What prompts vision for change? What drives us to action? What happens next?

Discomfort drives vision

I think reality is what prompts our vision. More specifically, reality causes discomfort of some kind, which in turn creates a desire for a change so that the discomfort is eliminated, reduced or alleviated, or masked. This process is little different from the instinct to relieve physical irritation – say, being bitten by a mosquito. We call it vision when the discomfort is persistent (though perhaps less acute – emergencies rarely require “vision”) and non-trivial to address, requiring equally persistent and non-trivial effort. We usually think of vision as having significant benefits for other people (i.e. having a large component of altruism), but it still boils down to “I would like X”, even if the X we would like is something like “those people not to be suffering.”

The non-trivial nature of the problems we develop a vision to change usually also means that they have complex or unclear or diffuse causes which aren’t amenable to simple solutions. Because of this, the process of working for change is also unclear and will tend to disperse resources and effort. Identifying and solving even the core problems will require a large amount of guesswork, and an demand on-going learning and repeated revision(ing) of likely solutions.

What drives us to action?

So we begin with discomfort, a vision of its absence, and some sort of best-guess as to its causes and possible solutions. The degree to which we take action will depend on the interplay between:

  • The extent to which we believe that the problems causing our discomfort are tractable in general (Do solutions exist?) and the extent to which we believe we can (are theoretically able to / have actual capacity to) influence them in particular;
  • Our will or desire for change, driven by the intensity of the discomfort both on its own terms and in relation to competing discomforts that might make more powerful demands on our attention, including the discomfort of forgoing more enjoyable activities in order to work on this particular problem;
  • The resources that we have available to address the problem. These include: the ability to correctly identify the problems at hand; technical knowledge or skills to solve those problems; experience and wisdom; time, money, tools and other resources; emotional resolve and stamina, and things that will strengthen your will; other people; our ability to learn and gather or create more resources as time goes on.

With enough of these things in hand, we begin an iterative process towards fulfilling our vision.

An example

Water starts to leak through your ceiling, causing you acute physical discomfort (you’re cold and wet) and psychological discomfort (your family is cold and wet too – and they look to you for help). Your best guess is that a pipe has leaked, and you have the tools and skills to fix it, so you take action. On inspection, it turns out that your roof has a substantial leak, which you can’t afford to repair. You make a partial fix, making the problem less acute, and live with a reduced level of discomfort from the leak while you research the problem, get an accurate estimate of the costs of repair, and save money – or re-mortgage – (“gather resources”) until you’re able to fix it. In the meantime, the previously urgent discomfort of a cold draught in your kitchen is forgotten until the leak is fixed. If you had no means of gathering the money to effect a proper repair, you might have lived with another, less-optimal solution for the long term.

What does this have to do with your project?

This example might seem trivial, and we might laugh at the idea of a “vision” of a roof that doesn’t leak, but it mirrors the iterative steps of any major project exactly:

  • Discomfort;
  • Best Guess at cause of discomfort;
  • Action – if sufficient resources are available;
  • Learning;
  • Better guess at cause of discomfort;
  • Further action (including gathering additional resources);
  • Eventual solution, or acceptable compromise / mitigation relative to other causes of discomfort.

These are also the fundamental steps of innovation in general. Working through the pieces of this process – deliberately or intuitively – is the way to make progress.

1 thought on “What prompts vision for change? What drives us to action? What happens next?”

  1. Love this, really helpful observations. I like seeing it broken down. I wonder about applying this to the less-urgent situations and perhaps also those situations that cause discomfort but I become used to them. How do we work on the ‘will’ to nudge us to the next step of working harder on the cause and the subsequent solution? I guess this comes with: time (the leak has now led to water damage to my floor); peer pressure (‘you really need to help us find a way to do x’ – e.g. a relative visits and reminds you that this water leak is unacceptable); greater discomfort (I’m now wetter and colder); seeing a better future (e.g. my friend shows me his plumbing fix at his place which inspire me)…others?

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