Demanding the impossible

“Be a realist, demand the impossible.”

  • Protest graffiti, Paris, May 1968

It is all too easy to accept others’ definitions of achievement. To get caught up in other people’s aims and ambitions. To take others’ priorities as read.

This is the road to disaster. To throwing all your energy into goals you don’t really care about, growing tired and disillusioned, working with less and less energy at something you don’t love. If you’ve ever spent your days watching the clock, wishing the hours away until you can go home, then you know that feeling.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Learning from others, not imitating them

In the spring of 1968 France was thrown into turmoil. Not content to accept the aims given them by politicians and old-fashioned business leaders, students and workers rose in protest. They could see a different future for themselves and their country, and the demands they made, freedoms considered unthinkable by the establishment, transformed the country and led to the downfall of the government.

The world can change.

Steve Jobs built Apple on technologies and practices that were unimaginable to his competitors. The idea that our personal and working futures lay with computers. That we could carry our music collection in our pocket. That the most sophisticated technology in the world could be designed around the principle of simplicity. He created his own sense of achievement and succeeded on his terms.

Business can change.

Every small business owner, every entrepreneur, every consultant and free-lancer you’ve ever talked with started out working for someone else. Then they worked out what they wanted for themselves and they set out to do it.

You can change.

Finding your own aim

Choosing your own goal and working towards it is hard work, but it is infinitely more satisfying than the alternative. Happiness comes from meeting goals we find fulfilling, and you’ll never do that while they aren’t your own goals.

Look at what you value, what really matters to you. Whatever it is, there’s a job to be found or to be created in that field.

Rising to the challenge

Many of us struggle to define what we want to achieve. In that case look at the things that are wrong around you. The places in business, in politics, in your community where the right goals just aren’t being achieved. Look at those places and ask yourself what people are treating as valuable, what they are treating as success. Then ask what you think success should look like, what would be of real value in that area, and work towards it. You’ll have found an achievement that you really value.

Don’t shy away from the difficult challenges. The greatest, most fulfilling successes come from taking the path less followed, from finding things that challenge you and solving them. Satisfaction comes not from accepting our limits but from pushing them.

But always remember, work towards the things that you care about, even when others say that they are impossible. Maybe they are impossible within their world view, but yours is broader. You can see the change you want to be. You can make it happen.

Define your own success.

Demand the impossible.


Unleashing the Power of Organic Change

Any business has to change to succeed. That’s why Six Sigma, Lean and a host of other change management approaches have become so popular.

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.

– Alan Watts

But truly successful change doesn’t come from the outside or from above. It emerges organically from a culture in which change is an integral part.

Leaving the Change Question Behind

The battle over change management used to revolve around the word ‘change’. Managers didn’t want to face the difficult choices and challenges involved in transforming their processes and becoming something better.

For those businesses that matter, the fight has moved on. Enough managers have embraced the need for constant re-evaluation and reinvention that those businesses without them are naturally left in the dust. Leading now isn’t about standing out from these dinosaurs, but about standing out from the other cavemen as we all rub management sticks together, hoping to replicate the fire of improvement.

The new battle is over the ‘management’ in change management. As long as change comes from above, employees may accept it but they are unlikely to truly embrace it. We need to stop ‘managing’ change and instead create the conditions for it to naturally arise.

Clearing the Path

If you want employees to embrace change then you need to reward them for making improvements. This is such an obvious and attractive prospect, with the glitz of awards ceremonies and the clear satisfaction of bonuses and promotions, that it misses something even more fundamental.

Before starting to reward change, you need to remove the blockages, the processes and ways of working that make change harder. This is a more difficult prospect, as it means taking a hard look at ways of working that may have existed for years, that may even be taken for granted. It can create its own sources of resistance. It is the first and most difficult change.

But just think of what will happen if you offer rewards without removing the blockages. Some people will overcome them or avoid them, taking on easier improvements, and be rewarded for this. Many more will become frustrated, unable to earn those prizes and bonuses because the business itself stands in the way of change. That will build resentment against attempts at change, rather than fostering them.

You need to clear the path before you start walking.

Being Part of the Experience

As with learning and development, employees are more likely to engage in change if they can see that you are experiencing it too. Share your own experiences, good and bad. Let them know if a change disrupts your work or makes you uncomfortable, and show them why you embraced it anyway.

