“I didn’t want to live in interesting times!” says the graffiti scrawled on a fence at Bloor and Bedford Rd. in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood.
All times are interesting for the curious mind but some times are more interesting than others. These are most certainly some of those times. Every day, new names get added to the unseen wall of shame in a movement that isn’t waiting quietly while suffering silently any more. Hundreds of prominent and powerful people (the staggeringly vast majority of whom are sectorialy powerful men), and enormous business empires are being challenged or destroyed altogether by the unforeseen consequences of people talking openly about their public and private behaviours.
Revolutions are intensely interesting. This post might be about predators like Harvey Weinstein, but it might also be about Tim Horton’s. Nobody wants to live in interesting times. So many things happen in rushes of emotion and they get clambered up together into a confliction of rage that just needs an out. Outrage often becomes outrageous but only when it’s moved to go too far. Is the outrageous notion of ridding the known world of predatory male behaviour going too far? Not if you want to achieve a real social revolution.
Revolution might be the word of the year. The digital age has so radically altered our society and the power structures that underpin it that even the most innocuous idea can become the stuff of extraordinary change and attendant dislocation. For example, a basic idea said that there are a lot of idle vehicles out there and a lot of people looking for quick rides and that the two could be matched up using mobile phones and GPS. The rest becomes the uber set of conundrums that happen when something changes everything yet nobody was ready for it. Forced social change, the stuff of revolutions, so to speak. We’re experiencing a period of rapid multi-faceted change. This time it would seem that fictitious and manufactured realities are the first casualties of revolution.
The brand myth fell apart after the now infamous memo was leaked to the press. Built on the ideal that all Canadians love and support their communities and all communities bond over fresh coffee, the corporation achieved the rarest and most incredible marketing feat achievable. It became synonymous with the quiet but unshakable pride Canadians feel for Canada. The corporation was, for almost two decades, as Canadian as the game of hockey and the hockey player himself who cofounded the chain. Now it’s a goat, sidelined by foolish bottom-line only thinking from corporate management and a group representing at least half the franchisees.
Their mistake was simple, even if the reasons behind it more complicated than they originally might appear. The brand was built on Canadians’ love of their communities but franchise owners, the very people who literally bought into the brand, decided to kneecap their own workers in a pique of outrage and cost cutting stemming from Ontario’s minimum wage increase. Years of fond memories were instantly gone and many loyal customers have now turned on the brand. For most, it’s not about the coffee and only tangentially about the workers. It’s about how people want to be treated as consumers, as persons, as citizens. People are angry at being treated by the brand like human wallets. Seeing the staff treated as dehumanized afterthoughts reinforces the idea, there but for my job go I and, as of now, I’m not sure I want to go there.
This year, Canadians are learning how they have put up with a lot of corporate shenanigans. Earlier this month it was revealed that another very large Canadian grocery chain has spent the past 14 years over-inflating the cost of bread baked in and distributed by its own bakeries. Those bakeries supplied bread to many of the chain’s competitors, who also over-inflated the price of bread. The practice is such an anti-competitive action it has an official name, “price-fixing”, and it is illegal. Most people understand the crime using a less technical word, “theft”. Mere days before being charged with a very real crime, the grocery chain publically copped to the crime and turned over evidence on its competitors who were also involved in the scam to the Attorney General’s office, avoiding all charges. Presumably something will come of it beyond several class action lawsuits that are forming on behalf of consumers who justly feel they were treated unjustly.
We enter 2018 with a flaming sword of righteous justice replacing the more stable sword of Damocles that usually hangs over all our heads. We live in a panoptic reality in which everyone has the ability to watch and comment on everyone else. Businesses are in the unenviable position of having to see if they need to make and implement changes, even if everything seems to be going OK. Most would do well to check their relationships with their people. How loyal are your customers? How happy are your staffs? How accommodating is your business culture, and exactly who and what is it most accommodating of? Are you doing business the way you wish to be seen to be doing business?
It is hard to fully accept but the rules are being rewritten in real time. Lines may well settle back to approximately where they once stood or they might move substantially one way or another. Either way, we live in a time of dangerous, exciting, unpredictable and, most of all, interesting change. It doesn’t matter if you wanted to live in interesting times or not. What matters is what you do in them.