How to Change the World

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to change the world. Some of my ultimate goals did include obvious choices, like world domination. Which would, clearly, be the best fate that can be imagined for the whole mankind. Well, with years passing, the idea evolved. For now, it kind of settled on a meaningful eulogy. Something more than, “Well, there was this guy and now he’s not around”. Inevitably, as I attempted to conquer, dominate, or just alter some areas of reality, I failed quite often. After all, there’s no reason for you to call me the Supreme Leader. Yet.

Still, by failing quick and often, I got pretty close to how to actually change the world.

What I established first, was the obvious conclusion that I will not make it on my own. That would’ve been romantic, but so is jumping off the bridge for a lost love. Makes up for a great story, but is kind of counterproductive. Laws of logic and deduction led me to another outcome. Given I have no actual, brutal authority over people, allowing me to simply force them to follow my ideas, I have to convince them.

And there are many ways to get there.

First is a bit medieval, though still deserves an honourable mention. I could use physical force. Because, you know, there’s nothing cooler than pillaging some random village every now and then. All the peasants (whom we now call vegetarians) would feel somewhat tempted to comply then, wouldn’t they?

There are some downsides to this approach, though. First, it doesn’t really scale that well. I mean, how many people can one person enslave? Until their name is Kim, that is. You cannot really go far this way – but, maybe, you have no ambition whatsoever. Another aspect is that rampaging villages or exercising physical force over any unwilling units would not go unnoticed. For some very good reasons – the social economy of revenge being the crucial one – quite a lot of law enforcement would unleash their fury upon you. Finally, striking exercise of physical power will always be met with adequately strong resistance. And why you ever want that?

(Legal disclaimer: No, I am not advocating use of force upon other people.)

Let’s get down the second path, one that’s been around for millenniums. You can achieve even more than when going medieval without getting your hands dirty. Well, somebody’s might get a bit stained, but not yours. How does that sound? Thought so. Get ready to enter the world of Machiavelli, Richelieu, and Gordon Gekko. These tactics work all the same, whether you want to rule your class at high school, dominate a kingdom, or run organised crime syndicate.

But that’s not all.

They work wonders in the most brutal, bloodiest, and merciless playground ever invented – the corporate world.

You build up some sense of trust with various groups. Preferably, across all layers of whatever society you want to rule in. You make people some favours. They owe you a bit. Then, you help someone avoid total embarrassment. Now, they owe you a lot. You create your own fractal organisation, informal, tribal structure within the formal one. Your possibilities of making favours grow almost exponentially.

Unless, there’s some other force, or group, attempting the same. And here’s where the fun begins. Some backstabbing here. A minefield laid out there. A carpet bombing over there. Good, proper warfare – without actual use of force!

The absolutely essential reading necessary is “Prince” by Machiavelli. Go ahead and have some fun.

(Wannabe overlord disclaimer: upon reading the book above you will feel like a god. Don’t. While amazing to newcomers in corporate battlefield, it doesn’t even cover one tenth of tricks. And I should know well – for years, I was repeatedly asked to advise people on how to play this game.)

(Another legal disclaimer: Cloak and dagger, whether in corporate world or not, may put you in some serious problems.)

Then, there’s the third path, most evolved one. Use money and other resources at your advantage. You can pay people to behave your way. You can buy out companies to have them adjusted. You can bribe officials, more or less directly, to have law on your side.

Upside is, the bigger your actions, the more invisible you’ll be.

The downside is, well, you need a lot of money to make serious impact. And the effect might be short-lived, once the stream dries out.

(While I cannot believe it, here’s yet another legal disclaimer: Some of these actions might be illegal. I do not encourage you to do any of them, ever.)

To achieve total victory, you need a combination of all three.

Some brute force. Some cloak and dagger. Some money in the game.

It will then work on every scale possible. How do you think the pointless, useless, and irrational Soviet Union dominated Eastern Europe in the 1940s? Physical power? Check, they had plenty and were even too eager to exercise it. Cloak and dagger? Check. They fought Western world (that had way more resources available) as equals for half a century in this one. Money? Check. Ever heard of the Comecon? Not to mention the sheer amount of weaponry, food, and any other possible kind of aid they were always more than willing to expedite at huge discounts to every possible revolutionary group while fighting proxy wars.

United States did exactly the same. Ancient Romans did the same. As Persians did before them.

Interestingly, neither of the aforementioned countries has their legendary position anymore. Some of them don’t even exist now. Which is a word of warning, if you actually want to change the world by dominating it.

Well then, as I said in the first paragraph, before I went all epic – that’s not what majority of us want. There’s just this small idea of not leaving this place without something left. A notorious quote of ding in the Universe, by Steve Jobs, inevitably comes to mind. It’s just it. Make a ding. The bigger the scale, the better, possibly. But any change, any meaning, any notion of not living the life for NOTHING – is bigger than no change at all.

There are ways to change other people lives. Numerous ones. The most obvious three are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s plenty more. And they all have the single one disadvantage – they require you to force the behaviour of other people.

It’s never easy.

There will be no sense of ownership, meaning they will always see you as someone changing them openly. It results in resistance, which is perfectly natural and can be overcome – at a price. External change is also easier to drop – think of discipline forced upon recruits. It’s remarkably easy to forget it once the drill sergeant is not around.

How do you change the world then?

Okay, no change can happen without alteration of someone’s behaviour. And, even with the shallow skim I made above, it seems obvious it’s rather difficult. There’s this single person whose behaviour you can change way easier. Make no mistake, it will still be tricky. But, still, by an order of magnitude easier.

That person is you.

Changing your own actions, will change your mindset – and vice versa. Whether you actually want it or not, people around you will notice it. And some of them, will take a closer look. They will casually query you over the cup of coffee. They will make a joke in the corridor. They will give you a close-to-meaningless “like” on Facebook.

And some of these people, will feel inspired. They will make a conscious decision, on their own, one very internal, that they feel obliged to follow themselves – to give it a try.

And it’s harder to resist internal change, compared to externally imposed one.

Let me give you an example. I wrote previously on why I run and how important it is to me. With all that, it’s important to repeat the obvious fact: I suck at running. To make things a bit better, I now work with a coach, my friend Marta. As I participated in company Open Day, I learned of something interesting. One of our software developers, whom I never worked with and, being absolutely honest, whom I barely know, suggested to run a different presentation.

One made by me and Marta, about how running changed each of our lives.

I was speechless.

Apparently, whatever each of us did, was may more visible around us than we could ever imagine. I’m only running for myself. Marta does too. While we do talk about it a lot, neither of us proselytise it. Just the thing we do, that somehow changed us – and had some impact on the others.

Hopefully, a positive one.

And this is how you change the world.

By changing yourself.

Opinions are my own and not the views of my employers, customers, or clients.

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