Unfortunate incidents like this quickly fade from memory. We need to remember them to help us find the right balance when it comes to regulations.
This past weekend 154 people died during a crowd surge in Seoul. CNN reported, “What caused Saturday’s surge is unclear, but witnesses say partygoers were packed tightly into narrow streets in the capital’s nightlife district of Itaewon, as people enjoyed the first Halloween weekend since Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.” Right now, it’s easy for everyone to call this a tragedy. It’s easy to call for action. But the further out we get, the harder it gets.
In 1911 New York City experienced the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in which 146 people died. The doors and stairwells were locked, to prevent workers from taking unauthorized breaks. The fire was a key, albeit tragic, moment in moving forward serveral movements including labor reform, fire safety, and building safety. Things we take for granted today, like sprinklers in buildings and sufficient means of egress for the occupancy, can be traced back to this unfortunate incident.
Whether it’s building regulations, waste disposal, permitting, health codes, or other rules, these are meant to protect society. More commonly, however, we see many people opposed to regulations.
The limitation of our reality is that we can only know the path we take. We can’t typically know the what-if of alternative realities. We can see, sometimes, what happens if regulations aren’t in place. For example, New York City does not allow grilling on a balcony. If this rule didn’t exist it would be easy to measure the consequences, we could count the harm to people and property. What we can’t always measure are the benefits. How many fires didn’t happen because of this rule? It’s even harder with newer technology. New York City also restricts drones from flying in the city. This law was passed when drones were relatively new and not very common. How many incidents, ranging from interferences with traffic to personal injury, to violations of privacy would we have had without it? It’s hard to know.
This isn’t to say every proposed legislation should be passed. As with any law or regulation it’s important to achieve balance. But we must recognize that one side of that equation can be hard to measure at times. When we think about doing the right thing, in our company, our industry, or our community, it can often mean doing something that can increase costs or impact profits in other ways. The next time there’s a regulation that can hurt your profits, take a moment to think of some consequences if it’s not passed. Profits are important, but some things are more important than profits.
It’s critical to learn about corporate culture before you accept a job offer but it can be awkward to raise such questions. Learn what to ask and how to ask it to avoid landing yourself in a bad situation.