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How to Change the World
Zaid Hassan, 28 Nov 03

"How to Change the World: Lessons for Entrepreneurs from Activists"
by Adam Kahane

It's a question that keep us folks here at worldchanging awake late at night scratching our heads, burning the proverbial candle at both ends. How to change the world? Inspiration comes from a friend, Adam Kahane (Generon Consulting), who as he describes it, has been "commuting between two very different worlds: the world of entrepreneurs and the world of activists."

Asking himself the questions:

"How can we change the world? How can we make an impact for the better? How can we influence the future? And the question I want to focus on here, how does all this relate to business?"

Adam has penned a wonderful little article, which outlines his experiences over the last 14 years working on a bunch of things including civic scenario projects from South Africa to Guatamala, talking to politicians and guerillas, civil servants and community leaders, trade unionists and clergymen.

A taste:

"The people I have met who are most effective at changing the world have two qualities. On the one hand, they are extraordinarily committed, body and soul, to the change they want to see in the world, to a goal larger than themselves. On the other hand, they are extraordinarily open to listening to what is happening in the world, in others, and in themselves. Do you know the joke, “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change”? My paradoxical conclusion is that to change the world, you both have to be committed to changing it and be able to listen to how it wants to change."

Take it away Adam.

"Let me summarize with a story about a rabbi who, like me, set out to change the world. He found that he wasn’t making much progress, so he tried to change his country. This was also too difficult, so he tried to change his neighborhood. When he didn’t have success there, he tried to change his family. Even that was easier said than done, so he tried to change himself. Then
an interesting thing happened. When he had changed himself, his family changed. And when his family changed, his neighborhood changed. When his neighborhood changed, his country changed. And when his country changed, the world changed."

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I've known Adam since the mid-90s, when he was involved with GBN. He worked on a set of scenarios in South Africa which were the first articulation of what a peaceful transition from Apartheid might look like. He knows what it means to try to change the world.

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 28 Nov 03

Made me think of this:

Changing the World
By Danny Hillis

"Like much of my generation, I grew up believing that I should try to "change the world," presumably for the better. But I didn't know how to do this. Looking at how other people have changed the world I concluded there are five ways of doing it: Some people change the world by imposing their will on it. Some people change the world by discovering a truth. Some people change the world by changing people's minds. Some people change the world by creating things of great beauty. Some people change the world by making new tools for change.

"Although I can admire all of these, the last mode of changing the world is the one that appeals to me the most. As a dramatic example of changing the world by making new tools, I include the creation of the Internet. I would also list something like building the rural credit system in Bangladesh as another example. Changing the world in this way can involve changing people's minds, and can entail imposing one's will to some extent, but it is mostly about enabling other people to change—by giving them tools to do so. This feels like progress.

"The other appeal of tool creating is that change brought about this way is self-sustaining and self-correcting. By self-sustaining, I mean you can use tools to make other new tools. This gives enabling tools a self-amplifying effect that can gain importance with time. I like that. I feel this is a very different way to change the world from trying to impose your will on it, because when you do that the world tends to snap back after you stop trying, or after you leave. Also, enabling change through tools is self-correcting. People who try to change the world by imposing their will on it often cause unintended harm, because the consequences of the change are hard to predict. When the beneficiaries control the change themselves, they have a lot more opportunity for feedback. Thus, change of this sort has a better chance of being good.

"I still want to change the world, but now I know how I want to do it: by making new tools for change."

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 29 Nov 03

Yeah but Disney? Really now! ;-)

Posted by: Zaid Hassan on 30 Nov 03



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