Tag Archive: change theory

Emily is incredibly fortunate to occasionally contribute her stories and thoughts to the Lift Blog maintained by some management and leadership experts she deeply admires, Bob and Ryan Quinn from the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia, respectively. This father/son pair wrote a book entitled “Lift: Becoming a Positive Force in Any Situation” that inspires the blog. This week, Ryan posted a blog that started to analyze an experience Emily had while trying to progress efforts for large scale environmental education and engagement. Ryan takes a first pass at understanding whether or not it matters if people believe in climate change… in this conversation and analysis- maybe it doesn’t.

Click here for the story/ analysis


The following is directly quoted from the “About Us” page on Dowser.  Nuff’ said, I think.  Subscribe to this website.

” Think of five problems facing the world.

Now think of five solutions.

If you found the first easier than the second, don’t worry. Everybody does.

We know much more about what’s broken than what’s being done to fix things.

We created Dowser to address this imbalance.

We’re living through a global social change renaissance. Millions of people are building organizations and social enterprises to attack problems using new ideas and models.

But most of this activity is hidden. The news is better at telling us what went wrong yesterday than what’s being done to make tomorrow better.

At Dowser, we present the world through a ‘solution frame,’ rather than a ‘problem frame.’ We’re interested in the practical and human elements of social innovation: Who’s solving what and how. We want to know how people come up with ideas, how they put them into practice, how they pay the bills, and what fuels their fire.

We don’t proselytize, provide feel good news, or celebrate a few heroes. We provide trustworthy news and provocative ideas with a discerning eye.

We’re open to any sector – nonprofit, business, government. And we’re interested in social innovators of any age in any field. We’ll be starting with stories in the U.S. and Canada. Later, we’ll expand globally.

Dowser is a place for anyone who cares about initiating positive change. We tell stories about people who are creatively attacking social problems. People who show how achievable it is to make an impact.

A dowser uses a divining rod to uncover water. We uncover stories of change.”

To answer the questions above (an interpretation of Daniel Pink’s concepts): It matters if the desired behavior is mechanical or requiring high-level cognitive processing . It matters whether the person whose behavior you’d like to change makes above a threshold range of income. Watch this beautiful video and think twice about the oft tried intervention of incentives to encourage innovation or complex problem solving in organizations

For Small Infinities (self-proclaimed change agents): Perhaps you watch this video and find that it is speaking your truth. “Duh.” You’ll say/think. Of course I am motivated by so much more than money. But isn’t it empowering to think that you are not the only one wired this way? What if you look at people around you as similarly motivated?  How do you create the context that helps them find meaning?

The University of Michigan connects its students to AMAZING people. Not too long ago I found myself in a casual conversation with a member of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during a presentation reception. The things said in that conversation have changed me forever.

The presentation preceding the conversation was about the amazing efforts our government is taking to address today’s problems through progressing science and technology. From carbon recapture to nano-everything, we seemed to be working on it. It felt really great to see such inertia in science under this administration.

That said, the picture painted seemed incomplete.

Given the urgent gravity of the problems the espoused technology are posed to solve, I was hoping to hear more “prongs” to the approach of solving them. Specifically, I wanted to hear about how the administration had scanned all the sciences, including social sciences, to identify many levers for addressing problems. I wanted to hear about how research in neuro-cognitive studies, sociology, ethics, and environmental and health behavior was informing research into proposed technologies and so on.
I didn’t hear this inclusion of social science and and my questions lingered. What if technology isn’t found fast enough? What if even when it is found it will be ineffective, not enough, not used, etc.? Why weren’t we calling on social sciences to figure out why the potential for carbon reduction from EXISTING, tested technologies has not yet been realized. ? Couldn’t social science help us figure out the obvious gap in what we know about nutrition and how we eat? My primary wonder is this: Why aren’t we talking about changing individual and organizational behavior?

So I asked some version of this last question to my new acquaintance from the Office of Science and Technology.

His answer was eloquent and respectful. He had clearly thought a great deal about the topic, without a doubt more than I have in my entire lifetime. But… he admitted abandoning the passion he had for changing behavior long ago. When I asked why he said many things but the one that stuck out was, “because it is too hard.”

Too hard. No reference to suggest support for targeted social science coming elsewhere in government and a suggestion that “Too hard” is now an acceptable reason to abandon ship.

If I needed any more reason to become passionate about studying environmental behavior and organizational change in business, I just found it. “Too hard” is not good enough. “Too hard” closes opportunities social psychologists, organizational theorists, behavioral psychologists, etc work to create. Opportunities we need to exist. Opportunities that will help fill the gaps left by an exclusive technology and cap and trade policy approach to mitigation. Opportunities that, if ceased, could better many societal problems simultaneously. (What else happens when you bike to work, use a clothesline, shop at farmers markets, encourage a corporate culture that authentically cares about all stakeholders, etc?)

