Leading the change we want to see in the world.

Mirrored Reciprocation

If you had to pick one rule that governs every interaction in the world, what would it be?

We can find one answer to this question in, of all places, Newton's third law of motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you push against a chair, the chair pushes back just as hard in the opposite direction. Without that reaction holding you up, you'd topple to the floor.

Businessman Peter Kaufman refers to this effect as "mirrored reciprocation," and once you become aware of this phenomenon, it shows up everywhere you look.

When we give food to our neighbors, they're more likely to extend the same favor to us. And when we try to fight internal discomfort, it often only serves to increase it.

If you get sick, your body develops antibodies to fight the infection. Russia's attack on Ukraine pushed Finland and Sweden to apply to NATO, strengthening the western alliance against it. And if you're trying to strengthen your relationships, you can create a safe space for others to be vulnerable by opening up yourself.

You can wield this idea to lead the change you want to see: Go first. Hold a mirror up to the universe that shows what it could be. Then watch as it reciprocates.


If you touch a hot pan with your finger, you will reflexively pull your hand away before the pain signal has time to reach your brain.

How does this happen? Your spinal cord makes the decision. This is because the brain — the most sophisticated source of intelligence we’re aware of — is too slow.

So, it’s delegated that responsibility to the spine. The brain may be the central decision maker in your body, but some responses require a faster reaction.

Leaders often feel compelled to make every decision themselves. Maybe some one-off situations have better outcomes that way.

But in the long run, you risk burning your organization’s hand if another part of the system can’t respond on its own.

Igniting Wonder

Ken Segall from his book Think Simple:

Growing in a controlled way meant Blue Man Group could build a lasting culture. The founders wanted new hires to feel like theirs was a “noble endeavor,” going beyond mere entertainment, doing their part to ignite a bit of childlike wonder in audiences. They wanted everyone who worked in the organization—performers, musicians, production crews, and office staff—to feel like they were a part of delivering this experience.

This is part of the Japanese concept of Kaizen, which states that all members of a team should be empowered to improve processes.

People are not computers. When you encourage them to bring their full creative selves to their work, you open the door to magic.

When you lead others as if they're robots, though, you might limit downside with the bureaucracy you impose. But in doing so, you also cap your unlimited upside.

The world is a richer place to live in when we leave space for ingniting that bit of childlike wonder in those we serve.

See also: Unobtrusive Bits of Whimsy

Carrots and Sticks

There's an old debate involving carrots and sticks about how to motivate the behavior you want in others.

Is it more effective to incentivize people with a carrot? Or to inspire fear in them by brandishing a stick?

A stick might get you the short term results you wanted, but I think most of us would agree that we'd rather find motivation in joy, rather than fear.

People remember how you treat them. Want to build trust and confidence in your leadership? Consider which approach is most sustainable.

This quote, typically attributed to French writer and aviator Antoine St. Exupéry (though perhaps not exactly his words), reminds us that there is no substitute for inspiring others:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

First Followers

Leaders are important, but the first people to follow a leader are just as crucial.

Derek Sivers popularized this idea in his TED talk "How to Start a Movement," which features the following video clip:

In the video, a lone individual starts dancing. It's a little weird at first, because no one else seems to even acknowledge that there's music playing.

But pretty soon, someone else joins in. All of a sudden, the original dancer has credibility — they have a follower signalling to everyone else that it's OK to join in!

If you can't inspire anyone to follow you, it's hard to be a leader, and this is what makes those first followers so essential.

Over the course of the video, more and more people start joining in the dance until soon, it's almost weirder to not be dancing.

And so, a movement is born.

Each of us has the capacity to lead, if we choose. It's an act of courage — of embracing the vulnerability that arises when you take a risk.

And if you see someone who has boldly taken that first step in a direction you agree with, you can recognize their bravery by being the first to follow.


Reflections on creating systems to sustainably grow your impact on the world.
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