If you have an idea for a change that works then share that widely, but share the ones that don’t work as well. Show that you are as proud of the ideas that didn’t work out as the ones that did, and in doing so you’ll encourage others to take the same attitude. This helps overcome the natural fear people feel at putting themselves on the line by challenging accepted wisdom or sharing their precious ideas in an arena where they might be criticized.

Change is never going to be without its difficulties. But if you can remove the worst of the obstacles, and if you can show people that you face those obstacles too, then you can encourage a culture in which change emerges naturally from the day-to-day work. Then there will be no more need for change management. There will just be change.


Sun on horizon

As a society, we aren’t good at dealing with emotion in a business context. We tend to view the office as a place to remain calm and rational, and to suppress or exclude our feelings there.

But if we don’t at least acknowledge our emotions then we exclude a part of ourselves. This means we miss the opportunity to tap into a great source of drive and motivation.

Part of Your Body and Brain

When we work, we’re using the complex and interconnected system of our bodies and brains. Emotions aren’t some abstract thing detached from physical reality; they’re an important part of how we function as biological beings.

Some examples of the neuroscience behind emotions can help us to understand why they’re so important in the workplace.

The sense of satisfaction we feel at completing a task is caused by a release of dopamine. Do well, and your brain rewards you with that chemical kick.

On the other side, clinical depression is connected to a shortage of dopamine as well as two other neurotransmitters, serotonin and norepinephrine. Not dealing with negative emotions can do long term damage to the brain, all but killing its supply of these vital chemicals. In its milder forms this can undercut someone’s motivation. In more extreme forms it can make it impossible for them to work.

Trying to set aside emotions clearly won’t help – they are too deeply connected to the chemical workings of our motivations. So what can we do instead?

Mastering Yourself, Not Just Your Emotions

In their 1994 book The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, a group of writers led by Peter Senge sought to address this important issue. In doing so, they took a new approach to the old idea of mastering your emotions.

When we talk about mastering our emotions we often mean controlling them and keeping them in check. But for Senge et al mastery had a different meaning. We should acknowledge, explore and understand our emotions. We should take quiet time to see how we are feeling, not rush on by and leave them to ambush as later. When addressing a situation, we should be considering not just our thoughts on it, but our feelings.

Personal mastery then becomes not about controlling your feelings, but working with them. It stops being about fighting against your own biochemistry. Instead you recognize the signals your body’s sending out and learning to make use of them. If you recognize that an idea makes you uncomfortable, but you can’t see a rational reason why, then your emotions have probably spotted something you missed. Explore the feeling, delve deeper, and you may find a problem and its solution that you would otherwise have missed.

Real Motivation

Senge at al’s conception of personal mastery also gets into the deep waters of motivation. Many attempts to motivate employees rely on money, recognition or fear of failure. This vision of personal mastery is about focusing on work as rewarding in itself.

It’s an approach that makes total sense once we consider the biochemistry behind rewards. The dopamine rush we get from successfully completing a task becomes weaker each time, unless the reward becomes greater. Employees made satisfied by external rewards will have to be given more money and praise each time to keep them engaged. Those motivated by the satisfaction of the work will want more challenging tasks and greater achievements. The former takes resources out of the business, while the latter brings it closer to achieving its goals.

Twenty years on, The Fifth Discipline Handbook still contains valuable lessons. When combined with our growing understanding of neuroscience, it can and should transform the way we approach emotions, letting us use them in the workplace rather than repressing them.

Change - painting apple

The recent outcry over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and its potential use to discriminate against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has caused a storm that has drawn businesses into a controversial legal and ethical discussion. It has shown that businesses of any size can act in a socially responsible way, and that doing so, far from harming the bottom line, can do great things for a brand.

Stepping Into the Gap

It would be hard to identify two more successful and widely recognized brands than Gap and Levi Strauss & Co. When it comes to social responsibility, they have until recently taken quite different paths. Gap has been outspoken on issues such as equal pay, while Levi Strauss has largely avoided the spotlight of social activism.

Not any more. Following the enactment of the RFRA, leaders of the two clothing giants came together to condemn the law as ‘legalized discrimination’. They attacked the law, while making clear that their businesses were friendly toward the LGBT community.

In an America increasingly polarized between conservative and liberal movements, this might seem like a damaging step for a company’s bottom line, and it shows great responsibility for a large company to step up and make its voice heard.

