The most unpopular idea in the world

The most unpopular idea in the world

OK so that might be a slight exaggeration, but depending on how you are wired, maybe not.

Here’s the idea.

Don’t try and change the world.

Heresy I know, because we live in the age of go big or go home. But I’m more than a bit exhausted by it all. Don’t get me wrong, I‘m not suggesting I’ve given up, just that my expectation and attachment to some outcome that is outside my control has changed. Amid the endless clarion calls urging us onwards something became clear…

I can’t.

But what if instead of shooting for the big thing I shoot for the real thing. The thing I can hold and do and as part of a whole system of other people doing their things. Could that be enough?

A couple of weeks ago I attended a masterclass with the wonderful and wholly underappreciated Margaret (Meg) Wheatley. I’ve been an avid student of Meg’s thinking and writing since I stumbled over her book Leadership and the New Science.

And seven books later her thinking still resonates and in particular this passage from her last book So Far Fom Home. It reads:

“As warriors for the human spirit, we discover our right work that we know is ours to do no matter what. We engage wholeheartedly, embody values we cherish, let go of outcomes, and carefully attend to relationships. We serve those issues and people we care about, not so much focused on making a difference, as on being a difference.”

Not so much focused on making a difference, as on being a difference…

It’s this passage that got me thinking about the subtle but powerful distinction between making a difference and being a difference. The former laden with singular ego and expectation, the latter with acknowledgement of contribution with others as part of a whole.

What does this somewhat philosophical thinking have to do with brand and promises?

I see too many organisations big and small and the people in them consumed by the pursuit of the outcome at all costs. And in reaching for it they overreach and end up disappointed and burned out when along the way what they cared about became distant and unrecognisable.

So I’m asking each of you to think about what kind of promises would you make, and brand be the result, if you let go of “making a difference” and embraced “being a difference” as your guiding ideology?

If your gave permission for what you care about – for the way you do things and who you do them for and with to be the focus.

I think the spirit that would build in your organisation and people would be stronger, more grateful for the ups and more able to withstand the downs. And if enough are intent on “being the difference” who knows what could happen…

See you next week.

Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at

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