It is very early on Sunday morning and I just came across an amazing article in the New York Times written by Peter Buffett, son of Warren Buffett, who we all know as one of the wealthiest men in the world. Take some time to really dig through his thinking and recognize how outrageous and courageous some of it is and then see how this type of analysis is really needed to make significant change.
The article focuses on what Buffett calls “philanthropic colonialism” and the fact that nonprofits have become the fastest growing segment of our society with funding that has now reached $316 billion each year. Almost 10 million people now work for these nonprofits. The comment he makes about sitting in meetings with government officials and others who are trying to fix with their one hand the problems their other hand has caused is a pretty dramatic picture. He talks about this massive increase in charitable organizations as a way to allow those who have accumulated massive amounts of money at the expense of others to sleep at night. It allows them to give a small percentage back, perhaps serve on the nonprofit’s boards and tell others how to fix their problems. The problem, according to Buffett, is that the system needs changing. He isn’t talking about making nonprofits more effective, but rather changing things so that nonprofits are no longer needed. That is real change and it is definitely worth some discernment.
Besides the obvious points being made in the article, I was struck by the massive change that Buffett imagines. So often when we talk about change we think merely of minor fixes. You see, we really don’t want change as that would disrupt our lives too much. We don’t mind some minor modifications as long as the core thinking stays the same. That is why in business major change seldom comes from within the establishment. Outsiders make change because they have the freedom to imagine and because they have nothing to lose. The challenge is to develop the ability to imagine and implement massive change from within.
We can sit and ponder why the healthcare system in our country needs reform, but to try anything even as small as the Affordable Care Act seems to meet incredible resistance from all sides. The branded pharmaceutical industry now accounts for less that 15% of every prescription written, yet there is no change. Prices are out of reach for most people and rather than change the system, pricing cards and rebates are used as “band aids” that help the industry keep even the small share of business we still have. Reps have less and less influence and yet they remain the core of most companies’ marketing plans. How much pain does the industry need to feel before real change is considered?
Summer is a time for relaxation, reflection and growth. As Congress continues to fight over budgets, immigration, gun control, voter rights and new job proposals, note how much talk we hear and how little real action we see. Just like the nonprofits and those who refuse to act boldly even in a stagnant business, there is no change because keeping the status quo is so much easier for decision makers. These are times for bold thinking like that outlined in the Buffett article. Challenge yourself to imagine and then drive the change even if it means taking some risk. The discomfort of today will pay off tomorrow.