In an article on taking social action to scale, Margaret Wheatley and her colleague Deborah Frieze (2009) advance the notion that the world doesn’t change one person at a time. Rather, it changes as networks of relationships form among people who discover that they share a common cause and a vision of what is possible. If you want to change the world, they advise, don’t worry about critical mass. Focus more on cultivating critical connections. Through relationships and networks, we develop new knowledge, practices, courage and commitment that ultimately lead to broad-based change. Networks create the conditions for emergence, which is how life changes!
I find it interesting to partner the idea of emergence with the work of David Peat who writes about gentle action. When people think about how to create change, we often think about changing others, acting from our own point of view, focusing on what is wrong and acting when we are certain. A gentle action approach is different in every respect. We need to consider first how to change ourselves, how to more fully understand many points of view and the system as a whole, the focus is on building upon what is right and a key practice is embracing uncertainty. A gentle action approach builds on grassroots and highly coordinated small actions.
Creating social action is a topic that is often on my mind. Perhaps I am thinking about it more this week because I just had a book published by Oxford Press titled Integrative Nursing with my co-editor Mary Koithan. What we aspire to do with this book is nothing short of transforming nursing and the patient experience. Applying the concepts of gentle action, networks, and emergence, we are considering ways to reach nurses around the globe.
As you reflect on leaders you encounter in your life and work, are you seeing these ideas put into action? What opportunities do you have to apply them in your life?
Wheatley, M & D. Frieze. (2009). Taking Social Innovation to Scale. Oxford Leadership Journal. Volume 1, 1-5.