Businesses of All Sizes

More courageous, and arguably more important, is the stance taken by small businesses in Indiana. Many of them quickly signed up to a group called Open for Service, in which businesses openly state their support for and openness to the LGBT community. The organization went international, attracting over 2,000 members within a few weeks. With stickers in shop windows, a directory of registered businesses and a fund for future social business ventures, it showed that small businesses could make their voice heard, especially by banding together.

This was a much bigger risk for small Indiana businesses, who could have lost income from customers who supported the RFRA. But it raised their profile and brought a statement of inclusiveness into a divided community. It also ensured custom from the movement’s many supporters, just as Gap and Levi Strauss’s stance bought them more loyalty from LGBT customers.

Passionate Purpose

The RFRA remains a controversial issue. Supporters of the act might argue that they are the ones acting out of a sense of social responsibility, protecting religious freedoms based on the values they support. And this brings us to the heart of real social responsibility – acting on a passionate purpose.

Whatever you believe socially responsible behavior looks like, it touches on what is important to you. By stirring the emotions it can draw criticism, but it also galvanizes support. It gives people more reason to care about your business one way or another. Indifference can kill a business just as surely as hatred. Accepting that you will be criticized, and in return making your staff and customers care, will add real energy to your work.

87% of consumers consider a company’s social responsibility to be important. That’s a lot of customers to reach out to.

Using Your Power

We all have the power to make a difference, whether we’re running a huge corporation or starting up a small business. The RFRA, far from showing the danger of businesses taking a social stance, has reminded us that anyone can make a difference in the world. It has been a reminder that being socially responsible, taking a stance and sticking to it, can do a business far more good than harm. And as Indiana Governor Mike Pence rushed to alter the RFRA, it has shown us how much impact that purpose can have.

Being socially responsible makes us better people, and it makes our organizations into better businesses.

Initiate change

The project manager strides aggressively through the workplace. He has a plan to overhaul this business, a radical transformation that will see everything improve. There will disruption, there will be resentment, there will be uncertainty. But ultimately a better way of working will arise form tearing down the old.

This is the image business improvement has gained over the past twenty years. Focusing on big changes, big projects, huge transformations. But as Sir Dave Brailsford has demonstrated in transforming British cycling, vast improvements can be achieved without large projects and the upheaval they bring. A steady stream of marginal improvements can build into big results.

How does this work, and how can you apply it?

Thinking About Thinking

Many inefficiencies come out of bad habits, and once you understand the way the brain works it’s easy to understand why. If a way of working in successful a few times, then the chemical reward your brain originally gave you for succeeding will now become associated with that way of working. You’ll feel good about that process. You’ll fall into a habit, and keeping repeating it whether it’s working or not. It feels like success.

Changing big habits is hard. The emotional rewards of stability are far larger, and so are the risks of change.

It’s much easier to start change with the small things, where people won’t lose out on much mental buzz from breaking the old habit. A new way of working will quickly develop its own rewards. The improvement will stick.

The Business as a Brain

In many ways, businesses work like brains. Repetition of behavior creates pathways, though through business processes and work arounds rather than synaptic connections. These paths of least resistance become the way the business works, the way it thinks. Whether it’s that staples should be ordered on a Tuesday, or that we always spend more each year on marketing, following familiar paths takes less effort. There’s less mental cost to doing the familiar.

Also like the human brain, a business can be re-trained. Start with small changes that bring you closer to your big goals. Let them become familiar, turning into new paths of least resistance. The cost of working in a different way, the extra effort involved and resistance created, will be low. Then once that improvement is embedded, move onto the next step.

Change as a Habit

Improvement itself can become a habit, as long as it’s done through small gains.

If change only comes in the form of large, occasional projects then no-one but the project managers gets to build a lasting mental buzz, a sense of satisfaction from shifting brain chemistry, out of improvement. The project happens, the change is done, and you settle into a new pattern of business as usual. The mental rewards are associated with a particular pattern of work, rather than working in whatever is the best way.

By encouraging people to make a steady series of small improvements, you foster improvement as a habit. Colleagues will start to associate a sense of satisfaction with making changes. They will actively look for improvements. When they come to change a working habit, the mental reward for improvement will immediately overcome the loss of satisfaction associated with the old habit.

