Let’s talk about Henry. Henry was a nice guy; hipster beard, tall shirt collar and bowtie. Henry David Thoreau wrote in 1849 that “Civil Disobedience” is an argument for disobedience to an unfair state. Much can be said about the state of Denmark, but it’s certainly not unfair.
Our state always tries the best it can. But sometimes their hands are tied. And that’s because it’s the state. Our state works with lots of sensible things: fair legislation, police, consumer safety, justice, education, environment and tax collection. But the state is here to take care of what we have and what we are. Not what we will get and what we will become.
For the state, it’s inherently easier to prevent the expulsion of an old business than to allow the legality of a start-up with a complete unknown and, for that matter, incomprehensible business model. Some of what we will get is disruption and something that we will become is disrupted.
So, what about the Disruption Council – Partnership for Denmark’s Future, chaired by the Danish Prime Minister and run by our Minister of Employment. To me, it’s an amazing initiative. Not just because I’m a member of the Council and can participate in the often very exciting discussions. No, I think the council is amazing because it’s democratic. Nearly all parts of Denmark and all our sectors are involved. The government, educational institutions, SMEs, unions, employers and the big companies are members. Adding to these are all the people that the council is listening to. They are the thinkers and the doers. The robot runners and the drone drivers. Members from all over Denmark and council meetings throughout Denmark.
But precisely because of the broad interests that must – and should – be taken into consideration by the Council, the government’s leadership and the inertia of democracy, we as a society should not expect the Council to fix all that is needed to reap the benefits of disruption and address the disadvantages of disruption. To me, the council is already successful because we have raised a broad discussion of disruption in Denmark. Almost half a million have watched videos and many thousands have loved, commented and hated the Council’s Facebook page.
I’m convinced that in Davos this year, leaders from all over the world stood in their polished black shoes in the snow and were hot in the cheeks with envy when our Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister of Employment presented our model to future-proof Denmark. I’m also convinced that you can expect the Disruption Council to come up with a series of inputs and proposals for legislative changes, implementation of pilot tests, better conditions for testing new models, new education, more design thinking etc. It will be well-thought through, professional, broadly embracing and legally strong. But it will certainly not be enough.
So, let’s go back to Henry. Is it possible to imagine that even a fair state may need civil disobedience? My answer is yes. Our advanced, well-regulated, righteous state now has a clandestine need for civil disobedience. And that won’t come from the state itself.
It will come from the pharmacist who disguises his drone as a, absolutely legal, huge pink birthday balloon that carries vital medicine to the old woman in rural Denmark who can’t reach one of the very few 24-hour pharmacies.
It will come from the civil servant who will ignore a little bit of existing legislation and move her talented employees from a zero-fault culture to a test culture where mistakes are not punished but celebrated – enabling what is obviously necessary.
It will come from the UberGO types who sidestep our taxi laws to launch themselves as transport companies –not taxi companies– offering to take you along when they transport your iPhone or chewing gum package.
It will come from companies, foundations and unions who realize that the level of apathy and special interests of our education system are too large and, therefore, create the radically different, flexible and future-oriented learning environments we need, which will pave the way for changes in the formal system.
It will come from home-makers who get tired of the menus at our daycares and schools and join others on their street to make proper food and hold ‘private dinners’ in the public cafeterias. The home-makers will be followed by restaurateurs who will ignore the ban against reusing their vegetable waste and smuggle it to the hens that provide their eggs.
It will come from the unknown start-ups that find entirely new ways of building and exchanging value. These will initially be strongly contested for not complying with the laws of financial companies but will hold on until everyone understands what they really do and how valuable it is to our society – even though these start-ups might replace all known financial institutions in the future.
The home-maker, the pharmacist, the civil servant and all the others will be the heroes of the future. They’re going to pay for their civil disobedience, they’re going to take their punishment and they will have to fight. But some of them will become the people whom we look back on with admiration and gratitude in years to come. Because it will be them, and neither the state nor the Disruption Council, that will make sure that we make use of the benefits of disruption, and as few as possible will suffer from challenges related hereto.
Therefore, we should focus on how we create freedom for those who show the way – without losing the fairness, ultimately created through disruptions by our unions, our folk high school movement and our cooperative movement. We must respect history and learn from it but we must not live in it, and we do need someone to help us.