In my last post on UnSectored, I wrote about my struggles with what I see as a “cult of entrepreneurship” that focuses on and celebrates an individual’s creations and actions. I think this focus can overlook the need to recognize the power of the collective, discouraging broad-based engagement from multiple people and multiple perspectives. For social change creation, I argued, the latter is much more effective than the former.
However, I don’t think we suffer simply from an over-focus on entrepreneurship. I think we suffer from a tendency to form “cults” in whatever work we do. Within an industry, or a segment of an industry, we can get stuck, reading the same publications, talking to the same people at the same events about the same ideas. I go to a lot of events and talk to a lot of people, thinking I’m getting a diverse representation of what’s going on in the world today. It’s only when I take some time to reflect (or check out those people I’ve spoke with on LinkedIn and see they are no more than two degrees of separation from me) do I realize that I’ve only just met people I basically already know.
Jed Emerson has a concept called the “deep mainstream;” actually going out into places (in his case, Fox News) where people don’t know you or where you come from, and don’t know what you are talking about. This is what we need more of, instead of going around blatantly referencing acronyms and organizations and people, assuming those we interact with are part of those same cults to which we prescribe ourselves. When you go out into the deep mainstream and talk to someone about Social Impact Bonds (what are those?) or social entrepreneurship (what does that mean, exactly?) or impact investing (huh?), you will actually have to explain what those concepts mean. And without the tacit understanding of the other members of your cult, you may find that there are some parts of those concepts you still don’t understand, and may not agree with.
There is value to interacting with similarly-minded people. There is even value in jargon. I think the time for this is to share what you have done with people doing similar things, to discourage replication and making the same mistakes. Jargon (and acronyms) can eliminate the need to re-define and re-explain commonly-understood concepts during conversations among colleagues. Conferences devoted to sharing new ideas and learning from others’ activities don’t really need to push to get a more diverse representation at their events.
However, when you want to have critical dialogue and challenge your assumptions, you need people from different backgrounds from yourself. You can’t just reach into your cult and find people only slightly removed from yourself. Only by engaging with those in the “deep mainstream”–whatever that means for you–will you be able to challenge your assumptions and come up with new, better ideas.
This is what we are trying to do with UnSectored. Our goal of critically analyzing our work for social change can only happen if we foster a diverse community. And this is hard. Really hard. It’s easy to stay within your own cults because it doesn’t take much to meet people who share your values and interests. It’s a lot harder to try and meet and truly engage in high-level discussions with people who don’t know what you are trying to do and don’t necessarily agree with you, or care.
But this type of engagement is essential at all levels of our society–from community building on up to our political system–if we want to succeed in our goals of making the world a better place.
If you want to help with this, try and get out of your comfort zone a bit. Look for ways to challenge your assumptions and beliefs. Follow the blog, and tell others about it (especially if they have no idea what we are talking about). I hope we can count on your help to build this diverse community and bring us all out of our cults a little bit more.
Within an industry, or a segment of an industry, we can get stuck, reading the same publications, talking to the same people at the same events about the same ideas.
Our goal of critically analyzing our work for social change can only happen if we foster a diverse community. And this is hard.