On Imperceptible Change
If we are in the business of social change, we grow in maturity and humility when we loosen our grip on knowing exactly what change will look like or when it will happen.
I’ve been reviewing past editions of the Uncharted Insider, and I’ve noticed that I’ve written more about the topic of patience than I have about anything else. It’s a truism that the advice we give or the topics we explore most are the things that we, ourselves, most need to hear, and I am no exception. It is not a coincidence that I write so much about patience because I am an impatient person: impatient for social change, impatient for funders to respond to my emails (aren’t we all), impatient for the traffic to ease as I drive across town. I grew up talking about patience around the dinner table. To this day, whenever I sit down for dinner with my parents, my dad prays for patience. He is a more patient man than I, but I’ve noticed that many of us in the social impact space are naturally impatient. Our impatience leads us to bravely act, to be sure, but it also leads us to design our organizations and approaches to not only produce quick results but perceivable ones. We must see it. We must be able to measure it. If it’s not visible, it’s not there.
Recently, I’ve noticed myself saying things like: “Given the upheaval we’ve lived through in the last few years, I’m surprised how little has actually changed. Same divisiveness, same dynamics, same everything.” But as I’ve heard these words coming out of my mouth, I’ve begun to question the notion that if I can’t see the change, it’s not happening. Change metabolizes slowly. It moves nonlinearly. It lurks imperceptibly. I think about Uncharted’s ventures who are working on long-term policy change, or the impacts of the great resignation in a few years time. What small, creative endeavors have already been hatched that will become household names? I wonder if all the companies that are piloting a 4-day workweek will somehow move the radical idea of not working on Fridays into mainstream work culture. I’m reminded of the story of mRNA research and how it was perceived as a failure of medicine for decades until it became the foundation for all vaccines. If we are in the business of social change, we grow in maturity and humility when we loosen our grip on knowing exactly what change will look like or when it will happen.