Build for Tomorrow: An Action Plan for Embracing Change
You know the feeling.
Change comes and we feel powerless. It’s like fighting an invisible army in the darkness. Where do we even begin? What is even the problem? We don’t feel like we have the time to truly understand the situation, and so all we want to do is make it stop. Then we make one of two irrational decisions: We either go into a defensive crouch and do absolutely nothing, or we make a rash decision that we hope will solve everything.
Neither option tends to work out well.
In this first section of the book, we’ll explore where the panic comes from and how to calm it. But first, let’s look at how panic can compound into gigantic mistakes—and the result, in one case, was pink margarine.
In the mid-1800s, the French emperor Napoleon III wanted a butter-like substance that could travel easily with his soldiers. He offered an award to anyone who could make it, and in 1869, a chemist named Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès cashed in. He created a concoction out of beef tallow that spread like butter and he named it oleomargarine. Soon this new food—first called oleo, later called margarine—traveled across the Atlantic, where it became a lifeline for many Americans.
“If you’re thinking about the early-nineteenth-century working-class person, what they had to eat was a crust of stale bread,” says Megan Elias, the director of the gastronomy program at Boston University. “And putting some kind of fat on that not only made it go down a little easier, but it also gave them nutrients that they weren’t getting otherwise.” These people may have preferred butter, but that was rarely an option. Butter was prohibitively expensive then, and, because this was an era before refrigeration, there was no way to store it for long anyway. Margarine, on the other hand, was cheap and fatty. It was valuable.
The butter industry saw this and panicked. In 1874, the industry declared that every measure must be taken to ensure “supremacy of the dairy in our agriculture”—and so, they hit the streets. They started fear campaigns, trying to convince people that margarine was unsafe. By the mid-1880s, they’d helped seventeen states pass some kind of law to regulate margarine, and seven states had outright banned its manufacture and sale. In 1886, Congress passed the Oleomargarine Act, which made the stuff far more expensive to produce and sell. Lobbyists then convinced many states to mandate that margarine be dyed an unappealing color—usually pink or black, but also red and brown—so that it would look unappetizing.
Now, maybe you say: That’s not panic; that’s just fierce competition! But I disagree. The butter industry could have stepped back and explored why people preferred this cheap butter-like substance. It could have taken steps to make its own product cheaper and more accessible, thereby expanding its marketplace. Hell, refrigeration technology was right around the corner—an innovative butter executive could have pioneered this new cooling process and been a hero to all. But instead, Big Butter saw change and wanted to stop it. That’s panic.
As a result, butter producers slowed down margarine sales…for a little. In 1898, the Supreme Court said that states couldn’t actually mandate that margarine be dyed strange colors—but states could stop margarine from being sold as yellow. From then on, margarine was often sold as white. This helped margarine develop an air of exoticness, which made consumers want it more. People would sneak it across state borders, into places where its sale was banned. And margarine companies found a clever workaround to the coloring laws: They included a packet of food coloring in the jar, so consumers could mix the yellow in themselves, which kids loved. “You had a generation growing up with the idea that butter was this white thing that you mixed yellow color into,” says butter historian Elaine Khosrova. By the 1950s, the tables fully turned: Butter became the subject of health scares, and Americans went on to consume more margarine than butter for five decades.
Butter ultimately made a comeback. But today, dairy producers are in a similar panic about the growth of nondairy “milks” like oat milk and almond milk. As a result, they’re following the same panic playbook: Instead of innovating, they’re pushing laws that limit the use of words like milk. The result will be predictable. When someone tries to stop a change, rather than tries to understand the source of that change, they’ll only hurt themselves in the long run.
Panic is not something to harness, and it is not something to hide from. Panic is something to overcome.
Part 1: Panic
Chapter 1: You Come from the Future
Chapter 2: Why We Keep Panicking
Chapter 3: Extrapolate the Gain
Chapter 4: Use Yesterday for What It Was, Not for What It Wasn’t
Part 2: Adaptation
Chapter 5: What You Do, and Why You Do It
Chapter 6: Widen Your Bands
Chapter 7: Change Before You Must
Chapter 8: Work Your Next Job
Part 3: New Normal
Chapter 9: Treat Failure as Data
Chapter 10: Build a Bridge of Familiarity
Chapter 11: The Theory of Theories
Chapter 12: What Is This For?
Part 4: Wouldn’t Go Back
Chapter 13: Reconsider the Impossible
Chapter 14: Get to the Second Time
Chapter 15: The “99% There” Problem
Chapter 16: Permission to Forget
Build Your Tomorrow
About the Author
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|Epub||September 14, 2022|
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