How Do You Make A Meaningful Difference?


Monday, 9.44pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I don’t think we’re yet evolved to the point where we’re clever enough to handle a complex a situation as climate change. The inertia of humans is so huge that you can’t really do anything meaningful. – James Lovelock

I am sometimes asked what the point is of doing an MBA.

In fact, a recent Economist suggested that interest in the degree was waning.

I suppose that’s because it costs you so much to do one that you wonder if you will ever make the money back.

There are two reasons one might start a such a programme of study.

One is for what it can do for you in the future – help you progress in your career, getting a better job or run your business more effectively.

For me, what it did was help explain the past.

The early phase of study – school and a first degree is about learning something useful – something that is useful to other people – people who are willing to pay you for your time and effort.

Then, after a decade or so, you’ve experienced enough of the world of work to know get quite jaded with the whole thing.

And that’s where the next phase of study is so useful – it helps you understand the experiences you’ve had.

Of course, that only happens, if you actually start that programme of study.

These two approaches, doing things because they help you with a possible new future, and doing things because they help you make sense of the past seem diametrically opposed.

So which one should you use – is it either / or, or both / and?

Take, for example, the book The future as history by Robert L. Heilbroner, written around sixty years ago.

It’s written during a time of change, post war, the rise of communism and the liberation of the world’s people.

Heilbroner argues that optimism is a fundamental trait of Americans – who take it for granted that striving leads to success – but that for most of history that’s not been the case.

Equally important in the history of the world has been inertia – a predisposition to cling to old and tested ways and a reluctance to engage with the new.

The book seems to be a lament of pessimism – a view that things must get much worse before they get better.

And looking back, perhaps he was right – the second half of the last century has seen its fair share of misery.

Change is not easy – it takes generations.

The easy optimism of people today is a result of a few hundred years of change – after all it’s the time when we watch A Christmas Carol again and are reminded how different the world once was.

And still is in many places.

The fact is that there are two kinds of people – the optimists who push and push – seeking to overcome inertia and get moving.

And there are those who sit back content that there is nothing they can do – watching the strivers and predicting their failure.

Take an issue like climate change.

It’s not easy – even someone like James Lovelock can’t see how to sort it out.

Can we avoid a climate crisis?

Or are we so optimistic that we believe we can live with the consequences?

Or – at least those of us lucky enough to be less affected?

The fact is that unless those who have the ability to make a difference act nothing will change.

The management of a company cannot blame everything on the workers – they are the ones with the control and the knowledge – and therefore the ones who must act.

Making a difference starts with knowing how.

And if you’re not sure how – then it’s time to start studying.



Karthik Suresh

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