4 Principles For Creating Change, And 4 Barriers That Make It Harder

Finding ways to disrupt society for the better can be difficult, but by avoiding these pitfalls and following these steps, change makers can create real impact.

Many people now are struggling to make change; to drive social or environmental impact whether they are social entrepreneurs or people working from within organizations to make a difference. In this piece, we wanted to focus on thinking about how communities of change makers can thrive. It’s not enough for change making to be the sole remit of a handful of do-gooders or NGOs. By highlighting some of the barriers and core principles that are vital to the success of a world in which everyone is a change maker, we hope to begin to mainstream the art of change making and destroy the social entrepreneur’s monopoly on social change.


Barrier 1: Experts As Idols

Too often change making is outsourced to experts or social entrepreneurs rather than community members. While we may depend on experts for guidance, we often overly rely on them, believing "they" will fix problems. But it is rare for experts to move beyond diagnosing a problem to actually creating pathways for change. Social entrepreneurs, too, are illustrated as extraordinary superhuman individuals with talents that are beyond what you or I possess. This faith in social entrepreneurs as heroes and in experts as problem solvers provides a false story about how change in society occurs. Change does not happen by a few "chosen" individuals, but more often comes from ordinary citizens working to make a difference.

Barrier 2: Conditions Of Problem Solving Are Overlooked

Much of the time, we are quick to jump to tactical problem solving without fully reflecting on whether the conditions for it are put in place. Tackling the groundwork of problem solving can ensure that you go about diagnosing and resourcing the problem effectively. So, for example, ensuring that problem-solving communities are aligned in terms of a shared set of values or that the right diversity of thought, culture, and demographics are brought into the conversation from the beginning is critical to ensuring solutions that develop are properly embedded in a value system and process a community can get behind.

Barrier 3: Problems Aren’t Packaged For Change

One of the greatest difficulties in making change is feeling overwhelmed by the problem you are trying to solve. Problems may seem too big to take on. As a result, many people can feel paralyzed with little possibility for making a difference. This kind of thinking makes change making seem burdensome rather than something that can be fun or exciting. In contrast, successful change makers are able to break problems into manageable chunks. Once you identify something about an issue that is moveable or changeable then you can actually begin to make progress.

Barrier 4: Learning Is One to One

How do we learn to be change makers? Much of the art of change making involves soft skills that we absorb from others that model or demonstrate change making behaviors. This means that learning opportunities are limited by one-to-one interactions and by exposure to other change makers. Compared to traditional fields like entrepreneurship, where there are plentiful resources for training, the practice of change making is still far from being widespread.


Principle 1: Link Personal Stories With The Big Picture  

The first step in making change is moving from seeing a problem as a personal symptom (something that only impacts you) to seeing that problem as shared by a community or as part of a bigger picture of an entire system. Once a change maker comes to see their individual experience as symptomatic of a systemic injustice or challenge they become better able to develop a vision for social change.

Principle 2: Recognize Hidden Assets

Change making starts at home. Too often people look externally for resources or talent when there is great abundance in a local community. The move away from "deficit thinking" towards the recognition that communities have the assets to transform themselves is an important principle for change making.

Principle 3: Design For Divergence And Convergence

Making change requires escaping day-to-day reality and being able to experiment and think differently. Many change makers stress the importance of fostering "beginner’s mind" or a state of receptivity and openness. Sustaining change making also requires the creation of space for diverse collaboration between individuals and communities that don’t often get to converge. In this way, it’s important to break down walls, both mentally and physically, to allow for unlikely collaboration and insight.

Principle 4: Create Self-Regulating Networks

Often leaders or institutions promote dependency with a community. But successful change making communities depend on reducing dependence on one anointed leader. Flat networks and peer-based accountability structures are necessary if a community is to sustain change beyond one individual. The need for change communities and networks to be self-regulating is vital for their sustainability.

Jackson Pollock

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  • How Matters

    Great stuff! Indeed the social good industry has killer assumption it must face: That nothing exists, i.e. that there’s a blank slate upon which our interventions can be built. I wonder how much of it can be attributed to Robert F. Kennedy’s description of “the shaping impulse of America”? It’s the need to “create” and “build” rather than “strengthen,” “transform” and “amplify.” It’s magical thinking and a changing world means it’s time to shift this mindset. More at: http://www.how-matters.org/201...