Changing the Business Brain

The same principle applies to the business. By carrying out a stream of small improvements with visible results, you will wear away the points of resistance, whether in processes or attitudes. It will become easier to implement change, and eventually to bring in the larger, more transformative changes that are sometimes needed.

For both employees and your business, small, habitual improvement can foster a culture of improvement.

Recent years have seen senior leaders at huge organizations battling to keep their secrets under wraps. From the US government information released through Wikileaks to the Sony hacking scandal, both data and opinions are increasingly hard to hide.

Some information needs to stay secret, but the trend we’re now seeing is toward openness, and toward leaders either embracing this or having it forced upon them. The former is not just more pleasant but more productive, making increased openness one of the most important leadership trends of the next few years. It’s not just about being open to the outside world, but being open with others within your organization. And most important of all is being open about your failures, because the odds are good that someone will reveal them no matter how hard you try to hide.

So how can you be more open about failure without losing control?

Failures Needn’t Be Problems

The most important thing, the foundation on which this openness rests, is recognizing that failures don’t need to be problems. We all face setbacks. Not everything will go our way. But failures aren’t always the disasters they feel like.

Data security scandals provide great examples of this. Security breaches at Home Depot and Target led to brief initial dips in both companies’ stock prices, but were followed by huge bounce backs, Home Depot seeing a 21% increase in earnings per share after the failure, and Target its highest recovery in stock price in five years.

Work had to be done to remedy these failures, but in the long run they weren’t the disaster many companies fear. The public perception of failure did neither company any lasting harm.

You can afford to be open about failures.

Failures Can Bring Improvement

In many cases, failures can in fact be the basis for improvement. They draw attention to where things aren’t working right, and give us the opportunity to seek out ways to work better. With the right attitude, they can be a springboard to great things.

But this only works if you are open about failures. If people in the organization are afraid to acknowledge what has gone wrong, then there is no opportunity to examine or discuss it. Instead, the failures get swept under the rug – instead of a selection of opportunities to seize, you end up with a growing pile of unresolved problems, and a disaster in the making.

Openness about failure isn’t just a nice addition to your managerial arsenal – for real growth it’s a necessity.

Failures Need to be Discussed

So how can you encourage openness, both in yourself and in others?

As with any conversation, this is dependent on the context. One of the first steps is to create settings in which people feel free to talk in a way they may not have done before. Informal occasions allow people to talk more freely, and away days, dinners and team socials may be a good place to start. But it isn’t enough to do this away from the normal work. It needs to be part of that work.

Foster discussions around what could be done better in even the most successful projects. Respond positively to criticism and act on it, showing you’re serious about change. Be open about the moments where you have failed. If you hear colleagues back off from expressing their concerns or reservations then encourage them to speak up.

Because if you don’t embrace openness then it is going to be forced upon you. The future is coming, and any failure you’ve faced could be tomorrow’s talking point.

How much difference did you make today? If you were to step back and look at that work, would you feel like you added real value to the world, or just kept things ticking over?

It’s easy to slip into doing the same old thing with your work; to take the safe options rather than rise to the challenge; to follow the aims set out for you by others.

Easy but not satisfying, and not the best that you could do for you or for the world around you.

Rising to the challenge

If you want to make a difference then you need to rise to the challenge, and the first step is identifying a challenge that’s worthwhile.

Look for a problem in the world around you, an absence or a failing, something that doesn’t just make you think but that makes you feel like there is a need for change. Tesla Motors have done this with their bold dedication to producing electric cars. They’ve identified a need for more environmentally friendly cars that are enjoyable to drive. They’ve risen to that challenge, driving down the cost of eco conscious living in the face of some huge difficulties.

Part of finding your challenge lies in recognizing that business does not exist in a vacuum. It is linked to wider social and environmental issues, and if we don’t support our world and society then it won’t support business. Find a purpose, a way for your business to have an impact, and set that as your goal.

Asking why

This is about more than just leaping to the first, most obvious solution. Look deeply at the problem you’ve seen, whether it’s litter on the streets, an educational shortfall or any of the hundreds of other causes that fire people’s passions. Take a tip from the Toyota Production System and ask why things are the way they are, asking again and again until you get to the root of the problem.

Then look at the solutions on offer and ask why they don’t work. Even chimps can look at the behavior of others around them and spot the flaws, finding a better way through. There’s no excuse for us not to.

