Simon Terry

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Change Occurs at Contact

Utopias are tempting to change enthusiasts. Gathering a group of advocates and creating a community in isolation is tempting. We must remember that change occurs at the point of contact with the old system. We must remain engaged.

The Danger of Utopias

Khurshed Dehnugara, who wrote the book Challenger Spirit and runs the consulting business Relume, made the insightful comment on LinkedIn that

Challengers can’t afford to lose contact with those they are alienating.

When you are advocating for change, it can be easy to fall in love with the vision of change that you want to create. If you connect with a community who share that vision, your thoughts can quickly move to developing that vision and bringing it to life. Living in a Utopia and realising that vision can be enticing.

However, most Utopias fail.  A common reason for this failure is that like any closed system these perfect utopias suffer from entropy. Without new energy and recruits from contact with the world, they begin to decline, wrapping themselves in ever less productive activity within their community.

Isolation can be valuable for connecting people in change and envisioning and nurturing the future. This is well highlighted in the Berkana Two Loops model of change. However, any change advocated needs to remember that while isolation might enable initiation, isolation is not where change is perfected.

Hard Contact for Hard Change

Change is perfected in contact with the real issues of its opponents. When we are enraptured by uotopian visions, the work of engaging opponents can feel frustrating and like compromise.

However, real world solutions meet the needs of diverse stakeholders. As frustrating as these positions may be they are issues that need to be engaged in change. We cannot ignore them. We are far better to use them as opportunities to refine and develop our thinking. That refinement only happens in dialogue with the world. We will not find it in the gardens of Utopia.

One reason that the organisers of social change spend so much time designing contact with the forces opposing them is that they understand the leverage of these moments. The attention and energy of the conflict of change is a source of momentum to our change.  It energises our community and markets our vision of change to the wider world. Hiding out in a Utopia will not achieve this advocacy. We need to draw others to our vision to succeed and that will only happen if we continuously engage for good and bad in the world. We won’t convince everyone, but perhaps we can convince enough.


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