Clinton’s Theory of Change and Socializing Business

In the business context as in the larger world, we should not seek to change hearts, but to change the rules. — Stowe Boyd

Ezra Klein wrote a great piece — Hillary Clinton and the audacity of political realism — examining Hillary Clinton’s orientation toward political change, and he cast her as a political realist, verging on being a political pessimist. I was struck by the relevance of the discussion to the politics involved in the adoption of new ways of work and the tools that engender that.

But first, here’s his take on Clinton:

“I don’t believe you change hearts,” she says. “I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not.”

This is Hillary Clinton’s political philosophy in a nutshell. It is the hard-won lessons of a politician who had a front-row seat to both Bill Clinton’s impeachment and Barack Obama’s release of his longform birth certificate. It’s the conclusion of someone who has tried to win change amidst Democratic and Republican Congresses, who has worked out of the White House and out of the Capitol, who has watched disagreement and polarization prove intractable, who has seen grand plans die amidst gridlock.

[…]

Clinton’s theory of change is probably analytically correct, and it’s well-suited to a world in which Republicans will almost certainly continue to control the House, and so a Democratic president will have to grind out victories of compromise in Congress and of bureaucratic mastery through executive action.

But it is not an inspiring vision — it does not promise grand advances, transformative change, or a kinder, gentler political sphere. Clinton has the audacity to believe in the limits of her persuasive and political power, and an emphasis on limits doesn’t fill arenas.

Let’s consider what the equivalent of Clinton’s theory of ‘changing hearts’ would be in the context of the spread of the idea of socializing work: making the workplace more humane, more democratic, and more liberal.

In that context, a Clintonian might start with narrowly-defined plans for ‘success’, because we aren’t going to change all hearts, no matter how soaring our rhetoric, how shiny our tools, or how persuasively we enumerate the purported wonders of worklife after the adoption of new operating principles. Clinton’s position is that there will be entrenched opposition to change, for myriad reasons. Some simply like the status quo, some are afraid of change generally, and some are afraid of the changes being proposed, specifically. And like a great many social undertakings that may lead to a good end, the means to get there may require a great deal of pain and sacrifice from those doing the hard work.

So I advocate adopting the Clinton Theory of Change for the world of work.

I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not. — Hillary Clinton

First of all, we have to accept that all social organizations are intrinsically and deeply political, and any effective efforts to make any changes need to operate on the principles of realpolitik: political power is intrinsic to business, and any significant change will require wielding power to get there.

And then, at a foundational level, we have to understand that the natural differentiation in the world between conservatives and liberals has not emerged through some process of rational decision-making by each individual, weighing their perspectives on the balance between change and stability. That split between the Right and the Left is in our wiring, deep in our psychological makeup, just like language and our six senses.

Some simply resist change, and others seek it out. And persuasion based on rational argument fails to sway conservatives, even when they muster seemingly rational arguments to support their positions.

Therefore, in the business context as in the larger world, we should not seek to change hearts, but to change the rules. We need to reward the behaviors that we want to see in our companies, and to build our platforms to support better new ways of work and to dial down affordances that allow bad behavior to persist.

And even before that, our political systems are a platform, a sort of inbuilt technology that we can’t escape. We can no more operate outside of politics — even at work — than bees can exist without of their hives, or that birds could fly without their feathers.

Originally published at stoweboyd.com on 3 February 2016.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

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