Building The World You Wish Existed

creativity inner strength positive change in the world social impact systems change Nov 20, 2021

My daughter attends an excellent Montessori school here in Jackson, Mississippi. This week, she had an incident in the playground during recess where a classmate pushed her against a fence and held her down. She hurt her elbow when that happened. Later that evening, she told my husband and me about the incident, and the next morning, I went to her school to talk to her teachers. Our issue wasn’t so much that the incident happened - although it really bothered us it did - rather that incident could have been prevented with the right systems of monitoring the children when they played in the playground. Her teacher assured me they were taking steps to prevent incidents like these from happening again.

The reason I’m telling you this is that humans operate by the design of our environments and the systems that others put in place. Systems either constrain unacceptable behaviors or reward good ones.

Systems can also enable the inherent good in people to flourish to benefit other people and the planet by removing impediments to desirable outcomes.

Systems can either provide extrinsic motivations to do good through punishment or rewards or empower people to act on their own intrinsic motivations to do good. 

Today, man-made stuff outweighs all life on earth, as this article in Scientific American shows.

"Roads, houses, shopping malls, fishing vessels, printer paper, coffee mugs, smartphones and all the other infrastructure of daily life now weigh in at approximately 1.1 trillion metric tons—equal to the combined dry weight of all plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, archaea, and protists on the planet. The creation of this human-made mass has rapidly accelerated over the past 120 years: Artificial objects have gone from just 3 percent of the world’s biomass in 1900 to on par with it today. And the amount of new stuff being produced every week is equivalent to the average body weight of all 7.7 billion people."

This statistic, as the chart below shows, is staggering and frightening.

Credit: Amanda Montañez; Source: “Global Human-Made Mass Exceeds All Living Biomass,” by Emily Elhacham et al., in Nature. Published online December 9, 2020

The question we need to ask and figure out is “what systems do we have in place” that resulted in this conundrum and “which of those systems can we change to produce the result we want” i.e., reduce anthropogenic waste.

To create an impact that is meaningful and sustainable, we need to understand how to be creative in changing systems in society that produce unwanted outcomes.

Systems change can happen in 4 different modalities - laws, norms, markets, and architecture. If we change one of these modalities, we change behavior.

1. Laws change behavior through incentives and punishments
2. Norms change behavior through social expectations and ostracization
3. Markets change behavior through the price mechanism
4. Architecture, whether physical, geographical, or by design, change behavior through infrastructure

Changing any of these systems would “nudge” people towards the right behavior and, by extension, produce desirable outcomes. In this sense, we would become choice architects to direct behavior towards particular outcomes.

Here, we can create the world we wish existed by providing cues that would create the external motivation to change.

In our anthropogenic waste example, we could change laws to punish excessive production of waste or reward more responsible consumption and disposal. We could change social norms where excessive waste is frowned upon. Or we could change the infrastructure we’ve built to encourage the mass production of infrastructure and physical goods that feed human consumption by, for example, changing software or code to facilitate responsible purchasing and consumption. Or we can change markets by providing cheaper substitutes or alternatives to fulfill the same purpose as the purchase and consumption of goods.

By being creative in changing these systems, you can effectively build the world you wish existed.

But how do we be creative in changing systems?

The most foundational way to be creative in creating the world you wish existed is to cultivate and unleash your own intrinsic motivation for wanting a better world and doing good. When you ignite your intrinsic motivation to do good, you build not only the world you wished existed; you create it.

Your intrinsic motivation to create a better world grows from 5 crucial things I call the 5Cs. Each one of these helps you build and grow the inner motivation to build a life of purpose, have autonomy, and master the business you are building.
1. Clarity - being clear about what impact looks like and how to go about creating it
2. Creativity - being creative about the solutions that are available to you
3. Courage - being courageous to take a stand and pursue it
4. Compassion - being compassionate enough to continue to create a better world
5. Community - having the community to support you and help you achieve your goals

Next week, how do you get people to support you in creating the world you wish existed?

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