The opening lines of Deborah Frieze’s Tedx Talk, “How I Became a Localist” is quite provocative, especially for those of us who aspire to change the world for the better.
She states, “The way we are trying to change the world is not going to work and it’s never going to work.”
In her talk she offers, what she calls, a “radical” theory of change: “You can’t change big systems [meaning healthcare, education, business, government]. You can only abandon them and start over or provide hospice to those that are dying.”
She explains that because all systems are living system, as big systems peak, you start to get “walkouts” or the trailblazers who leave the dominant system in order to pursue a new and healthier system. For example, forty years ago as industrial agriculture was peaking, a small number of people in lots of different places started to seek out and provide local and organic food. If walkouts stay isolated from each other, the existing system crushes them. But as walkouts start to get connected with other walkouts, they can create a new, better system that can start to challenge the existing system.
Many entrepreneurs are trailblazers, and we all go through moments of doubt, fear, frustration and loneliness. Inventing something and getting it to work is really hard. Scaling it into a thriving business is even harder, no matter what problem you are trying to solve. Entrepreneurs who are focused on sustainability, wellbeing, social impact or positive business face the unique challenge of being “walkout” trailblazers inside an emerging system that itself isn’t yet understood, and is often overlooked or written off as “niche”. Fortunately, I see signs of that changing. Nationally, organizations like the Ross School of Positive Business at the University of Michigan, the Social Venture Network, the B Corp movement, and Investors Circle are pulling together communities of innovators to provide human, financial and customer capital to define the new system of business. In WeSpire’s own backyard, the Northeast Clean Energy Council and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, CEVG, the Boston Impact Initiative, and Reinvesture Capital are focusing on the strength of the local Boston ecosystems.
Here at WeSpire we have had the privilege of working with some very large corporations to be part of the teams that are helping transform everything about how they do business. These corporations are questioning everything, from their supply chain, to what products they sell, to who they work with and more. These organizations may be seen as trailblazers, walking away from the conventional system of doing business to seek a new and healthier way of running a business. Another theory is that these large companies are in fact what Deborah calls “Protectors” in the theory of change. They are deep inside the established systems and use their power and influence to provide oases for innovation to take place and to support the emergence of the new system.
What do you think? Can an organization that’s been around for 100+ years become a Walkout? If yes, what companies do you think are doing this level of trailblazing? Who are the protectors?
Disclosure: CEVG, Boston Impact Initiative and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center are all investors in WeSpire.