Maybe my expectations of the knowledge my new acquaintance would have about such efforts were unfounded. Maybe the support for a behavior change approach comes from a different part of government. (LET me know if that is the case!) Maybe I was talking with someone who is not up to speed on the progress made in behavioral, environmental, and organizational psychology AND SO ON since he last visited ideas about this “lever” for change (pretty sure it was long ago). Maybe supporting behavior change initiatives has economic and (consequentially?) political implications that might make such an investment risky or unfavorable for the requisite politicians. Maybe we have a hard time translating social science findings into action. Maybe my thinking is made possible by naivety. Or… maybe it is “too hard.”

But those are just excuses I’d be accepting despite myself. Unspoken excuses that “we” accept despite ourselves. Not only do I believe that the social sciences offer new levers to addressing social problems, I believe that levers drawn from social science insight are the ones that need to be pulled soon… now…decades ago. This project, including all the As, Bs, and Cs in your stories, is a proverbial electron of an atom of a molecule that comprises the tip of the iceberg when it comes to observations (and research!) that suggest changing behavior is possible and a good idea.

Nobody said it was easy, but I am not convinced that is a reason to disregard that which can be labeled “hard.”

The Social Intrapreneur: a pdf of a report from the famed consulting firm SustainAbility. Note that my SNRE masters project adviser and Erb Institute Advisory Board member from Ford Motor Company, Dave Berdish, is featured in this report. Not at all surprising that he has made it into this report. Dave is PASSIONATE about human rights and has changed Ford as a result. If you want to dig deeper into his mindset check out this article he co-authored with Tom Gladwin, amazing Erb Director, prof, adviser,  about how MBA programs are failing to prepare business leaders for a morally complex future.

Robert Quinn- Change the World

The subtitle of Dr. Quinn’s book is actually “How Ordinary People Can Achieve Extraordinary Results”

This is a book that describes HOW individuals become/ live like Ben Zanders, William Kamkawamba, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the list goes on. It is so much more than what we typically think of as leadership: it is about the way you live your life and how you see yourself in the world. Leadership is something that might actually be an identifiable by-product of the process that Dr. Quinn discusses in this book. In many ways this is a book for folks who “get” the small infinity idea and want to fully realize the potential of it.

Rachel and I went to graduate school at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment to learn to change the world. We each partnered our MS from SNRE with a masters degree from another school. Emily- Ross School of Business and Rachel- School of Public Health. Along the way we learned a lot about organizational theory and behavior change and reasonable people as presented in SNRE, Public Health or B-school. In this marvelous mess of learning we also realized that there are many ways to describe the process of world-changing. Some are easier to visualize, more helpful, than others.

The one that stuck with us came from an article we read in NRE 580 as offered in winter ’08. Good thing this article came the first day of class, because we actually read it. The article, “From Complex Regions to Complex Worlds” was written by C.S. Hollings. It depicted change as an infinity symbol – things start at a low point, gradually building up to an apex, only to flip or crash to a new low point… over and over again. But it also showed change happening on several scales – a HUGE infinity symbol, where things move slowly, representing global institutions; a medium-sized one for smaller institutions like universities and local governments, and the smallest infinity representing small groups in which major change can happen literally overnight. And these levels interact- when the big infinity flips, change cascades down to the lower levels… and when the smallest infinity moves, it propels upper-level change.

If you decouple the theory from institutions, you can see the analogs everywhere on an individual scale: individual–> friend group–> organization or daughter–> parents–> extended family and so on.

The image was so sticky because it actually captured the flow of change and the relationship between slow moving, large scale and fast moving, small scale institutions. As society presses on toward a sustainable future, it needs fast moving change agents at the small scale, and slower moving (careful) change agents at the global scale – and each must be learning from and reacting to the other.

Taking this to a personal level, it made clear and less contentious the conversations about “What is most important to do” between environmental activists who are more policy-oriented and those who are align more with small-scale local initiatives. Neither of them are right or wrong in assessing which path to sustainability is deserving of their passion. So instead of quibbling about what is more important – Copenhagen agreements or farmers markets- we know the answer is neither, both are changing the world in the same direction. Another possible framing: even the passage of a federal policy is the collective result of trillions of personal communicative acts. Government Policies are talked into existence and passage, at all scales.

But how do politicians tend to talk about environmental problems? Is this self-empowered “all hands on deck” framing prevalent? How does the media talk about it? What psychological effect does the framing as either “enormous problem for the government” or “enormous problem for all of us”” have on us, the self- proclaimed change agents? The Small Infinity Project’s hunch is this: (the television?) talks about social and environmental problems on a large scale without mention of the small-medium-large scale connections, and individuals end up feeling overwhelmed by uncertainty, detached from action, helpless to the threat, and borderline depressed.

WE find power in knowing that big social problems are always addressed on a human scale. Although, from one person’s perspective that is hard to see. On the smallest infinity scale, courage and faith often have to dance with uncertainty. The path between small and huge infinity symbols is not clear from this scale nor will it ever be. You have to carve the path as you walk on it, guided by the well founded hope that what you do does make a difference.

So we started the Small Infinity Project to offer a hopeful reframing of social problems and to document the actions we and our friends, neighbors, and colleagues are taking. We make ripples, influence others, and propel our world into the hopeful future we want to see. Welcome to the Small Infinities. Talking, acting, and sharing our way to a sustainable future.

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