Leading vs. Convincing

Everyone despairs at the enormous task of building awareness among people who don't "get it", yet, there are hundreds of thousands of people who "get it" already, desperately asking every day "but what can I do ?". Is it naive to think that the tipping point now lies not in convincing the laggards, but rather in the rest of us helping each other to discover just what we can do now, within our current sphere of influence? And am I crazy to think that spending some more resources on teaching those who want to learn, and less on convincing those who don't, will have a larger impact?

Last night we had another speaker session open to the public where Manfred Max-Neef, Per Carsted, and Karlhenrik Robert (three of the big-wigs) spoke and answered questions in a round-table fashion. From talking with the audience and listening to their questions, it was easy to see that the task is not convincing them that there is a problem, but rather helping them to understand what they can do. Each one of them was there because they know that we are in trouble. The most asked question was "what can I do?". Then, this morning in class, when talking about the role of business in sustainability, there was so much anxiety and despair among the class about how we can convince the leaders of business to open their eyes and understand .

I think we tend to have a dream in which one person convinces five, and those five in turn convince five others, and so on and so forth, until the entire world realizes shares the sense of urgency. In our own urgency we miss the fact that while they may be able to create a sense of urgency in a few, this urgency comes with a need for help in making sense of this new-found awareness. By then of course, the prophet is already off trying to convert new disciples, and eventually the earlier converts pack that sense of urgency away under unanswered questions, returning to life as normal.

But what if we remove barriers to understanding and wait for people to come to the realization on their own (as so many already have!). What if we are there, offering to help them and coach them, provide vision, make sure that they have what they need to deepen their own understanding (as so many long for!). These people can then remove barriers for others who are slowly coming to the same conclusion, because they understand, they can coach, they can lead . The growth may take longer, because understanding takes time, but would it not be much more powerful to have a small but growing number of people who accept, know, and live the change than a large number of people who have an incomplete understanding, and do not know how to apply it to their lives? Who has more influence? One person in the lowest position of a company with a firm vision and moving strategically toward it with regards to their own life, or the executive who kind-of-understands, but has no motivation to act on that understanding.

Last night Max-Neef told a story in response to the question "But what can I do?" It was a story that he came up with while on the campaign trail for president of Chile. He was an independent candidate, he had no money, he didn't even want to be the president, he simply wanted to put the taboo issues on the table. He received 7% of the vote. At one stop, one of his supporters, overwhelmed by the odds, asked him "But what can we do compared to such a great power and momentum?" His answer was:

Imagine you are in a field. In front of you is a mad rhino getting ready to charge. The most stupid thing you can do is to think that you are a rhino too. But what can defeat a rhino? The answer is the mosquito cloud, The mosquito cloud is more powerful than the rhinoceros. It has no leader, so it can not be beheaded. It sticks together. It grows and grows, buzzes and buzzes, driving the rhino mad.

Now my question is twofold: How can we be mosquitos? How can we remove the nets that block others who want to be mosquitos as well?

Comments about Leading vs. Convincing

Professor Cameron, I think you’re on to something. And, add my buzz to the amplifying cloud, will you?

Posted by: Mandy at November 19, 2004 04:41 AM