While scrolling through Twitter tonight, I glimpsed a news tweet about Tracee Ellis Ross rallying supporters for one of the US presidential candidates.
“Let’s make history” is the phrase Ross used to hype the crowd; the Black Voices editors highlighted this phrase in their promotions.
It’s a phrase that sometimes comes up when a member of a demographic group enters a position that other group members have never held before. For example, the first Jewish, Black, female, and Latina Supreme Court Justices have all “made history” with their successful appointments through the 20th and 21st Centuries.
But it’s not clear that these firsts, excepting Justice Thurgood Marshall and Justice Louis Brandeis, made decisions in a substantively distinct way than their similarly educated peers did. Their advancement was highly symbolic, and was meaningful to the general public on that basis.
I’ve spoken before about my experience growing up during the tenure of Baronness Margaret Thatcher. Between increasing the privatization of core services and resisting striking miners, Thatcher’s administration cast a long, long shadow over the UK, its social net, and its economy.
For families across the nation, families like mine, it didn’t matter that Thatcher had been the “first” in her category. What mattered and what affected us, were the policies she went on to push through her party.
Business writers take the concept of “being first” and frame it as a potential competitive advantage. Thus goes the conventional wisdom: Vendors who engage communities of users before other vendors do are thought to profit from their ability to connect with and reshape the market before others can recover, mimic, or follow them.
“First-mover status can confer advantages,” Fernando Suarez and Gianvito Lanzolla explain, “but it does not do so categorically. Much depends on the circumstances in which it is sought.”
Suarez and Lanzolla show that companies need a strong technological core and plenty of resources to help them survive, but these things only make it more likely that a company might survive. It doesn’t guarantee progress that favors the rest of the community, and trans-partisan progress is what we need more of. We have enough siloed benefits.
Explore: What common language do you hear about companies whose services you enjoy? Does that language really give you the information you need to make a sensible decision about engaging or investing in them? What other than their “firsts” do you find most compelling about them? Consider focusing instead on those traits,