Social Mobility: How your Organization can Make a Difference

Income inequality growing! Declining middle-class! More poverty! Phew! The end of Social Mobility?

W? W? W? Social Mobility

I recently advocated changing the narrative in organizations. Now for the really big picture – how do we change the narrative around the social mobility we once foolishly took for granted? To move forward from defining the problem and begin to find solutions, let’s boldly apply the Solution Focus formula of asking better questions, i.e., W? W? W?

  • What’s working?
  • What will it be like when the problem goes away (or at least, not driving our thinking)?
  • What will the first small steps towards making progress be?

Hence, W? W? W? to help us change or reframe the narrative around social mobility

  • We were postwar middle-class white kids living in the slipstream of the greatest per-capita rise in income in the history of Western civilization; we were ‘teen-agers’ – a term, coined in 1941, that was in common usage a decade later – a new, recognizable franchise. We had money, mobility, and problems all our own. – John Lahr 

Ah! The good old days. Now, per-capita income has, at best, stalled – unless you live in China! How do we reframe social mobility in ways other than unconsciously grabbing onto the coattails of the last century’s years of economic expansion?  W? W? W?

  • … most of the studies show actually the United States is worse than anybody except Britain in upward mobility, there is no audience for you. – David Frum 

That’s the bad news. Now we know this uncomfortable truth, what do we need to move forward? Not by fixing what’s broken, but by asking what we want instead using the resources we’ve got.  W? W? W?

  • The accumulation of cultural capital – the acquisition of knowledge – is the key to social mobility.  –Michael Grove

Knowledge has never been easier to access. How do we leverage it to help people be resilient and develop adaptability to change? W? W? W?

  • As far as income goes, there are three currencies in the world; most people ignore two. The three currencies are time, income and mobility, in descending order of importance. Most people focus exclusively on income – Timothy Ferris

How do we make more efficient use of the time (see last point about knowledge) and mobility that we already have? W? W? W?

  • We must promote upward mobility, starting with solutions that speak to our broken education system, broken immigration policy, and broken safety-net programs that foster dependency instead of helping people get back on their feet – Paul Ryan 

The self-reliant citizen is a nice, safe idea for those looking down from the top of economic ladder. Instead of blaming the existing system, how do we reframe it to make it more productive and efficient? Starting with government at all levels! W? W? W?


  • Despite all our gains in technology, product innovation and world markets, most people are not thriving in the organizations they work for – Stephen Covey

Organizations are part of a larger organization called ‘society’ and the economy that holds it together. How do we help organizations recognize their role in social mobility and that it’s in their interest? For example, paying minimal wages contributes to the degradation of the consuming public’s income – the people from whom they derive profit? For example, engage employees so that they will grow (and contribute to the bottom-line). How do we help organizations reframe their competitive strategy to support social mobility? W? W? W?

More definition of the social mobility / income inequality problem from Bloomberg Business Week

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