It’s Not About the Direction

We live in societies that are Wedged. Last year I shared my thoughts in this video. Since then, there is little evidence that people have shifted. Shifted in a way that allows them to make better decisions for their communities. To make good decisions you need to be able to step away from the standard thinking of the herd. And consider the entire landscape. The spectrum of solutions that could apply.

Let us consider a social example. As a topic for my fourth blog post ever this might be risky. So it goes. Let us consider how people approach divisive issues by looking at Social Mobility.

You can find many definitions of Social Mobility. Most people who talk about social mobility seem to be talking about Relative Social Mobility. What is that all about? Well let’s say your parents are in the middle 20% of the population for income. What’s the likelihood that you stay there, move up or move down? For every person who moves up, someone has to move down. All other things being unchanged. If there is not much movement then you have low social mobility.

Have you noticed how most people relate to this issue? They approach social mobility with a viewpoint that is about direction. The direction is either “we need more social mobility” or “you should focus less on this issue”. OK: the discussions are not often that polite. Of course how the conversation goes is largely predetermined by who you talk to. You may have rampant agreement, or you could have a shouting match. Not much investigation. Not a great dynamic to foster great decision making. Or even any learning.

What is the right amount of social mobility? I never hear people discussing this. Something I hope will change. Why is that, do you think? Why do we talk direction only and not what an optimum state might be? This question made me think of the Laffer curve. But that is for another time.

Consider this. Do you want zero social mobility? Most people I know do not. As entertaining as that discussion is, it is more interesting to first consider the opposite. What would happen if you had 100% social mobility? However you want it measured. Your outcome in life would be completely independent of your parents’ social status. Status as measured in any number of ways. As a parent this is an interesting thought experiment.

In the case of 100% social mobility, no matter what you do it will not impact how “well” your child does. How great would your life be? Think of all the time and effort you could save. No need to work hard to pay for helpful things. Toil away to live in a nice house in a safe neighborhood? Why bother? Spend time putting your child to bed? Bedtime reading? Forget it. What’s the point? Won't make any difference. Better to leave them to fend for themselves. Go watch the game at the local bar.

This of course works the opposite way around. If you are stuck where you are no matter what you do, why make an effort? Just relax.

The effect of these extremes would have an impact on Absolute Social Mobility that would be horrible. If you are wasting your time working to help your kids succeed, Why bother.So we can probably rule them out. 0% and 100% are equally bad. The solution for each society sits somewhere in between. To make better decisions perhaps you need to encourage people to stop thinking in “directions”. Directions that seem like high speed trains with no off switch.

What do you think is the right amount of social mobility? Where does this apply in business or in non-political aspects of your personal life? Please let me know in the comments. I have enjoyed the private responses and feel free to go public!