Sea levels are rising. It happens every day, and it's been going on for a while. Most people aren't noticing, and won't, until it gets worse.
On the other hand, a hurricane or a flood captures everyone's attention and causes us to leap into action.
The thing is, incremental daily progress (negative or positive) is what actually causes transformation. A figurative drip, drip, drip. Showing up, every single day, gaining in strength, organizing for the long haul, building connection, laying track—this subtle but difficult work is how culture changes. It takes a generation to change the political landscape or to build a hundred-year company.
If you want to cause action in the short run, the opposite is true. In the short run, drip by drip rarely puts people on alert. It's the thunderclap, the coordinated, accelerating work of many people, that causes those in power to sit up and take notice. Do it a few times in a row, or fifty, or a hundred, each with more impact, and you can successfully intervene.
Money makes it complicated, because money promises a shortcut. A bigger ad budget, or more VCs or more hires. We use money to hurry up, but it distracts us from what we actually seek to build.
We fail in two ways: One, when we ignore the drips around us and discover that we've been swamped by incremental culture change that we didn't see coming. And second, when we think a few chaotic but heartfelt claps are going to be sufficient to have an impact.
And we succeed when we combine the best of both worlds. When we settle in for the hard work of daily, bottoms-up institution building, and use thunderclaps not as a distraction, but as the rhythm of our forward motion.
We see it all the time. Someone gets caught cheating, or breaking a social taboo, or undermining the fabric of our culture in order to get ahead…
And the fans of the team rush to his defense.
It happens to spiritual leaders, in sports and in politics. When a member of the tribe transgresses, our instinct is to view the attack on the transgressor as an attack on the tribe.
Of course, it's not.
Not until the tribe members abandon the cultural imperatives and support the leader instead.
Clearly, sports don't work if some players cheat with abandon. Getting rid of cheating is in the interest of all the fans, not just the ones on the other team. And more urgently, the same thing is true of the leaders we follow or the people we choose to listen to. Being a tribal leader shouldn't be a license to degrade the culture.
The bravest thing tribe members can do is judge their leaders precisely the same way they judge the leaders of other tribes. Easy to say, hard to do, because part of the tribal/fan/party dynamic is that our leaders are an expression of ourselves.
There's a lot of volleying in tennis. They hit the ball, you hit it back.
A lot like most of the engagements you have with other people. The thing is, though, you get to decide who to volley with.
Perhaps you spend time with people who spend a lot of time talking to you about "who" vs. "whom" or ending a sentence with "with".
Or are filled with skepticism or negative feedback.
Or who deny the very facts that you've based your work and your future on…
It's unlikely that you'll change them. It's unlikely that they're making you better. It's quite probable you're spending a lot of time hitting things back that don't do you any good.
Consider playing with someone else.
Your agenda is yours. Don't throw it away without thinking about it.