How do big entrenched ideas change?

In 1993, only two countries in the world had any recognition for same-sex relationships (called “registered partnerships), Denmark and Norway.  Then Hawaii’s Supreme Court made a ruling that looked like it might be opening up marriage itself to same-sex couples, setting off a backlash that included the so-called Defense of Marriage Act that limited marriage for the purposes of federal law to one man and one woman and then 31 states passing constitutional amendments limiting the definition of marriage in the same way.  And yet look at this past November’s election, 3 states (Maine, Maryland, and Washington) acknowledged equal marriage rights at the ballot box and Minnesota defeated a discriminatory amendment to its constitution.

So what changed?  I don’t have a grand unified theory of change, though Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch is a good place to start.  As is this post by Dan Pallotta in the Harvard Business Review: Never Lie About Who You Really Are:

People at all levels, especially management, witness the slow undoing of good customer service, product quality, or safety standards, and they don’t say a thing about it. Even if it violates their own value system and the mission of the company. But if everyone at a crummy airline, for example, had the same zero-tolerance for bad customer service as a lesbian has for lying about the fact that she’s married to a woman, it wouldn’t be a crummy airline for long. To stand up for your truth is to be a leader.

Truth.  That’s what’s changed in these intervening years with marriage equality.  People in same-sex relationships have been speaking out, not about rights, but about love and about family.  That’s what marriage is about, and public opinion has been changing.

What truth needs to be said in your business that you’re holding back?  Where are you failing to hold your peers accountable for the work of the team?  Where are you letting something slide because its too much trouble, where standing up for your values and/or the values of the company would make a difference in the world, in the bottom line or both?


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