The challenges of change

Change is hard, even when intentions are good.

Every year, the Sidney Hillman Awards honor published investigative reports that reveal either horrific corporate cover-ups or unintended mishaps. One of the award-winning essays from 2014 was written by Michael Hobbes, published in New Republic:

Titled “Stop Trying to Save the World,” Hobbes exposes the problems that emerge when well-meaning people and organizations attempt to make changes for the better–without lasting success. Sometimes the problems lie within an organization, for instance, too much overhead; other times, the issue lies in the community itself where solutions require an infrastructure that doesn’t exist.

From the problems of maintaining a water pump to supply clean water to villagers in Zambia to encouraging people who are hungry to spend their food budget more wisely to helping teenage mothers make improved life choices, Hobbes points to the obstacles that too often prevent the best-laid plans from working.

The fact is that problems are complex. People are unpredictable. Hobbes’ suggestion is to “stop chasing after every idea” that comes along. Instead, Hobbes says, tailor attempts to the particular places where change is desired and then determine whether “conventional” or “unconventional” approaches are appropriate to the situation.


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