Spread Good Ideas Faster — You Can Do It!
|February 8, 2014||Posted by Jeffery J. Smith under The Geonomist Blog|
The New Yorker ran an article by Atul Gawande last summer, “Slow Ideas — Some innovations spread fast. How do you speed the ones that don’t?” (2013 July 29) Gawande, BTW, has won two National Magazine Awards, has been a finalist for the National Book Award, had a book selected as one of the ten best books of 2007 by Amazon, won a MacArthur Fellowship, and was named one of the hundred most influential thinkers. So here’s a thought: Since all of us would be much happier and better off if the great idea of geonomics were to go viral, can we apply Gawande’s insights to our geoist movement?
Here are some of his key points:
“To create new norms, you have to understand people’s existing norms and barriers to change. You have to understand what’s getting in their way.”
“Mass media can introduce a new idea to people. But people follow the lead of other people they know and trust when they decide whether to take it up. The decision to make the effort to change is a social process.”
“We yearn for frictionless, technological solutions. But people talking to people is still the way that norms and standards change.”
Does Gawande make sense to you? Do his suggestions already inform your outreach? Your activism? Do you concentrate on growing your network, even at the expense of other tactics? His points do resonate with me. Let’s considering his conclusions in order …
Upon first hearing about geonomics, what gets in people’s way? Why don’t they respond: “Yeah! Great! Let’s start sharing the worth of Earth right away! What can I do to help?” What gets in their way? In general, there are the attitudes that get in the way of any new idea: things like indifference, apathy, normalcy bias, our species’s innate conservatism, etc. Those things we can’t do much about, but we don’t need to. Once a new idea reaches a critical mass of backers, it can’t be stopped.
What we need to focus on is what gets in the way of people embracing geonomics specifically. These are other primal reactions, thing like: it’s hard for humans to share with strangers; and, people develop an emotional attachment to a parcel of land; and, people don’t trust politicians, bureaucrats, and government in general. How do we deal with these things? While there are good rational arguments to be made, those won’t carry the day. These obstacles are emotional, and logic is not what overcomes emotion.
What does overcome emotion? Safety in numbers. When you see somebody else do something, you reckon it’s safe. You watch someone else walk on the ice, you figure the ice will support you, too. You watch someone else swim in the sea, you assume there are no hungry sharks around. You hear that there are many, many people demanding gay marriage, you’ll support it, too. (Of course, “monkey see, monkey do” can backfire, too, such as the apocryphal lemmings following one after the other over the cliff, or more realistically, most everyone eating sprayed food, breathing polluted air, sticking children in stultifying schools, ignoring the eroding purchasing power of the dollar, etc.)
People do have different acceptance rates. There are a few people who only need to hear of a good idea before proselytizing it. Most people, however, need to see a parade passing by before they hop on the bandwagon. And a few never change their minds. But what proponents of a good new idea must do is target a group who’re likely to become early adopters, figure out how to reach them, and use the feedback they get to hone the message sharper. As more and more early adopters embrace the idea, more and more mid adopters will embrace the idea, until the idea finally wins over enough people to be accepted broadly and become a new law of the land.
So, what can you do to hasten this process along? Express your geonomic belief in a way that pleases you. Seek out reform-minded people and try out your message on them. Use their feedback to refine your message so that a greater number find it compelling.
The reason that Georgism — the proto-geonomic proposal which had its heyday in the 1880s — is at best a fringe idea, why its best examples have all been repealed (Honolulu, Pittsburgh, Johannesburg, Melbourne suburbs, New Zealand, Denmark, etc) is because its advocates never changed their message — “tax land!” — while society over the last century plus has changed enormously. People don’t like taxes. People do like their land. That’s two strikes against Georgism right there. The third strike is that Georgism is pro-development. Of course, developers are all for development but they want the profit from land for themselves, while environmentalists — who’ve grown to be a powerful force in society — oppose development as a gut reaction. Three strikes and Georgism is out.
What can geoists do differently? Listen. Listen to the people whose minds we want to change. Push their buttons. Appeal to their values. Frame the proposal in terms that fit nicely into their existing worldview. To know how to do all that, go back to square one: listen. Following my own advice, I’ve come up with new terms like “geonomics” and new key ideas like “Citizen’s Dividend”. The latter phrase has already shown itself to be catchy, being used by carbon taxists among others. Whether or not these strategies make enough of a difference, only time will tell. And it will tell sooner the more that people try out these ideas on their own.
Which gets us to Gawande’s third point.
While this website and others like it are great, they are not enough. You still have to talk to people you know about what you’ve learned. So: Inform your friends, family, co-workers, neighbors. When a human being experiences another of its species actually expressing what they believe or know, then more parts of the brain of the observer or listener become engaged, and the person exposed to the new information has more to chew on.
Assume all the above is true. What did you do for your cause, face-to-face with newbies, today? However you do it, get out there and become better known in your community ASAP!
Our editor published The Geonomist which won a Californian GreenLight Award, has appeared in both the popular press (e.g., TruthOut) and academic journals (e.g., USC’s Planning and Markets), been interviewed on radio and TV, lobbied officials, testified before the Russian Duma, conducted research (e.g., for Portland’s mass transit agency), and recruited activists and academics to the Forum on Geonomics. A member of the International Society for Ecological Economics and of Mensa, he lives in America’s Pacific Northwest.