What we think about when we think about change-making in society

Many young people have passed by this station before – thinking about how they can make the world a better place. With that lens, identifying the opportunities for change becomes too easy. You see how there are poor people, and wonder why they are poor; you think about why there is congestion in the day and how to reduce that; you think about the stresses that people experience and think about if there are other modes of living that haven’t been thought of.

And then you wonder if other people have started to embark on making changes, and you will soon find many – there are many associations and organizations that are founded on the premise on making the lives of some better; on a more philosophical point, you start to see the point of effective governance, and the need for a strong public sector; along the way, you see how products that are meant to make people’s lives better become the way to make money.

Another step along the way to imagining better worlds often comes passes the stop of “mindset change” or “paradigm change” – thinking about things through a systems-lens – understanding how there are people and structures that interact with one another to create the phenomena we see. Systems thinking/dynamics is a pretty established discipline – we actually think like this everytime we think in a broader context. The same also applies to any project of creating change.

The structures we see in reality depend on indicators. More than that, indicators reflect the assumptions and the thinking behind the way systems operate. Over time, these indicators become important and become the points on which whole systems turn. Grades that were used to evaluate students’ level of understanding become the basis for promotion for teachers and principals; GDP runs the economic thinking of policy makers across the world even though all it measures is economic activity; on the other hand, there is less emphasis on the ecosystem services – just to point to one underrated variable.

The other thing that people ought to think about when creating change is this: think about the structures in organizations. Think about who could win and who could lose from these changes that are being proposed. Think about how the losers and winners might react to this. Will the losers lose too much that they object violently to new changes? Who wins more? How can these changes be equitable? How do we keep the losers on the side of change?

I find that the talk of change-making often does not go deeper than this. Prevailing discussion tends to have a naive view that change will come about and be introduced without resistance, and will be accepted wholeheartedly in any organization or institution in society. That is clearly not the case. Any change results in people winning and losing. In the rational sense, we often weigh this as costs and benefits but in reality, change is an emotional issue. To ignore the emotional aspect of change would be to ignore the reality of human psyche.

There’s a lot more to this entire issue, obviously, and there’s an entire industry – literally devoted to change management and all that. More to come in future posts.

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One comment

  1. Doug O

    Thanks Eddie for the thought leadership and sharing in this article. This looks like the beginning of a book 🙂

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