Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Faces of Change

British readers probably recognize this gentlemen, but I had never heard of him until last week.
This is Isambord Kingdom Brunel, who was one of the great railroad barons of the 19th Century.  He finished second in an unscientific poll of 100 greatest Britons ahead of such luminaries as Shakespeare and Newton.  He's one of the founders of the Great Western Railway and developed an integrated transportation system that transferred goods and people from London to New York.

The talk centered on how some of the principles that Brunel employed can be used to address complex problems like global warming or obesity.  One thought I had during the talk is that issues like these are so complex and have so many interested parties that it is difficult to imagine a single player like Brunel becoming the face of the solution.

While discussing this issue with colleagues, most of us mentioned other  famous capitalists.  The most common examples were Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Steve Jobs (Apple).   Afterwards, I could only think of two big projects that really had no singular public face.  The first, an engineering feat, was the Apollo moon program.  To be sure, the project was launched by a famous speech by John Kennedy, and the astronauts became public faces.  But I can't think of one person who receives more than his fair share of credit for that whole project. 
The second project is the anti-smoking campaign, which was a feat of social engineering.  There was a report from the US Surgeon General in 1964 which laid out the dangers of smoking.  People stopped smoking en masse, businesses put no-smoking sections in place, companies banned smoking in buildings and eventually on their properties.  It took 34 years before the tobacco companies stopped fighting and entered into a settlement with federal and assorted state governments.  There is no one person who is regarded as the singular face of this social change.

1 comment:

  1. How about some broad social/politcal movements? The downfall of communism, not only in the USSR, but also each of the eastern satellites, the civil rights movement (MLK was one of many leaders), even the secession of the Southern states.