If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.
The story of how Mississippi came to change the state flag is a classic case of paradigm shift.
In his book, “Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future,” Joel Barker defines a paradigm as, “a framework of rules within which problems are solved.” It is, in short, the way we do things. For example, this morning I received an email article about flag etiquette. I also send this column to my editor via email. Those are paradigms.
Barker points out that paradigms are hard to change. After all, if we’ve been doing something for a while and its works, why change? And for there to be fundamental change, there must be chaos. The impetus for change will most often come from the outside.
Why was it so hard to change Mississippi’s flag, i.e. remove the Confederate battle flag emblem from the flag? For starters, it had been attempted in 2001 and failed by a 2-1 margin. A Chism Strategies poll in 2017 revealed that 49% would keep the flag, and 41% would replace it. Change was in the air, but the state was not quite ready, according to Chism Strategies CEO Brad Chisholm in his commentary, “The Mississippi Flag Debate: Updating the Strategy for Change.” His advice was prescient and well-presented. It can be found on the Chisolm Strategies website at
Then came the chaos. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Protests erupted across the country, bringing attention to racist symbols, including the Confederate battle flag. Mississippi’s state flag was taken down by come cities, businesses, and schools. Pressure to change the state flag came from every direction: business leaders, religious institutions, educational institutions, and even sports figures.
By June 2020, polling revealed a statistical tie. Still, it would not be easy to change.
Why was it so hard? One reason is that everyone is right from their perspective.
Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, “Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know,” opens with the case of a white police officer stopping a Black female and the resulting conflict. “One side saw a forest, but no trees. The other side saw trees and no forest. Each side was right in its own way.”
Individual perspectives ran the gamut from racism, belief in heritage, just not wanting to be told what to do, and removing offensive symbols. From their perspectives, all are correct.
Attempts were made to change minds. That’s a difficult thing to do. What about showing compelling facts?
“This model where people just take facts and draw conclusions is completely wrong.”
said Dr. Francis Fukuyama, Stanford University professor and author of “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment,” on a recent Freakonomics Radio broadcast.
What then is the best way to change opinions or beliefs?
Research and this writer’s own experiences indicate that the best way is to listen to understand. That’s another way of saying stand in the shoes of the other person. Listening to understand will not necessarily change one’s own opinion, but it will go a long way to understand why the other person has the opinion they do. For those who want to learn more about this subject, it is recommended to listen to Freakonomics radio episode 379, “How to change your mind.”
This was the perfect storm for a paradigm shift. This would not have happened if we were not in the stage of racial reconciliation, pandemic, protests, etc.
Kudos to the Mississippi Legislature for its action. For some members, it was an emotional, stressful event, especially those who voted to change the flag, but represent districts that might have wanted to keep things as they are. The leadership exercised by Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn will also be a case study in leadership.
The big question of course is whether this is the beginning of a fundamental change in Mississippi culture, i.e. values, opinions, and beliefs. We shall see.
What we should not assume is that things will change overnight. Out-of-state companies are not going to come rushing to the Magnolia State with economic development projects. Perhaps one analogy would be that of an automobile transmission. The vehicle has been shifted from “reverse” to “neutral.” It will be shifted into “drive” in the days and months ahead.
Finally, what are the lessons and takeaways for Mississippi businesses? What are the business paradigms that need changing? How would they change? Remote workforce? Social distancing? Will the change come from the outside? One only has to look at Facebook to see how its paradigm is changing because of pressure coming from outside.
The paradigms are changing. The businesses, organizations, and others that don’t recognize and react may find themselves losing out to those that do.
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