think about your world in a different way for the rest of the summer. Instead of becoming absorbed and distracted by what’s fair, think more about what’s right and creates the greatest benefit for everyone. If you’re a member of Wisconsin’s upper class, think about the struggling family trying to make ends meet. If you’re from the Madison-Milwaukee I-94 corridor, think about the challenges facing rural areas of the state. If you’re a member of the Resistance Movement, think about how capitalism and a strong economy helps us all.

If we each invest a few more minutes to think from these different perspectives, we put ourselves in position to take the actions necessary to create a brighter future for everyone. More possibilities emerge to cooperate and share success with the widest possible audience. It’s time to focus on what’s right and take advantage of the opportunities presented to us.

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