Does this sound familiar?
Someone is newly hired into a position of influence or leadership at an organization. One of the first things they do is propose investing considerable resources into making a big change.
The organization says "yes!" because it's new and different, instead of evaluating the proposal on its merits. Time and money is spent, things are changed. And then the new hire moves on to another organization, leaving things in turmoil. Maybe someone else is hired and the process repeats. Oh no!
Maybe you've seen it play out in these ways:
- A new director of marketing wants to change the logo, tagline and reprint all promotional assets.
- A new website manager wants to change the underlying Content Management System.
- A new lead back-end developer wants to change the underlying software framework or database system.
- A new lead front-end developer wants to redesign the website from the ground up.
- A new CEO wants to change the company from distributed to centralized, or vice versa.
- A new HR manager wants to switch to a new payroll system.
- A new customer support manager wants to switch to a new support ticketing system.
- A new office manager wants to install a new phone system.
- A new finance director wants to switch accounting systems.
And so on.
Sometimes these changes are absolutely the best and most important things to happen at an organization. If it's been avoiding switching to better tools or processes because of apathy or fear, having a new voice in the mix can be just the thing needed to push everyone in a better direction.
But I suspect many times these kinds of changes are being used by the new hire as way to establish their value and power. They want everyone to know that there was how things were done before they arrived, and how things will be done moving forward. And if the new way is derived solely from their personality or preferences, everyone will need to depend on them to figure out best practices.
When these unhealthy dynamics are the driving force behind a big change it can be at best a huge disruption and waste, and maybe even an existential threat to the organization's work, services or products.
Continue reading I'm new here, let's change everything
I suspect that reading Tony Saghbiny's book The Millennium Curse: Why Activism is Failing might be a disturbing experience for you. It was for me.
If you consider yourself an activist in any form, there's a good chance that the book will challenge some aspect of the way you think about what kinds of activism are useful and effective. If you're proud of the successful Facebook or Twitter campaigns you've orchestrated to raise awareness about a certain issue, you'll probably be made uncomfortable. If you have invested heavily in becoming the change you wish to see in the world, you might feel insulted or deflated. If you think of yourself as a pacifist, you might feel like hitting something. And if you're pretty content with the status quo, or if you're not someone who appreciates activism in any form, it might be upsetting to think about the very existence of such a book, let alone some of its implications.
The Millennium Curse tackles head on the question of why much of modern activism is proving itself to be largely ineffective.
Continue reading Why Activism is Failing
I recently met with a local organization involved in environmental education efforts to talk about the status of sustainability education in Richmond and Wayne County. In preparing for that conversation, I put together a list of what I see as some of the challenges our community faces when it comes to becoming more sustainable and self-reliant: Continue reading Sustainability challenges in Richmond
Is working hard to make personal changes in our lives, especially when it comes to living sustainably, a futile effort in the face of all the other kinds of unsustainable things going on in the world? Is personal lifestyle change effective?
I've asked a version of this question before: Must we become the change we wish to see in the world? You can maybe tell that there's a theme here - impactful personal lifestyle change is not often convenient, and sometimes it is downright scary. But that's not a reason not to spend as much energy and time as it takes to try to live more sustainably, right? Change has to happen with each person individually before we can expect the system to change, right?
Or does it?
Continue reading Is personal lifestyle change effective?
Is it really important to practice what you preach?
Must we really become the change we wish to see in the world?
As I try to work in my life and community to create a peaceful and sustainable existence, these are questions that churn in my head daily.
On a personal level, I think a lot of us struggle with living out the values we hold - we have aspirations and ideals about ourselves and the world we live in that can seem hard to enact, even when the path might feel clear.
But when you start to talk about how the rest of the world could be - even should be - the conversation goes beyond issues of self-discipline, time management, or having sufficient support and encouragement. When we talk about sharing a message with others about how we want the world to be and perhaps suggest they change their behavior to get there, it becomes a question of whether there's a practical or ethical obligation to already first be living out that existence well as the messenger.
Some people say you have to transform your own life first before you can expect others to transform theirs at your suggestion. Do we?
It's a privilege to volunteer in one's community. In one sense it's literally a privilege of having the time and means to say "I'm doing okay enough in my own life that I want to share some of my energy in service to the lives of others." In another sense, it's a privilege of publicly holding up what's important to us, a way of honoring our own roles in a community and the value that it has to us. My involvement in the Wayne County area is a way of showing not only my own interest in making it a better place for me and my loved ones to live, but also a way of making a commitment to the lives and needs of those who I don't know that well, who I can't necessarily relate to, who will be here long after I'm gone.
Continue reading On volunteering
Thanks to Paul Retherford for pointing me to this essay, Beyond Sustainability: Why an All-Consuming Campaign to Reduce Unsustainability Fails. Highlight:
Our very approach to solving the “problem” of unsustainability is grounded in a mindset that prevents sustainability from emerging. Always anchored to the past, the future is envisioned as being bigger or better. But such an approach will always keep us rooted in the past. To escape from the past, one must think in an entirely different way.
The current ideal of sustainability, as sustainable development, is not a vision for the future. It is merely a modification of the current process of economic development that its proponents claim, in theory, need not cause the terribly destructive consequences of the past. Sustainable development is fundamentally instrumental. It suggests new means, but still old ends. Sustainable appears as an adjective; the noun is still development.
As I look at sustainability efforts in my own life and at sustainability as a local progressive value, it's important to me that someone out there has the right words to say what so many people are afraid to say: there are ways in which the survival of life on Earth is in conflict with traditional economic development, a.k.a. the continued growth of our civilization. Many sustainability efforts are purely or primarily anthropocentric, and therefore fail by definition.
This essay doesn't have all the answers, but it's got a good grip on that particular problem.