If you already have an established business and are looking to transform it then ask what harm social and environmental damage are doing to your business, and how you could do something to solve this. Show your employees and shareholders how the solution helps them.

Believe in yourself, believe in better

Staying focused is vital to success. That’s as true in keeping to your purpose as it is in juggling your daily tasks. There will be times when the obstacles seem insurmountable, when flashy distractions and easy options might lure you away from your purpose. But if you believe in yourself, if you believe in your cause and your ability to make a change, then you can overcome anything.

Look again at Tesla Motors. Following the financial crisis the motor industry was in disarray. Even General Motors was filing for bankruptcy, and against this backdrop it was all but impossible to find funding for a relatively unknown car firm, especially one with such a radical and risky focus. But Tesla stuck with it, they found their funding, and they have gone on to provide real innovation in the industry. By the first quarter of 2013 they were posting profits for the first time in their history.

If you have a purpose that people value then they will come round to your cause. If you have a purpose that you value then you will be able to stick with it, even when the going gets tough.

Find your purpose. Live your impact. Make a difference, for you and for the world.

I’ve written many times about the importance of having a sense of purpose, a cause that drives your business forward. It can be a unique product you’re passionate about, a principle you stand for, even an approach to service that you want to bring to the world.

But while a sense of purpose is important, it’s equally important that you’re able to put it into practice. So how do you ensure that your purpose is usable, that it drives your business rather than becoming window dressing.

Build the Right Framework

A purpose will achieve nothing if your business practices don’t spread and encourage it. As Amanda Shore has pointed out, you need to build a framework within your business to do this. There should transparency about how the purpose is applied, positive feedback for those following it, and a clear statement of what it is and how it works.

But you also need to get into the nitty gritty details. If you want employees to embody your organisation’s purpose then there need to be goals in their work that reflect the purpose, and measures of whether they are achieving those goals through their specific work. You need to make sure that business practices and procedures match the purpose.

The purposeful framework has to reach every corner of your business.

Build the Right Teams

Your rules and procedures are only one part of what makes up your organisation. Without your teams there would be no-one to follow your purpose, and so you need to ensure that those teams are recruited, structured and managed in a way that supports your goals and values.

Building a team isn’t easy, and there are plenty of ways you can get it wrong. One of the most important things is making it specific to you. Make sure that you’re recruiting people who will enjoy working toward your purpose, and whose skills match your goals, not just generic ideals of what makes a good administrator, manager or call handler.

Structure the teams around your purpose. If your aim is creativity and innovation then you need to make sure someone in every team is responsible for making this happen, and that you don’t have a restrictive hierarchy. If you want to ensure that all staff members get high levels of support then you may need to create small teams so managers have time for everyone under their care.

Above all, think about what teams you need. Don’t burden yourself with dozens of oversight teams and committees if your aim is flexibility and creative freedom. Don’t separate administration from customer service if you want the personal touch. And don’t create layering if you want a flat, open culture.

Build Links Between Culture and Strategy

This brings us around to one of the most important steps in creating a purposeful business – connecting culture and strategy. As Jamie Notter has pointed out, the recent focus on culture, while good, has led to it being seen as something separate from, even in opposition to, focusing on strategy. But culture and strategy should be driving toward the same goal – fulfilling your purpose – and if you’re to avoid clashes then they need to be linked.

Strategy should be an embodiment of your culture, and culture a support for strategy. If your strategy requires fast expansion then it won’t pair well with a close knit, family-like culture, but might fit with something youthful and exuberant.

Appropriate practices, well-shaped teams, and links between culture and strategy, are important in ensuring that you fulfil your purpose. But ultimately, it all comes down to one thing – creating a business capable of walking your talk.

Businesses are among the most powerful entities in the modern world. The largest have greater wealth and influence than many governments. Even small businesses and entrepreneurs regularly reach a global audience. Leaders of businesses have become, by default, leaders of society. This creates an opportunity, even a responsibility, to lead in a way that shapes not just a better business but a better society, the sort of world we all want to live in.

Acknowledging Real Desires

People are often portrayed as cynical and self-serving, unable to consider the greater good. It’s a perspective that has been encouraged by a certain cynical and self-serving part of the economy, an old guard with a vested interest in keeping the status quo and not making the sorts of changes that people really want.

