What did you learn in 2012 that you will carry forth with you into 2013?
“Among other things, I have been working on building awareness of Climate change and getting Genetically Modified Organisms labeled. Personally, it can be rewarding but, more often than not, it has been mentally debilitating and depressing. Anybody working to create change is pretty soon building mental models of expectations for what that change will look like. Unfortunately and inevitably, these changes don’t show up. At least not in the way you or any of your colleagues imagined them. Eventually, this angst fills everything that you do. Not fun.
“This year, after joining concerned scientists, business leaders and celebrities on an incredibly emotional trip to Antarctica, I decided to take a step back to better understand how social change occurs. It seems to me that when change actually happens it is often sudden and defies prediction of how change might occur. For example, when the Wall came down dividing Europe it was an end to the Cold War that nobody predicted. There were theories, yet none of them included everyday people with sledgehammers just ending it all overnight. When the Arab spring sprang, once again change came seemingly out of nowhere through a new collision of youth, passion, technology and years of growing ideology.
“With so many people working to bring about change and with so many plans for how that change might happen, why doesn’t change follow the plans we lay out for it?
“In my search for answers, a friend shared with me some of the thinking of Ilya Prigogine, a chemist who won a Nobel Prize for his theory of dissipative structures. That theory led to research in self-organizing systems and today his work is seen as the bridge between natural science and social science.
“In social science, whether it is communism, apartheid or the “invisible hand” of the economy – as long as new energy can be injected – spontaneous self-organization destroys closed systems and improves open systems. So real social progress isn’t achieved through plans or predictions, it’s achieved by keeping our systems open to new ideas and opinions. Wow.
“This has been an epiphany for me and it has offered a clear sense of what I wanted to accomplish in any work I do. Forget outcomes, I’m completely dedicated to creating and facilitating open and evenly represented dialog around the issues we face. The outcomes of social change will inevitably be more dramatic, chaotic and wonderful than I could ever imagine.
“I’ve learned that I can’t fix climate change, our food, or the economy. But I can help by challenging closed systems and working to open them up. The rest I’ll leave to chemistry.”
More Lessons for 2013 from some of today’s most innovative business thought leaders here.