You Will Reinvent Institutions

Welcome to the Great Remaking.

By Bryan Boyer

Illustration by Paul Windle

The frozen institutions of the industrial era are finally beginning to thaw—and that’s as exciting as it is frightening. No longer do schools and universities have a monopoly on learning; anyone can start a company; and “lifelong career” seems as outdated as “landline.” We live in an era of constant innovation, much of it driven by start-ups who are writing software to reimagine any and everything—from health to manufacturing, public safety to finance.

But there’s a bug in this new system. When a start-up breaks the law, it’s valorized. But if a traditional business does the same, it’s shunned. Companies like Uber are rewarded by private investors for playing fast and loose with regulations, but if a kindergarten decides to “disrupt” building codes, few will be happy, no matter how innovative the designs may be. Likewise, Airbnb had the audacity to defy New York’s attorney general, but society does not applaud the mafia or cartels for doing the same.

I’m a fan of Uber and Airbnb, but not because of their convenience or slick user experience. I like their high-profile legal flippancy because it’s a reminder that many of our laws, and decision-making structures, need to be—and can be—transformed. Right now, our tumultuous politics discourage experimental efforts by institutions, and change happens only when things are at the breaking point — or well beyond.

There’s hope, though. New norms, new myths, and new laws are cropping up, without being coerced into action by start-ups. The federal government picked themselves up from the healthcare.gov fiasco by creating a Digital Service that is iterative and user-centered. Colorado and Washington are experimenting with legal marijuana—and the results will be a strong base of evidence for other states to iterate and evolve. Detroit emerged from bankruptcy. New York became the largest city to offer universal preschool. Clearly, we’re learning how to try again.

2015 won’t suck—it will be the beginning of a “Great Remaking,” where we reinvent societal norms and reshape how we live together. Private companies like Uber and Airbnb, fueled by venture capital, will be part of that, but they should not be the extent of it. The dissatisfaction with institutions we’ve had this year will become the inspiration to build the institutions we want for the future. Next year I’m optimistic that we can be equally as forward-thinking, and far more civil, while putting our social and political capital back to work.

Bryan Boyer is co-founder of Dash Marshall, partner at Makeshift Society, and member of the board of directors at Public Policy Lab.

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