Exploring the origins, ethics and future of changemaking

The rush for change

In Futures, Theories of Change on May 14, 2012 at 9:00 am

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.

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  1. While I completely agree with your sentiments about slowing down and laying down a solid foundation for change, I also feel that there’s a building sense of urgency to create social/environmental innovations and create a movement of people supporting this. Ethically, should we not be building communities of changemakers and inciting others to positive action as quickly as possible? Surely this is better than inaction or flat-out ignorance.

    I believe this is especially the case for environmentally sustainability. Should a warp-speed drive to consume not be countered by an equally important need to rapidly innovate for the good of our environment and societies? If we also give ourselves the permission to iterate as we go, then perhaps the journey to these innovations might occur more rapidly across society?

    • Hey Mikey, thanks for your thoughts on this. I totally hear you on the building sense of urgency, which is partly why I wrote this post. Your view on the need to build communities of changemakers and incite others to positive change is one I hear a lot and I think is quite widely shared. I have heard people talk about that being an ethical need – or in fact, that it would be unethical to not act. The jury is out for me on where I sit with that, which is why I am exploring this here. So thanks for raising that one.

      I’m not sure I think that ‘inaction’ is a negative or undesirable thing. I haven’t written on this yet, but have experienced the power that can come from a kind of ‘conscious and powerful inaction’ – something beyond passive resistance if you like. Anyway, I need to think, feel and write more about that one.

      What I would love to explore more with you and hear more about is the power of story and documentary as a vehicle for change. I don’t think that all changemaking is the same. I am a real fan of the power of story telling and awareness raising in the changemaking space. It grants freedom to others, is light and non-violent in approach, and can have wide viral reach. What are your thoughts on that?

      The sustainability space is certainly one that has a real sense of urgency about it. I think that the warp-speed drive to consume is very real, yet also one that has built over a period of time. I wonder if ‘undoing’ that or creating a new culture is something that can be rushed or will like its predecessor simply take time. I’m definitely a fan of action and interating as we go. My intent here is not to dismiss that or other approaches to changemaking, but to simply bring consciousness to that process.

      Thanks for your thoughts…look forward to the conversation…

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