This world seems to operate on some kind of speed, with the pace quickening and quickening at such a rate that it gains a momentum all of its own. This ‘speed’ is more than metaphorical, our world is actually operating on stimulant overdrive. Over the past ten years we have seen the rise of coffee consumption in the western world, and the prevalence of both prescriptive and non-prescriptive drugs that are helping our bodies regulate its pace.
I too succumbed to the binds of coffee. Like so many, at one stage my day wouldn’t be able to start without a ritual flat white (Soy FW actually). We justify it saying we like the taste, or we simply love the ritual, and some even say, but it’s just my one and only vice. I am not actually judging the consumption of coffee here. Clearly we have some kind of need it, and perhaps more than simply because of a physiological addiction. In talking with friends and colleagues, they say that they need it to keep up with the frenetic pace of the world around them.
Some jobs and industries are ‘naturally’ fast-paced, like stock trading and base jumping (and look at the risks in those industries). Slowing down the pace of base jumping may make the sport redundant or in the least unappealing to those seeking the rush. The same could be said of stock trading, as well as the loss of opportunity.
Other industries have also caught up with the need for speed, with this pace infilrating education, health and the environment. We want quick fixes, we want results and we want it now. And yes, this is no more true than in the field of doing good. A prime example in the changemaking space is the ‘Start-Up Weekend’ where you can create a social enterprise in 24 hours. These events have a pace which is heavily fueled by caffeine, allowing super late nights (some participants actually don’t sleep), all claiming to conclude in a fully-fledged social enterprise within two days.
If I look around at how social movements grow and change actually occurs, we see quite a different story. Christianity was the largest social movement in history, taking between three and four hundred years to mainstream. In the twentieth century we saw organisations and movements like the Alcoholics Anonymous, Oxfam, Outward Bound, Rotary and Scouts take decades to both really hone its mission and model, and to achieve the global scale and impact it was seeking to have.
Some may read this and dismiss the relevance of a 2000 year old movement or even the pace of twentieth century organisations to the pace of change today. The tech industry talks of times being different, and that technology enables us to achieve things at a very different rate of change today. I am wary of the tech industries self-obsession with the next big thing being just around the corner, always on the lookout for the groundbreaking new idea. For me, the most groundbreaking ideas of the 21st Century have probably been around for at least a hundred years.
I look around and see the pressures that social entrepreneurs place on themselves, and the social consciousness places on them. There seems to be this idea that you are only successful or effective if you can launch and achieve success early. My word of both warning and encouragement is to slow down. Movements and organisations that have longevity, success and impact take time to develop. I have seen some rush for volume, reach, spread and impact, long before they have even been able to describe who they are in the world and why the exist. By not laying these important foundations, the building starts to crumble once it gets too big.