How to create legitimate impact through influence


by Philip Patston

I started the year not with a resolution, but with an awareness of three things I wanted for myself and my endeavours in 2011 — impact, influence and legitimacy. These I have crafted into some sort of mantra:

I create legitimate impact through influence.

Using my trusty Apple Dictionary app (powered by the New Oxford American Dictionary), I expanded those six words to create a more robust intention for the year:

I intend my actions to create an effect or influence that conforms to laws and rules and is able to be defended with logic or justification, because I have the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself.

To me this clarity of intent is a slight but significant departure from my usual modus operandi and, I realise, may indeed account for — my aforementioned sense of flow. I’ve always created an effect through my actions; that much isn’t new. I’ve always been able to justify logically my actions and have had impact on others, too.

But often I have worked against the status quo, the laws and rules, which creates resistance and reduces impact. My actions have made people defensive, particularly the people I most wanted to influence — those with power and influence.

This significant change is, I think, a huge issue for activists, agitators and social change agents. Often we are taught to be oppositional in our approach to changing an oppositional system, which is not only ironic but ineffective and counterproductive.

The awareness that I needed to change this tactic came quite recently, in fact, when reading the book, Influencer. Written by a group of surprisingly aware businessmen, the book outlines three powerful “principles of influence:

  1. Identify a handful of high-leverage behaviors that lead to rapid and profound change.
  2. Use personal and vicarious experience to change thoughts and actions.
  3. Marshall multiple sources of influence to make change inevitable.”

It really caused me to think deeply about how I can better target my actions to be more effective. The key thing I realised is that I often alienate people in power because I often challenge the laws and rules that they have pledged to uphold.

My challenge this year is to work with these people, not to try and convince them that their laws and rules suck (which often they know but they are not paid to admit that), but to find a way within those limitations to make a meaningful improvement to how the systems they govern affect other people.

That, I think, is the key to creating influential social change.

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