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Don't Rush to Define Impact

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken

A quick addendum on a line in my last post (In Between Disruption and Incrementalism): "Great ideas with a snowball's chance in hell of success are not great ideas."

The other form the argument could take (it's come up a few times lately) is that we must be pragmatic about the possibility for change, and about the willingness to change of others. The one clarification I'd like to make is that many ideas that ostensibly fail in their stated goals will have been great ideas. It just depends on how broadly you define success, and to what length you're willing to take pragmatism.

Rejected ideas still move the goalposts for those around you. They slowly change people's ideas of what's normal, what's possible, and where things should be. They inform and improve others' ideas. They rattle others' standards for what's acceptable and achievable.

History is rich with examples of ideas that took decades, even centuries, to work.

We all want to have impact. And that impact is most satisfying when the equation is "I did X, and Y happened." But that's unicorn rare. That is, it doesn't exist - we don't work in a vacuum, and our contributions exist in an ecosystem of many actors and influences. There's a lot of power in the long tail of reverberations from those actions - as there is in every time we make sacrifices for the sake of small wins, but send the message to those around us that such sacrifices are necessary.

We can all work out X and Y, but none of us are prescient enough to figure out that long tail of impact. So I think we should err on the side of the way it should be, rather than the way we wish it wasn't but accept.

Don't rush to define impact or success. It's far harder to keep track of impact when you're enabling others to make it, rather than doing it yourself. But in the long run, we'll succeed as a collective when we focus more on just doing things right.