Complacency, meet technology. This won’t be pretty.


If you’ve ever worked even seven seconds in an office, you know complacency is a very real thing. Some companies will know they need to change an aspect of how they work for about 25 years — and still not do it. Why? Change is hard, and most of these types of “change management initiatives” go to HR first, where they die a slow, buzzword-laden death. Change management plans subsequently end up terrifying most everyone involved — is there a threat of layoffs? — and even though they’re important, they die out. Complacency rules the day.

(The other reason all that stuff happens is called homophily, or the clustering of like-minded execs.)

But what if complacency has moved into all aspects of our lives, too?

Complacency, or “How America Gave Up On Change”

That’s the title of this new article, which features this sassy little part:

I think there’s several different layers of the complacent class in this country. If you’re an educated elite, you’re already in a very comfortable position, and, in essence, you simply have to avoid losing what you have. If you’re lower-middle class, and maybe life is tougher, you’ve seen some wage stagnation. It may sound like those people are not complacent, but if you compare them to earlier times in American history — the 1930s, or the Civil War period, or the 1960s — people’s willingness to just put up with things, to improve the quality of their leisure and then get on with life and not really agitate for very urgent change, that’s higher than before. It comes in even for people you wouldn’t think are, or should be, complacent. It turns out that very often they settle for the status quo.


Did we really embrace more complacency?

This is a tough concept to research and measure, so you need to take some of this with a grain of salt. If you were to approach a random on the street and say “Hey, how complacent are you?” — they might not answer period, and they definitely might not answer honestly. We’re all terrified of change at some level — “The United States of Nervous Wrecks” — and a fear of change can lead to increased complacency. That part is true.

What about technology and complacency? 

I think this is a big one people whiff on. Technology has made many of us first-worlders very lazy and passive. You hit “like” on something and think, “That’s a relationship” or “I just did something about politics.” You did nothing. Basically you hit a button, and it continued to group you into like-minded pens. There was no real action; you just clicked something. It’s not the same as “fighting.”

So in this way, has technology boosted up complacency a little bit? Yes. I would say it has. Could you also argue technology has opened up new communication streams and revenue markets? Of course — and that would be the opposite of complacency. It’s more nuanced than just “Yes, this happened.”

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Think about this too: the bar debate thing. 20 years ago, if you were in a bar debate over “What years was Reagan Governor of California,” well, someone had to know that — or someone had to care enough to find a way to look it up in a physical book. Now? You can solve that in about 3.7 seconds. There’s a degree of complacency there, right?

Does this all have impact on how we work?

Of course. At the same time as this supposed rise in complacency, we have a lot more “shallow work” projects somehow redefined as “sense of urgency” projects by middle managers. We’ve created a lot of task work, and not a lot of thought work. The task work will eventually go to machines. What about the thinking work? Can we get that back?

If most of what you do is bottom line-crippling task work all day, eventually a sense of complacency sets in. You’re getting paid by the organization, so that’s good. The work is mostly there and you’re not super bored, so that’s good. Complacency 101.

Now, 41 percent of people worldwide may look for a new job this year — and that stat would indicate a rather large lack of complacency. It cuts both ways.

What else would you argue: are Americans (or the world in general) becoming more attuned with complacency?

Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. Hmmm … I was thinking about the quality of status quo last week. I think that as people become more complacent … what people see as ‘status quo’ get redefined. But I don’t see the quality of status quo (or baseline acceptable behaviour in our civilized society) going up. The bar for the status quo goes down. What was status quo 5, 10, 20 years ago is not what you see as status quo today. We have to be busy all the time and run our lives in top gear all the time (… if you believe society’s current ‘multitask got-to-be-busy’ mantra). But being too busy… too fast … blurs what you see and smudges your perception of reality. Being complacent in following the status quo as acceptable leaves you vulnerable to erosion of your quality of life.

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