The world doesn’t need to be changed

A conversation with my friend Ehon on the weekend prompted this post. I shared with him a story of a girl I recently met in San Francisco who by way of introducing herself, asked me a question: “So what are you doing to save the world?”

This kind of question usually grates on me, and probably because when I was her age I also had this drive in my life to “save the world”. When I hear it spoken I recall my own innocent desire to be of service in the world; a drive that while having good intentions actually came from a very limited perspective. Of course, to cut-some-slack and be a little graceful towards myself and the girl I met in San Francisco, it is not surprising that we came to the view that the world needed to be changed.

The world is currently facing many ‘challenges’ including food security, health crises, climate change and in some parts of the world – war and economic collapse. On top of this, the social consciousness is littered with images, stories and examples of this need ‘to save’. From superhero stories to the modern day samaritan-come-changemaker, we celebrate people who save others from vulnerability. It is no wonder that when we see images of vulnerability and suffering, that our first instinct is to save them.

It is difficult for me to pinpoint the moment that I realised the world doesn’t need to be changed, but it started somewhere around the discovery of the principle of Soul. I discussed this in the post on Ego and Entrepreneurship, Read more

The rush for change

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. Read more

A time for talk, a time for action

I have attended many events in the social innovation and changemaking space, and a phrase I have heard a lot is “WE NEED LESS TALK AND MORE ACTION!”

I have heard this said with a lot of gusto and a great dose of frustration, and perhaps for various reasons. For some they have attended so many networking events and seen these as ‘talk-fests’ that never eventuate into anything. For others their drive for action is so much part of who they are that talk-without-action is so genuinely frustrating to them. People even throw in statements like ‘walk-the-walk’ rather than ‘talk-the-talk’, as if integrity is somehow only linked to or expressed by those who are in action.

Do we undervalue the role of talking about change? Or are our ways of talking about change so generally ineffective, disconnected or uninspiring that we are prepared to forget it and march straight into action?

When I think about true dialogue, speaking and listening can be a process that provides connection and deepens understanding of ourselves, others and the world. Perhaps when people denigrate talking, they are denigrating the type of talking that doesn’t allow them to connect with others or enter into a deeper space of meaning. Our binary thinking therefore dismisses one in the favour of the other. What if the process of changemaking requires both talk AND action?

My sense is that action without talk is highly dangerous. Or let me say that another way; Read more

To solve or not to solve? Is that the question?

Sometimes in exploring the ethical dimensions of changemaking, I get to the point of wondering whether not solving the problem is actually ethically better than solving it. But then I wonder whether that is the right question to ask at all. Perhaps there is a third option to whether to solve or not solve a problem.

A few years back I was heading up a business development team at a mid-sized nonprofit, as we were going through a significant turnaround of the operation. The stakes were high, and the existing business model was by-and-large ineffective. It was not hitting mission spectacularly, and was draining cash. The staff were investing enormous love and energy to make this work.

It was a creative time that required the team to be highly entrepreneurial. We were needing to be quick and agile in identifying problems and coming up with creative solutions. We were up for the challenge, enjoying it and most of the time doing pretty well.

I started to observe though that as soon as we solved a problem, a new one often emerged. We seemed to be on this endless cycle of problem-solution-problem-solution. We got in this rhythm of being ‘fix-it’ people, always on the ready to fix what was not working. We were champions for what the social consciousness was telling the world about the need to be ‘solutions-focused’. Read more

How to rescue a racehorse

About a month ago a guy pitched me his idea in an elevator (yes, it actually happens). His idea was to ‘rescue a racehorse’. Actually, he wanted to not just rescue one racehorse, he wanted to rescue thousands of them. He explained to me what he saw as a problem of racehorses being slaughtered for the use of dog food. This problem by his accounts is not insignificant – one site quotes 18,000 Australia horses slaughtered each year.

The guy who pitched me the idea was a successful entrepreneur in his own right. Not having worked in the ‘social entrepreneurship’ space he wanted some quick advice as to what legal structure he should adopt. I replied along the lines of “these problems are often more complex than simple legal advice would warrant”. Despite his confidence in the solution, I managed to convince him that we should meet to discuss.

When we sat down the following week to explore the problem of racehorse slaughter, the complexity of the problem became more apparent. His original idea was to set up an organisation that allowed people to adopt racehorses or foals that were being sent to slaughter. He had a neat little funding model for it, and sales campaign idea that at first glance seemed like it would be attractive to people out in the market.

I asked him what other new problems this ‘rescuing’ might create. We came up with a list including: Read more

There’s a hole in my bucket: a theory of change

I have long been fascinated by the theories and principles upon which changemakers or social entrepreneurs build their businesses or programs. Having a ‘theory of change’ has become an expected feature of any social organisation be it part of their marketing or a more fundamental driver of their work.

The common theory of change in the western world has been influenced by rational, linear thinking: if we engage in a certain activity, then it will this short term impact, then this long term impact. This is most readily seen in the logic model form of:

Need/Problem > Activity/Solution> Outputs > Short-term Outcomes > Long-term Outcomes

Articulating a theory of change in this way often assumes that all outcomes are positive or successful. This linear model of change denies the complexity that ‘change-work’ exists within, and almost always excludes new problems that are created by the activity (or solution).

Read more