Thomas Midgeley Day


Thomas Midgeley Day today.

Most people understand the problems with overt and explicit failures. Like the failure of objectivity leading to prejudice and bias. Most people would accept that such conscious disparities of equal treatment are unjust. But it is the unconscious mind that can be as dangerous or more so in this respect. Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday highlighted this insidious dynamic in his recent commencement address at Morgan State, and you can see a vivid illustration of it in this video “What Would You Do? Bike Theft (White Guy, Black Guy, Pretty Girl)” making the rounds on the web.

Thomas Midgeley is a character who stands as a poster child for all of the underlying dysfunction leading to major failures. Seth Godin’s post,“It’s Thomas Midgeley Day”, calls for recognising the cautionary tale of this anti-hero…

  • “Midgeley is responsible for millions of deaths. Not directly, of course, but by, ‘just doing his job,’ and then pushing hard to market ideas he knew weren’t true—so he and his bosses could turn a profit. His first mistake began when he figured out that adding lead to gasoline appeared to make cars perform better…We might consider erecting a statue of him in every lobbyist’s office, a reminder to all of us that we’re ultimately responsible for what we make, that spinning to defend the status quo hurts all of us, and most of all, that we have to balance the undeniable benefits of progress, innovation and industry with the costs to all concerned. Scaling has impact, so let’s scale the things that work. No, nothing is perfect, but yes, some things are better than others. I can’t imagine a better person as the symbol a day that’s not about honoring or celebrating, but could be about vigilance, candor and outspokenness instead.”

In addition, to serving as a reminder of unintended consequences, Midgeley’s story is also an inspiration to whistle-blowers who might spot and raise alarm on failures before they cause pain or loss.