“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
This quote from anthropologist Margaret Mead has been used million times. I have used it million times myself. It speaks to the power of people mobilization; the power of true change that starts from the bottom, or from many places but not necessarily form the top; to the power of social movements.
I use it all the time to explain change in organizations, my natural organizational consulting territory. It’s at the core of the type of bottom up mobilization that is orchestrated by Viral Change™, 10 year old officially this year!
But there is a problem. There is one word missing. One word that makes all the difference. This word is ‘organized’. That is: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, organized citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead was not wrong. She did not need to make the point. It was perhaps implicit in her context of ‘thoughtful’ and ‘committed’ citizens.
But I need to change that version now, with focus on change in organizations. Why? Because there is a growing, if naïve belief that all you need is a lot of passion, a lot of commitment, a lot of good intentions and lots of mavericks, rebels, disruptors, contrarians and challengers and, alas, change will happen. It won’t. Noise will. Well, it may be change, but God knows in which direction.
Mavericks, rebels, disruptors, contrarians and challengers without an ‘organization’, without a clear platform for change and sustainability of the change, are a sad waste. It would be similar to a political campaign gathering committed and energized activists in a room, and then letting them loose, closing your eyes and saying, go, my children, go and evangelize, and make sure that guy is elected. It may sound too silly, but it is scarily true in sectors of the ‘world of change’ in organizations.
I have written before, in harsh words, that there is a risk that all those mavericks, rebels, disruptors, contrarians and challengers, without an organized platform and clear long term strategy became ‘useful idiots’. A political term invented in the Marxist movement to describe the manipulated people who serve a cause but are cynically used by the leaders. Forgive me again my harsh words, but I have seen many of those ‘examples of critics’, ‘examples of mavericks’ and ‘examples of challengers’ exhibited by a very conservative, even static organization as a sign of progressive thinking.
Don’t underestimate the need to orchestrate (no apologies for the term) a good mobilizing platform. I prefer silent and efficient change to loud and inefficient contrarians; organized, not terribly visible employee-activists to disorganized, loose-canons-rebels; driven, back-stage change champions working on a semi-invisible per-to-peer model, to front row, blessed corporate ambassadors with a stack of powerpoints.