But when we look more deeply into people’s desires, we find they want to be led down a path that is better for society and the environment, that they want to look after the greater good. As Harvard Professor Stephen Ansolabehere has shown, the majority of Americans want to see our energy provided by solar and wind power. The challenge for business should not be to meet the needs of a selfish, gas-guzzling public that only exists in the minds of oil executives. It should be to provide environmentally friendly solutions, the ones that people really want.

Moving Beyond Disposability

The late twentieth century revolution in consumer markets led to a focus on disposable products, ones designed to be thrown away and replaced by the next model to keep business constantly working. It’s an approach that left customers with broken gadgets and empty wallets, all for the sake of business.

One of the biggest challenges for humanity identified by scientists is building resilient social and ecological systems, developing an infrastructure that can endure and sustain us in the long term. It’s about achieving the opposite of those disposable products, creating something lasting and worthwhile. It’s a cause that will need the support of business, and it’s something that serves the common good.

Leaders of businesses have become, by default, leaders of society. This creates an opportunity, even a responsibility, to lead in a way that shapes not just a better business but a better society, the sort of world we all want to live in.

If we want to prove our worth as social leaders, to live up to the trust placed in us, then we need to look beyond disposability, both in the products we provide and the way we run our businesses. Instead of ensuring our continuing position by creating disposable products, we should recognize our own jobs and organizational structures as disposable, put in place long enough to achieve enduring goals before moving on to the next great project. It will certainly create a better legacy than heaps of chewed up plastic toys.

Living Wages

The ongoing effects of inflation, along with the jobs lost in the recent downturn, mean that one of the greatest social problems we currently face is ensuring that everybody has enough money to survive without unnecessary discomfort or distress. To feed and house their families, buy clothes for their children and pay their medical bills.

The minimum wage is never enough for this, and so one of the most fundamental and straightforward acts of social leadership we can undertake is to ensure that we are paying a living wage. Fight back against the downward pressure on wages. Pay your employees well and you will get good employees, good work and a healthier local economy. You’ll also help to push up wages across the board, forcing other companies to pay well for good employees.

Leading the Change

As leaders, it’s important to be the change we want to see in society. But more than that, it’s important to lead that change.

Originally appeared on Switch and Shift:

The way we understand society has the power to change it, whether through debate, public policy, or the behavior of individual citizen-consumers. This is as true of our motives and values as it is of anything else.

The model most often assumed in current debates is one taken from traditional economics. But Michael Sandel has challenged this model in his book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, and if Sandel is correct, then this has huge implications for society.

The Economic Model – public spirit as a currency

The point of contention between Sandel and traditional economists lies in how they see public spirit as a motive for action. We’re talking here about public spirit as a feeling that motivates people to do good, a feeling that can be tapped into to drive better behavior, whether it’s participating in community projects, helping neighbors or picking your children up on time from school.

Traditional economists see public spirit as a finite resource, something that is spent and eventually exhausted through use. Other motivators can be added to it for a cumulative effect, creating ever-stronger motives for action.

The implication of this is that if we want to see strong public spirit then we should avoid using it where possible. Financial motives should instead be added, saving this precious resource for later.

Sandel’s Model – public spirit as a muscle

Sandel takes a very different view of public spirit. For him it is a muscle that grows when it is flexed and withers away if it goes unused. In this model, using public spirit to motivate people reinforces its value and makes it more likely to motivate them later. Substituting an economic motive does not preserve the precious pool of public spirit but instead destroys it, severing the association between these positive feelings and the desired action.

Sandel gives the example of a nursery in Israel, which relied on parents’ feelings of public spirit and appropriate behavior to motivate them to pick children up on time. When the nursery started fining them for not picking children up on time the act became linked with economic motives, and so the moral motive went away. Late pickups became more, rather than less, common.

Why Does It Matter?

This isn’t just a matter of theory – it has real life consequences. Sandel argues that recent attempts to put market motives into every area of public life are eroding feelings of public good, that if we want to restore them we need to make use of those feelings, rather than shying away from them.

A casual glance at the problem of inner city decay reinforces this view. Areas lacking in a sense of community and public spirit swiftly spiral down into crime and social collapse. Attempts at revival by drawing business into such areas may be doomed if all they bring is money.

Theory matters. The way we understand the world matters. And the first step in changing the world is making sure that our understanding is as correct as it can be.

Originally appeared on Switch and Shift, June 2014: