Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

13 May 2016

How we create change: trying something radically different

Posted by Michael Keating

By Eric Hellman

This is the sixth in a series of articles on how we can create change more effectively, by my associate Eric Hellman, co-founder of the first Blue box recycling program, and co-author of the bestselling book “Leadership from Within.”

In my last article, I described how our “convince, control, push and punish” approach to creating change may not be bringing the results we really want. And, that it might actually be increasing resistance, and decreasing openness and willingness to the very changes we want to make.


How we make change now

What I’ve learned from personal experience is that the way we make change comes out of the mindset we hold. A mindset is like a lens through which we see the world, and the primary state of mind we use to respond to it. To better understand how this affects what we do, let me describe again briefly the “two mindsets” in human nature that shape our choices, moment to moment.

One mindset within us operates out of conflict, lack and fear. This might be called the negative ego or separate self. It sees life in terms of scarcity and competition, that there isn’t enough “good” to go around, and it’s my interests vs. yours. It regularly judges and criticizes others, while defending its own beliefs. And it tries to improve life by getting others to do what we want or think is best.

The other mindset in us acts in the opposite way. Coming from a sense of connection, love and sufficiency, it sees our interconnectedness with the rest of life. This part of us – which might be called the whole or true self – fosters collaboration, giving and caring for one another. It respects our feelings and truths, while also listening to and valuing others’. When operating from this mindset, we act on our highest values and deepest insights, not just for self-interest but for the larger good as well.

As a keen observer of personal, business, social, political and environmental change for many decades, what I’ve seen is that most often people are motivated by the first mindset. That is, in trying to create happier relationships, more successful businesses or a safer, healthier world, they focused on changing other people, using whatever power they had to persuade, convince, control or pressure others to change. Unfortunately, the results are far less than what we want and need, and our problems and conflicts continue to grow. So what if we tried a different approach. Suppose we used the “other mindset” within us to launch a radically different way of creating change. Here’s an example: Instead of trying to convince and push people to live more sustainably, what if we focused on helping them discover what aspect of “being sustainable” appeals most to them? In other words, what inspires, makes them feel more hopeful and alive, and engages their creativity. Some aspect of living sustainably that they would love to do, and want to do more of. This may sound crazy, but consider it for a few moments.

If sustainability is going to last, it will need to be something that’s internally motivated rather than primarily externally driven (i.e., through laws and regulations). It also can’t just be a “should” or a “have to.” It needs to be a “want to.” Otherwise, people will avoid or stop the behaviour as soon as they are able. Change agents know the power of engaging in work that deeply calls or matters. That’s why we do what we do. So what if the next wave of “change work” was helping others find that same place inside themselves.

What might that look like? Well, rather than tell people what they should do, we’d ask and assist them to discover what speaks to them. Maybe it will be climate change. Species extinction. Garbage. Or energy conservation. But what if their main interest isn’t environmental sustainability at all? Suppose it’s social sustainability. Such as conflict resolution. Health. Poverty. Housing. Creating collaboration, community and connectedness. Or financial sustainability. Generating enough income to make ends meet. Living with less debt. Making a living and having a life. Working with purpose. Doing something they love, and creating meaningful work for others. Or, perhaps they’re most concerned with personal sustainability. Finding healthy ways to cope with work demands and time pressures. Transforming addictions. Dealing with anger. Or healing relationship conflicts and family divisions.

If our goal is to create lasting societal sustainability, then ALL of these are important because lack, fear or insecurity in one area will drive unsustainable behaviours in other areas. Encouraging people to do what matters to them will not only engage their hearts, souls, values and purpose, but we will all benefit by their experience in how to live more sustainably in these areas of our own lives.


Connecting the ends with the means

By approaching change in this way, we would be fostering more than new behaviours. We would be growing a new culture, one in which people are asked and listened to, not just told how to live. They would be encouraged to honour their feelings and values, instead of being told to suck it up, grin and bear it, or be untrue to themselves. Our focus would shift from trying to control people to helping them discover what creates more joy, meaning, security, sufficiency and happiness in their lives. And to do this, we will need to learn how to do it more effectively for ourselves.

Such an approach goes beyond behaviour change. It’s a fundamental shift in thinking and relating. It’s also about connecting “what” we do and “how” we do it, or how we treat each other in the process of change. What I’ve learned from working this way is that the ends don’t justify the means; the ends are the outcome of the means. Understanding this has improved both the results I get, and my effectiveness in creating the change I seek.

So here’s a hypothesis to test: When the process of how we make change becomes aligned with the goals and values we want to grow in society – such as those proposed in reports like Canada as a Conserver Society (Science Council of Canada), Our Common Future (Brundtland), Caring for the Earth (World Conservation Union et al), and the Earth Charter (for more on these, see Michael Keating’s article) – do we become more successful at creating positive change and greater sustainability for all?


The next wave of change?

To some, this approach may sound too airy-fairy or idealistic to be effective. But the fact is, this shift in thinking has already begun.

It’s alive in projects like Run for the (Cancer) Cure at CIBC and Friends of the Environment Foundation at TDCanadaTrust, which were initiated by employees acting on their personal values. It’s happening in employee engagement programs at Google and Starbucks, where people are paid to do community work that matters to them. It’s evident in the social change and Me-to-We programs led by Craig and Mark Kielburger, and in the thousands of environmental and social initiatives now being launched by young people in schools. And it’s being supported by new financial initiatives such as community bonds, microfinancing and crowd sourcing, which are giving people with good ideas the money to take action.

We’re seeing the shift to “internally-driven change” in other ways as well. It’s a core part of the entrepreneurial revolution, seen in TV shows like Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den. It’s evident in the growth of purpose-driven small businesses, and in organizations like the Centre for Social Innovation, which helps them to connect. It’s at the heart of larger movements such as corporate social responsibility, conscious capitalism and spirituality at work. It is found in more personal initiatives – such as Warren Buffett’s pledge to give 99 per cent of his wealth to philanthropic causes; the creation of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and its work on global health, development and education; and Giving Pledge, an initiative of Buffett and Gates that encourages billionaires to give at least half their wealth to charity. It’s also one of the seeds behind Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft), Jeff Bezos (founder of Google) and Mark Zuckerman (founder of Facebook) becoming involved in the 2015 Paris Climate Change conference, and launching (with many others) the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which aims at advancing and investing in clean energy technology around the globe.

I believe that the next wave of social and environmental change will see much more of this shift – from external pressure and control to internal motivation – because it is a more sustainable process of change. It will have many aspects, from fostering the caring spirit within all of us to encouraging people to express this. Giving people new models of what’s possible and the tools to take action. Supporting them to get what they most need and want in life, and doing the same for ourselves. All of these will have their roots in the same thinking, and therein lies the power of shifting mindsets for creating change.

When we act from this different place inside of us – call it love, shared interests, caring or authenticity – people get it. They can see it in our eyes, hear it in our voices and feel it in our energy. When they know we care about them as well, they trust us more as a result. They become more willing to listen, act or collaborate. And this creates better results for all of us. By giving out of this consciousness, we grow it in others. But in order to give it, we also need to nurture it in ourselves.


The power of “I want to”

What is the power of unleashing the “I want to” in people? One of the best examples we have in recent years is the Apple iPhone. To paraphrase Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer of the company, in an interview with Charlie Rose: “We didn’t do it to turn the company around. We did it because we wanted to create the best possible product.” Their desire for and commitment to quality so touched the “I want to” in consumers that it helped make Apple the most valuable company in the world.

I also had a taste of this in the creation of the Blue Box. Before we launched, we could feel the deep desire of people to contribute to the environment. This became tangible in their enthusiasm for recycling and the rapid growth of the program. But it soon moved way beyond that, as the language and forms of “making a difference” spread around the globe. At the root, however, was still the same, simple idea: people wanting to make the world a better place, by doing something that mattered to them.

When given practical ways to act on our caring, people do take action. So how do we grow more of this? For me, it starts by asking two basic questions:

“In your heart of hearts, what would you like to do?” And second, “How can I help?”


Eric Hellman is a communications coach and change consultant, who lives in Vancouver, B.C. For more on his work, see www.consciouschange.info and www.erichellman.com. Or contact him at erichellman@rogers.com.

Coming Next: More examples of what works (and doesn’t) in creating change

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