Being a changemaker, a successful one at least, isn’t a one-idea, one-person, one-time kind of pursuit. It’s a hard truth for some to get their minds around. Societally, we are bombarded by the idea of the hero, the single person who does it all. The truth is quite the opposite, as anyone who has had any modicum of lasting success will tell you. Entrepreneur, innovator, changemaker of any kind, even the most gifted creator needs others.
But beyond that simple truth, the question becomes how to engage others, to build on your own creativity and drive to attract and indeed catalyze people beyond yourself team with you in making positive, lasting change happen.
In interviews with more than 200 successful entrepreneurs for my first book, A Deliberate Pause: Entrepreneurship and its Moment in Human Progress, five factors in what makes for the most effective change catalysts stood out. If you’re a changemaker, or hope to be, think of these five as not just a list of things you do once, but as an ongoing ‘health check’ on your ability to make the kind of change you dream of making.
Often innovators are skilled at getting an idea going in the first place, one reason why they come to believe they can continue to go it alone. But the day-to-day tasks of scaling an idea into tangible value can cause even the best innovators to forget their skill for looking around and seeing what’s possible, and to inadvertently put their head in the sand and miss the larger patterns emerging. Yet importantly, those patterns can reveal not only the next necessary ideas for growth, but equally, threats on the horizon that could jeopardize the current idea and the likelihood of its bearing fruit. It’s precisely why stepping back and looking for patterns must be a dedicated habit—and not just for the entrepreneurial innovator.
Being an innovator is hard and all-consuming. That’s why one of the very best ways to make pattern recognition the competitive advantage it should be is to make it a cultural practice across your entire team. This can be tough, at least at first, for many. Besides empowering others to come up with the ideas, it also invites recognition of the bad along with the good. But in total, the practice of looking for patterns is among the easiest and most important skills a successful team can nurture.
Seeing what’s possible, good or bad, isn’t enough; you have to act. Human beings tend to do a lot of talking and a lot of worrying. What is the best action to take? What promises the best outcome with the lowest risk? Such questions aren’t irrelevant, just less relevant than we tend to treat them when times are ambiguous.
Taking action matters more, and it’s the entrepreneur who enables (or precludes) that, in themselves, but also in others. Are you acting as a catalyst in this way? To find out, evaluate the ways you incentivize your team to take action. We’re talking about novel action here, not just following orders. Of course, you want any act to have a premise and a plan behind it, but inevitably it’s taking the action that matters most.
It’s embedded in the first two points above, but let’s be more explicit: as the innovator, as a catalyst, your most important job is to motivate and move others forward to be leaders in their own right. In other words, going it together doesn’t just mean being surrounded by a bunch of followers.
Activating others is about giving others the room, incentive, and power to actually lead—with their own ideas, drawn from the patterns they see, and through their own, often independent actions. It takes the many, not the heroic few, to navigate ambiguous waters and deliver entrepreneurial success repeatedly. For leaders, it takes humility, too.
Value Creation and Transfer
No matter what your pursuit, you must create value. The best entrepreneurs know that to achieve that goal continually, they can’t create value once nor keep the benefits mostly to themselves. They have to transfer both the value and the ability to create it to the many.
Transferring value begins with activating your entire team to conceive and pursue value. But it doesn’t stop with your team. The value you create has to align with what the audience you make it for actually wants. That match between value and need changes constantly in uncertain times. Even in normal times, it’s far too easy to get lost in your own ideas and fail to match them to what others value and need.
Check in often on how you’re doing on this front. Because when you give people something they truly value, they not only want it, but they defend it, build on it to create new forms of value, and in the process, solidify your value to them.
Creating is tough in any time, but uncertain times undo the best of plans. Real value creators, teams, ventures, societies, and more, need to be able to perform no matter how much things keep changing. That’s only possible if you know what drives you—not just in the business plan sense, or simply out of a sense of duty to partners or shareholders, but in the deeper sense of the shared purpose you and your team pursue each day. As the originating innovator, you don’t just catalyze this from the start, you have the unique ability to keep it front and center and to make its meaning clear.
What really drives you? If you can’t answer that, for yourself of course, but also consistently and across an entire culture, it’s not just hard to inspire anything worthwhile, it raises the odds that uncertainty will define you, rather than you harnessing it to create the value you seek. See patterns, take action, create value, but be sure to tie it to shared purpose. It’s the thing that catalyzes all the rest.