Recently I spoke at BarCamp Canberra about my tips and tricks to changing the world. I thought it might be useful to get people thinking about how they can best contribute to the world, according to their skills and passions.
Completely coincidentally, my most excellent boss did a talk a few sessions ahead of me which was the American Civil War version of the same thing 🙂 I highly recommend it. John Sheridan – Lincoln, Lee and ICT: Lessons from the Civil War.
So you want to change the world?
Here are the tactics I use to some success. I heartily recommend you find what works for you. Then you will have no excuse but to join me in implementing Operation World Awesomeness.
The Short Version:
No wasted movement.
The Long Version:
1) Pick your battles: there are a million things you could do. What do you most care about? What can you maintain constructive and positive energy about even in the face of towering adverseries and significant challenges? What do you think you can make a difference in? There is a subtle difference between choosing to knock down a mountain with your forehead, and renting a bulldozer. If you find yourself expending enormous energy on something, but not making a difference, you need to be comfortable to change tactics.
2) Work to your strengths: everyone is good at something. If you choose to contribute to your battle in a way that doesn’t work to your strengths, whatever they are, then you are wasting energy. You are not contributing in the best way you can. You need to really know yourself, understand what you can and can’t do, then do what you can do well, and supplement your army with the skills of others. Everyone has a part to play and a meaningful way to contribute. FWIW, I work to know myself through my martial arts training, which provides a useful cognitive and physical toolkit to engage in the world with clarity. Find what works for you. As Sun Tzu said: know yourself.
3) Identify success: Figure out what success actually looks like, otherwise you don’t have either a measurement of progress, nor a measurement of completion. I’ve seen too many activists get caught up on a battle and continued fighting well beyond the battle being won, or indeed keep hitting their heads against a battle that can’t be won. It’s important to continually be monitoring and measuring, holding yourself to account, and ensuring you are making progress. If not, change tactics.
4) Reconnaissance: do your research. Whatever your area of interest there is likely a body of work that has come before you that you can build upon. Learn about the environment you are working in, the politics, the various motivations and interests at play, the history and structure of your particular battlefield. Find levers in the system that you can press for maximum effect, rather than just straining against the weight of a mountain. Identify the various moving parts of the system and you have the best chance to have a constructive and positive influence.
5) Networks & Mentors: identify all the players in your field. Who is involved, influential, constructive, destructive, effective, etc. It is important to understand the motivations at play so you can engage meaningfully, collaboratively and build a mutually beneficial network in the persuit of awesomeness. Strong mentors are a vital asset and they will teach you how to navigate the rapids and make things happen. A strong network of allies is also vital to keep you on track, and accountable, and true to your own purpose. People usually strive to meet the expectations of those around them, so surround yourself with high expectations. Knowing your network also helps you identify issues and opportunities early.
6) Sustainability: have you put in place a succession plan? How will your legacy continue on without you? It’s important if your work is to continue on that it not be utterly reliant upon one individual. You need to share your vision, passion and success. Glory shared is glory sustained, so bring others on board, encourage and support them to succeed. Always give recognition and thanks to people who do great stuff.
7) Patience: remember the long game. Nothing changes overnight. It always take a lot of work and persistence, and remembering the long game will help during those times when it doesn’t feel like you are making progress. Again, your network is vital as it will help you maintain your strength, confidence and patience 🙂 Speaking of which, a huge thanks to Geoff Mason for reminding me of this one on the day.
8) Shifting power: it is worth noting that we are living in the most exciting of times. Truly. Individuals are more empowered than ever before to do great things. The Internet has created a mechanism for the mass distribution of power, but putting into the hands of all people (all those online anyway), the tools to:
- publish and access knowledge;
- communicate and collaborate with people all around the world;
- monitor and hold others to account including companies, governments and individuals;
- act as enforcers for whatever code or law they uphold. This is of course quite controversial but fascinating nonetheless; and
- finally, with the advances in 3D printing and nanotechnology, we are on the cusp of all people having unprecedented access to property.
Side note: Poverty and hunger, we shall overcome you yet! Then we just urgently need to prioritise education of all the people. But that is a post for another day 🙂 Check out my blog post on Unicorns and Doom, which goes into my thoughts on how online culture is fundamentally changing society.
This last aspect is particularly fascinating as it changes the game from one between the haves and the have nots, to one between those with and those without skills and knowledge. We are moving from a material wealth differentiation in society towards an intellectual wealth differentiation. Arguable we always had the latter, but the former has long been a bastion for law, structures, power and hierarchies. And it is all changing.
“What better place than here, what better time than now?” — RATM
6 thoughts on “So you want to change the world?”
I like the “12 leverage points” by Donella Meadows – its worth knowing what the levers are for changing systems, and how much power they can exert:
Really? Thanks Alexander. That is really lovely feedback 🙂
This is a great post!
I like both your short and long versions Pia. I particularly like your point 6 because that is often where we fail. People feel threatened by excellent work done by their predecessor so they dismantle it instead of building on it even when it makes them less successful themselves.
I owe you an apology. So next time you see me kick me.
You do write sooo well. I was just a little pissed cause you led me to that OKFN place and then didn’t reply to this one. http://lnkd.in/WdTy95 I had hopes of having a place in Oz where we could bring some National discussions together with some global ones. The OKFN seems to be a likely way to do this.
So much of what you are trying to achieve is just a matter of leading by example, and as much as this blog is pretty good at exposing you brilliance, people learn by watching what others do, and I don’t want to see you get burnt out. It’s my concern with many of my more imaginative correspondents.
You really did save me (from my introspection after my lady died), when i saw what you where doing with kate and the public sphere. And you won’t appreciate, when i saw the chaos you were reponsible for – the link up between sites down the east coast – just what a flashback it was. It put me back into a 1970’s frame of mind, when this monster was three studios in Australia. http://byronbay.sae.edu/en-gb/content/9531/About_Us All we’re looking at now is formalising, on a few networks, what you we’re doing then (and again at govcamp).
Now we have another media revolution going on. The only shortcoming being that everyone’s (overly) excited about the new (socalled) social stuff and almost entirely ignore the old broadcast, and how we get some balance between the two. Every time i see you (and some others) on a stage, all I can think is why isn’t this being transmitted by the National broadcaster, and Global viewers directed to a “virtual room”.
Like you, I’m a bit Buddhist in my thinking. So i appreciate what the western world sees as battles are simply indicators of a new (media) institution trying to work it’s way out of the old institutional config. Why does everyone insist on using their institutional DNameS to point to a ip address? (when what they are trying to do is point at the groups between them).
Re: patience. My timeframes are a lot longer than most. I measure things in decades these days, not years. But so far as Innovation always requires the time/social atmosphere/milleu to be ripe, we’re going to see that after the (Aussie and German) elections are over. So the next 12 months are going to see Aussies question/attack their institutions as much as citizens have been doing in Europe and The Americas for the past 4 years. (We’ve been so lucky to have been isolated by being China’s quarry).
OK enough. My apologies again. http://tiny.cc/k1fza I’ll leave you with this one, as i’d like to see about getting a proof-of-concept together, if we can get a few research councils in a few countries to coodinate their funding. http://tiny.cc/k1fza This all revolve around developments at my.gov.au , and (what are at the moment) “non-gov” or edu services. You’ve got James as a linchpin here. You might also like to do some reading about WAYF and edugain. All my best. Your fan (although I’m still not paying for your autograph.)