5 Ways to Be a Fearless Changemaker

We’re blogging from the Next Generation of Government Training Summit. Follow along @NextGenGov and read more blog posts here.

Fearless folks, I want you to stand up! Fearless feds, stand up!”

That’s how Michael D. Smith, Director of the Social Innovation Fund, kicked off his keynote speech at the second morning of the Next Generation of Government Training Summit on Friday. After he’d gotten everyone in the room standing, he spoke about how the nextgen leader of tomorrow will blend together a series of skills and how doing good is not the sole domain of nonprofits, or government, or business. “The nextgen leader of tomorrow will want to use all of the tools in any sector,” Smith said. “That’s what I’m excited about and will yield stronger change in the future.

But Smith noted that the government and those who want to effect change face many challenges.
“We do great stuff,” he said. “But the way we keep doing our work in many ways is definition of insanity – doing same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We have to disrupt the status quo.”
To do so, Smith offered his top five ways that anyone can be a ‘fearless changemaker’ and start making the change you want to see happen in the world sooner.
#1: Make big bets and make big history
People want to work on the big, hairy, hard challenges, Smith said. “The organization Malaria No More didn’t say ‘Oh, we’re going to just distribute bed nets,” Smith explained. “They said, we’re going to eliminate malaria in sub saharan Africa by 2016. They presented a vision. Do you have a big bet? What can you call people to action to do?
#2: Experiment early and often
“We can get so stagnant in the government,” Smith said. “It’s like, if this is the highway, we are not building a branch off of it. So how can we experiment more?” Smith said you have to not be afraid to fail, which led into his next point…
#3: Make failure matter
“Don’t sweep failure under the rug,” Smith advised. “We like to act like failre doesn’t happen. But we all know that failure teaches and we learn from it. Oprah wWnfrey was fired from her first job because they said she was too emotional. So many doors got slammed in JK Rowling’s face. Failing can be good. But we need to make sure that we are failing forward.”
#4: Reach beyond your bubble
Innovation happens at the intersections, Smith said. “This isn’t the same as thinking outside the box – this means working, and looking around the table and asking, does everyone look like me? What can we do to change that?” Smith showed a slide of a famous African proverb that he said showed him the power of working together with folks outside of your bubble: “If you want to go fast, go alone. if you want to go far, go together.”
#5: Let urgency conquer fear
Smith spoke about DC School Chancellor Kaya Henderson, who has her children in DC public schools — and how this makes her work harder. “Henderson says she goes to a meeting and somebody will tell her that some change will take seven years. But she knows her kids are in those schools. She can’t wait seven years. She’s got to have change NOW.”
Smith closed by reminding us all to have urgency, but to remember: the work we’re doing is cathedral building. In that, let’s make change now, but now that it’s building to a greater good that will last beyond our time on this earth.
He closed with this quote: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” –Greek proverb

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