  • R Andrew Ohge

    William Gibson wrote a novel not long ago that took an intellectual stroll around another missing facet. The novel, "Pattern Recognition", followed the output of a young woman making a living at what I would describe as pattern analysis.

    This has yet to be recognized as an asset in any kind of Product, Brand, or pretty much any creatively driven enterprise. By observing the evolution and interplay of patterns in the social stream, one can eventually begin to "mine" or extrapolate as yet unvisualized developments within the future stream.

    An example is the quantum principle of economics. Traditionally where streams of commerce crossed, towns, industries, business and creativity arose. The more crossed streams of commerce, the greater the city, but not only that, as those who perhaps unwittingly had this peculiar capacity began to see, these places actually had the power to CREATE new revenue chains. If one could prognosticate where these new chains would arise, there were riches and opportunities to be had.

    The development of Internet Commerce has amplified this effect. This is what REALLY "freaked" the central banks out in the mid to late 90's. There were trillions of dollars being created by web commerce that the banks had never originated other than issuing low rate Credit Cards. This was unheralded. 

    Their reaction? They began to grab back pieces "of the pie" by bumping interest rates. 

    Up to this time, thousands of new small businesses had come into being,not by utilizing SBA loans, but low rate credit instruments in the form of "Corporate Cards" that had limits ranging from $50-500K and rates at 3.99-7.99%. There was no paperwork involved beyond acquiring the card. Compare that to 9-11% and exhaustive filing paperwork for your SBA, it was a "no-brainer".

    While some of these businesses were laughable, most were much the same as any other new business, and in more cases than the Fed realized, had backing and business relationship networks with traditional businesses. If you double or triple the debt service of ANY new business, successful or not, in a short time that business will be headed for monthly cash-flow shortfalls. On a Credit Card, 1-2 late payments can move you to the "Default Rate" which, even at this time was around 30%+.

    The central banks have been simultaneously trying to keep a handle on this, while attempting to utilize it's principles ever since. They really don't see it. This is why "Pattern Analysis" will become another factor, perhaps the most important factor in "Creative Solutions" for Business and Brand development. Seeing where the resource chains might cross with sufficient "frisson" to create new chains, as well as identifying what Products or Services represent the emerging new chains, will become strategically more important, as the complexity of Web Commerce intensifies.

  • Merry Landings

     Dear Mr. Ohge,
    I was employed in the early 90s in just such a capacity. I served as senior data analyst for a 400-agency home health care delivery corporation. I developed the means within our company to "trend" performance using statistical software to generate patterns that would indicate various relationships and gaps in performance. I used the classic statistical tools to make the final assessment of performance which I then delivered at corporate meetings. The corporate leaders decided what to do with the information.

    At that time, we set "indicators" as company goals upon discovering there was an issue of performance or of policy that needed to be researched and solved or gotten a baseline on.Within that indicator were set criteria for measurement. As necessity is a mother of invention, this data was needed to generate information to prepare the corporation for Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Home Healthcare Agencies. If we knew within a close  margin where we lacked, we began our improvement processes before the regulating commission came into any of our agencies. Thus we were independently able to improve by studying the company from within the company based on pretty accurate data. Therein lies another piece to the puzzle B~o which can be saved for later.

    Do you agree that this was a form of employment in which patterns were used to assess the gaps or not in performance among our agencies? Patterns were the basis of the decisions whether improvement processes were needed, r-emeasurement was needed, or whether the company could move on the data. Some of the important items measured were as simple as whether we were within the law by looking at the logs used by the home health care nurses. Other items measured were patient satisfaction and employee satisfaction. Employee satisfaction levels taught us they would like more appreciation. We set an employee reward program into place.

    Were the nation's economy such an easy set of patterns to read! Good job on the article, and though I know I am off track it would seem, my connection point is actually a question: why? Why cannot the nation's leaders correct our collective path more creatively? It seems we have grown so complicated that we just need to simplify. What a tangled web we have woven.

    Thank you for reading and thank you for your article.