How to create change: Lessons from Jared Cohen.

I’ve just got done watching the video embedded below from Jared Cohen, who is the head of Director of Google ideas and someone whose work I’ve been following for a while. There’s another great interview with Jared and Eric Schidt (another of my favourites) at a Foreign Affairs magazine event you can watch too.

Jared Cohen: Don’t Pursue Ideas With Obvious Conclusions from 99% on Vimeo.

In the video, Jared shares his thinking about how ideas are implemented and how change is created through doing that. Specifically, he walks us through how he has begun leading Google Ideas towards reducing the level of extremism in the world today. It seems like a fairly broad topic from the outset, but Jared leads us through his thinking and the eventual actions with some candid stories of his time in the middle east; namely Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.

What struck me most about this, is that everything Google are doing in response to this issue is very simple. They’re simply beginning work on it, and by doing so, achieving some very small (but very important) outcomes. They launched Against Violent Extremism, and held the #ave Summit a few weeks ago. I wanted to share my reflections on that, and what I see as a very common pattern emerging in successful initiatives.

1) Aim, Fire, Adjust.

Watch Rexster’s ‘Angry Birds’ video.

In this video, Pete talks about how Angry Birds is a good example of his innovation mantra: Aim, Fire, Adjust. It’s something which is consistent in Jared’s video too. Instigating the #ave network and community has been the first step towards actually doing something to rectify this global issue. The summit could have been a flop, but that wouldn’t matter as much to Google Ideas as just firing and getting out there to see what adjustments they would need to make for the next move.

2) Don’t worry about the numbers. But make it global.

The #ave had only 80 people attend it. Not big numbers, by any stretch. But the 80 people who attended were the exact right people who should have been there. There doesn’t seem to have been any ‘passengers’ in the mix. The Mindful conference which Ross Hill and Jan Stewart ran in May was similar. It also only had 80 people – but that wasn’t the point. The point was to get the right 80 people together to begin investigating what it was to be mindful at the edge of modern world. There have already been a number of amazing take aways from this event.

What you’re doing doesn’t need to be a massive hit right away. It needs to have global relevance, but not necessarily massive numbers. I followed the #ave summit on Twitter.#Mindful was similar in that it was followed by a number of active people from overseas. Most people won’t ever hear about what you’re doing. That’s ok. Just make it amazing for those few people around the world that will follow along.

3) Keep building

I’m really looking forward to watching the crew at Google Ideas over the next few months (and years) as they progress their work. They’ve run the event now, and have a community who has bought into the idea of fixing this issue. They don’t know how yet, but they at have a good mix of people to test things with.

A short time ago, I read the book Solving Tough Problems, by Adam Kahane, which talks about getting small groups of influential people together to help build constructive dialogue around the various scenarios that could occur to the group. It’s a practice which matches well with the ideas behind David Snowden’s Cyenfin Model.

The idea is to bring a group of 7-12 people together who can have a direct impact on the problem area and chat about the things that could occur, and how they could respond to them. From these meetings, which should be built from the #ave attendees who most resonated with intent at the summit, Google could take a raft of great (small) initiatives towards implementation. Once technically implemented, it becomes a case of continuing to aim and adjust until they’re hitting the sweet spot and seeing their most desired scenario play out.

That’s just a few of the ideas I’ve taken from the summit. They seem to be consistent with the approach we’ve taken in the various projects I’ve been working on in the last little while, like the Lantern Mental Health 2.0 Unconference, the Awesome Foundation Sydney and Trampoline.

What do you think?

7 thoughts on “How to create change: Lessons from Jared Cohen.

  1. Love it Steve – a great post at a great time for me. Been thinking about a bit of these challenges as I’ve had a week away from the office. Lots of change needed, but I think I’ve been standing on the river bank trying to build a jetboat, rather than a raft that we can test the waters with. Needless to say orbs aren’t very good at building jet boats (or even medium sized paddle steamers!) very quickly.
    Keep it up man, I love getting sparked into action by you!

    1. Thanks for the article, Mei! I’ll have a read.

      You’re right – he did have a very ‘strong’ approach to the way things should
      be. I’m happy to watch a little longer though, I think there may be more to
      the approach than just brashness.

      What would the post be about? What do you mean by ‘disagreeing?’ – Perhaps
      you could write a guest post! 🙂

  2. Next time I see you I definitely want to understand what you see here! I don’t get it at all. I am sure we will cover what I mean about disagreeing in that same conversation. 🙂

  3. Hey, Steve. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. Sorry to hear you’re moving on. I like the blog, by the way. Good luck and best wishes. Bye! David (Mendes)

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