Why Haven’t You Changed The World Yet?

PhD candidate and World Economic Forum Global Shaper Vyacheslav Polonski (@slavacm) challenges people who want to change the World to get started. Now.

By Vyacheslav Polonski

“Changing the world” is the most frequently mentioned – and least frequently implemented – ambition cited in TED talks, startup pitches and political campaigns. This is hardly surprising, as suggested by the wishful nature of the many works of art dealing with this topic.

Even though Gandhi taught us global change starts from within, the main problem seems to lie elsewhere. After all, in a typical political campaign, most leaders and activists appear to epitomise the values they publicly assert. Similarly, many entrepreneurs use their own products and services on a daily basis, hoping that their behaviours will naturally spread to their friends and beyond. Nevertheless, an overwhelming majority of individuals who aspire to “change the world”, in one way or another, fail to do so.

When confronted with the fact of failure, many of them blame the people around them, the market, the timing of the launch, general circumstances or bad luck. However, to paraphrase J.K. Rowling’s Harvard commencement speech, there is an expiry date on blaming these external factors; the moment you decide to create something that will generate a positive impact on the world, responsibility lies with you to deliver on that promise.

Social science researchers differentiate between two implicit theories of the self. On the one hand, the “entity theory of the self” states that individuals see their environment as something fixed and beyond control. On the other hand, the “incremental theory of the self” explains that individuals see their environment as something dynamic, malleable and receptive to their own efforts.

In other words, whether the external world is seen as a more enabling or restraining force thus depends on the individual and his or her perceptions of world. This is not necessarily a conscious distinction. Usually, these world views are deeply encoded in our subconscious mind.

A very common response from people who are subscribing to the entity theory of the world is that they have failed because “all the seats were already taken”.  Most prominently, failed founders explain their failure by saying that contemporary society has reached absolute saturation with social networks, productivity apps and social games. But is this a valid argument? Have all the opportunities been pursued such that there is no more space for newcomers?

If this is indeed the case, why do we still see new social messaging applications like Snapchat, FireChat and Wickr emerging from underneath the shadow of Facebook? Why do some political campaigns still manage to grab our attention even though our attention space is as limited and crowded as it has ever been? And why do some protest movements manage to mobilise thousands of largely complacent individuals to get out on the streets and to risk their lives for a collective idea?

It is true that you need to have roughly the best team in the world to achieve that kind of impact. However, it is possible. The renowned entrepreneur and researcher Paul Romer explains that “it’s not the opportunities in nature that are scarce; it’s the human talents to pursue the many opportunities we face.” More pointedly, it may not necessarily be a lack of human talent that leads to failure, but principally a lack of human motivation to effectively pursue these opportunities.

In our age of digital innovation the dissemination of ideas is substantially accelerated. Thus, we not only need the right teams to come up with ground-breaking ideas, we also need these teams to deploy ground-breaking determination and persistence to carry through and use all available means to generate an impact. So what exactly stops you from pursuing your world-changing idea?

Internet strategist Jesse Hirsh illustrates this point in his recent TEDx talk: “When you’re a great-grandparent and your great-grandchild looks at you and says: ‘You were there when the Internet came to be. What did you do to make society better?’ Don’t say: ‘Well I didn’t do much except watching cat videos’”.

Don’t be that person. If you think that you have a plan to make the world a better place, use your time productively and deliver on that promise. Every day is 24 more hours to change the world. Every second counts.