Start small. Start now.

Each journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step – Lao Tsu

If you have time to email, then you have time to work out loud. Find one email to reply out loud instead. Repeat.

If you have time to talk, then you have time to lead. Find one person to influence. Repeat.

If you have time to do, then you have time to experiment. Find one hypothesis to test in action. Repeat.

If you have time for a meeting, then you have time to start a movement. Find a group to engage in a purpose and action. Repeat

If you have time for a coffee, then you have time to learn. Find one moment to reflect on how to do better. Repeat.

If you have time to fix, then you have time to make change. Find one way to make the system better. Repeat.

Small scale changes accumulate given the time. Small interactions reinforce change and build community.

You have the time and the work. Start now. Start small. Repeat.

Don’t just describe the problem

Describing the problem is a beginning

Most people believe change begins when you describe the problem. Describing the problem clearly is the beginning. David Whyte described it well:

See, even if you’re stuck in life, if you can describe just exactly the way you’re stuck, then you will immediately recognise that you can’t go on that way anymore. So, just saying precisely, writing precisely how you’re stuck, or how you’re alienated, opens up a door of freedom for you.- David Whyte

Beginnings aren’t endings

Then again, there is Dilbert.


Scott Adam’s strip has been ruthlessly skewering corporate life for years. We see these moments and recognise them immediately.  We share them and discuss them. The appeal of the scenarios are that we know they still happen every day in organisations just like our own. In fact, Adams is overwhelmed with suggestions by email for new strips.

So we look at Dilbert, know change is needed in our organisations and do what exactly?

Describing the problem, gossiping about it quietly or complaining to one’s friends over a beer is a small start.  Too many small starts become false starts, repeated over and over with no progress.

From false starts to progress

Once you have described the problem, you need to act to make it different. Act. Make one little thing different. Today.

Don’t do it alone. Start or join a movement.

How to start a movement

Change movements fascinate me.  People coming together to create change that is beyond the power of one individual, is how all of our greatest social accomplishments have been made.  I have started a few myself, both successfully and unsuccessfully.  I have studied lots of others hunting for ideas that can be reused.  

I have learned that there is no perfect formula. However, these things help movements to success:

Purpose:  Defining why the movement exists matters most.  This is the reason people will give up their time and effort to be involved.  Failure to agree on common purpose will result in factions, disruption and failure later

Engaged champions: A few engaged champions is worth thousands of passive members.  Find your champions and treasure them.  Finding them is usually as simple as letting them approach you.  The ones you want will have a bias to act.  You are often better cutting the freeriders and focusing only on the engaged users in the early stages.  Exclusivity, a strong sense of the other and deep personal relationships helps build energy and resilience in the movement.

A small secretariat: A movement usually needs some group accountable for shaping and maintaining direction.  A small secretariat of the most engaged champions can play that role.  The secretariates does not need to be hierarchical but they do need to play a role as custodian of the purpose and a node for actions across the network.

Cellular structureNetworks are more resilient & more engaging than hierarchies.  Small group structures engage people and build personal connections within the network. The groups also provide local support, back-up for missed communication and solve issues locally where required.  Action by small groups requires less coordination.

Stories: Successful movements have rich storytelling traditions. Myths, tales and anecdotes help share their messages and make purpose tangible to the community and others. Stories share abstract ideas in tangible ways making them more human and personal.

Continuous communication: Driving change is only one element in people’s lives.  You cannot overcommunicate.  Share stories, successes and challenges.  Make sure there is a vibrant connection across your network.

Sense of community:  Great movements build strong senses of community.  That is usually evident in the support and sharing that occurs within the community beyond its core purpose.

Symbols of change: To understand the movements vision, you need defining symbols that people can understand and relate to their own world. A few common values can be part of a powerful symbol of the change.  The more human, personal and individual the symbols are the easier they are to live and share.

Consistent action & confrontation: Action builds movements.  Action inevitably involves confrontation with opponents.  A regular cycle of action and confrontation is required to keep engagement of the movement.  Action and confrontaction creates new stories to share and can bring the movement’s symbols and purpose to life for a wider audience. Progress may be slow but action must be continuous.

Reflection & adaptation: Successful movements adapt to changing circumstances, responses and to the needs of the system in which they operate.  Processes to foster reflection and development of new adaptations matter to enable this.

Gathering: Human beings are tribal.  We like to gather.  Whether it is gatherings of the cells or gatherings of the whole movement, the people involved need to come together and feel part of the tribe from time to time.  Gatherings are where the informal story sharing occurs.  It is where trust and connection is built, knowlede is exchanged and new innovations are started.

This list is a starting point on my studies and experience.  What are your ideas?  What have a left out?  What of the above is wrong?