We treasure our friends here in Denmark. It may surprise American readers to hear that a Dane usually has only two or three real life friends (ven or veninde). Maybe you call them “best friends” or “soulmates.” More than anyone else, it is by these people that the world changes us, and through these people that we change the world.
What does this have to do with career? I launched this ‘blog by asking you to consider your place in changing the world. Jerry Weinberg taught me long ago that we change the world one person at a time. Sure, on a job—in a group or on a team—we maintain enough close working relationships to get the product out the door. Teams are important, too, and the relationships they develop can last a lifetime and be of great value. Don’t overlook the relationships in these connections, and don’t overly separate the professional and personal sides of that relationship (look back on The Whole Person).
My metric for a worthwhile change to the world is that some of part of it, no matter how small, has fundamentally changed. By fundamental here I mean changing beliefs, changing one’s reason for being in the world of work. That is career growth on a par with human purpose. Think paradigm shift. I could have alternatively defined success in terms of the mass or extent of change, because it takes less energy in the short term to move many people a small distance. Think Twitter. Fundamental changes take sharp focus, and it takes far more focus to engage in fundamental change on a group level than pairwise. I have instead decided to trust the social process of change propagation: I change one person, and I trust that person’s new foundations will propagate thousands of times. If I move that person a great deal, in the end, I will have moved the world a great deal. And I will have created a new, defining relationship in the process.
Society equates power with span of control. That tends to work against the painstaking process of caring for one individual at a time, and of carrying on a true dialog. You can’t seriously dialog with a crowd: you can only broadcast and receive disembodied slices of feedback. Dialog happens soul-to-soul. When I’ve had the job of lecturing to thousands about new technologies, or of writing to tens of thousands about design, it must have an impact. But it’s the individual feedback that matters.
I am concerned about the increasing use of social media as a primary venue for fundamental engineering dialog. I miss the thoughtfulness and depth of pairwise dialectic. Call me nostalgic, but, sure, I do Tweet, and have a portal on most other household social networks. And there is, after all, this ‘blog. It’s all part of the equation. But in the end, broadcast media are just an outlet for a task whose hope lies in hearing some individual story, one great success, or a single change of mind. I’m not here to align anyone’s agendas with mine. As a reader, you are a victim of my attempt to lure you more deeply into an appreciation of human sensibilities and individual worth. I don’t care what you believe, if you’re honest with yourself about what you believe. I do care that passionate people engage in dialog at an individual level; that lifts the world.
Change the world by being part of changing each other. Jerry should have said we change the world two individuals at a time.