Tipping points and dominoes

In 1816, Robert Owen and Sir Robert Peel introduced a Bill to the British House of Commons to have stricter laws on the hours children worked.

It was purposed that children be at least nine years old and could not work more than twelve and half hours per day. At the time, children were working as early as six years old, up to sixteen hours per day.

Factory owners were outraged to say the least.

Despite doctors testifying of the potential health problems working in such harsh conditions, it was viewed that there was no other way to do tasks in tiny spaces (like cleaning flues or chimneys).

Of course, that really wasn’t the problem. Culture dictated that it was better for children to be working rather than engaging in pilfering. But not all children. Specifically, the poor. The view at the time was that the poor were poor because they deserved to be.

It took three years, before the minimum age of fourteen was passed. The Bill was heavily amended from its original and rarely enforced.

Unfortunately, change doesn’t happen overnight.

It happens little by little, drip by drip. This Bill while at the time seemed like a win for the factory owners was the first crack in the system. A couple of decades later, the Factory Act of 1833 raised the bar for working conditions. And 50 years after that, the eight-hour workday was introduced.

Here’s the thing, Rachael Carson didn’t think Silent Spring was going to start a global environmental movement (and eventually inspire the formation of the EPA). Rosa Parks didn’t think she was going to unite a divided nation. Jacqueline Novogratz didn’t think she would become a voice for the voiceless.

There are tipping points and then there are dominoes that need to fall before we reach critical mass. We don’t give enough credit to those who opened the door for someone who turn around and open doors for others.

But that’s how this work works.

Real change takes time. Sometimes longer than what we have here on this Earth. No matter where you are in the arc of the work you do, your contribution is making a dent.

The angrier we are, the surer we feel

When we’re angry, we use the corrugator supercilii muscles near our eyes to pull our eyebrows down and together. This causes our forehead to wrinkle and squint our eyes. As a result, we significantly cut off our peripheral vision. (Try it.)

In other words, anger literally narrows our vision, cutting off what we can see. Paradoxically, the angrier we are, the surer we feel about ourselves.

It’s a useful metaphor. The less we see the more frustrated we feel. Yet, we can’t see unless we learn to look.

Maybe that is why anger makes us so stubborn. We pick an island and decide to die on it since we can’t see any other useful alternative.

The gap theory

Anytime we come across a gap in our knowledge, we have an innate desire to close it.

Human beings have an incredible ability to fill in these spaces.

We hear bits and pieces of a story and go to great lengths to fill in the details with previous biases and prejudices.

Often, these conclusions can get in our way from seeing the world as it is.

What if we instead tried to see things as they are, not as we think they should be?

The problem with blaming social media

We blame social media for many of our problems today, and for good reason.


Except, we have been on this path for a long time.

Bullying predates cyber bullying.

Narcissism and vanity have been around a lot longer than selfies.

The internet and social media haven’t created these problems, it has amplified them.

When talking about social media as the culprit, we have to be really clear what it is we are actually talking about.

Social media is a symptom not the root cause of the challenges we face.

Sour grapes


We’ve heard the story of the hungry fox trying to reach for the grapes.

After numerous failed attempts, the fox exclaims that the grapes our sour.

Aesop taps into what human beings have been fighting against for thousands of years:

Our internal narrative.

The story we tell ourselves when we are passed on a job (I didn’t really want it anyway) or when the underdog beats us (It’s just a game).

The grapes are not sour, we are.

We can’t forget that failure is our greatest teacher.

Just because we can’t obtain something, doesn’t mean we have to look through the lens of discouragement.

How many people does it take to change the world?

Nathan Winograd worked at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in San Francisco. What most people don’t understand is that SPCA wasn’t designed to help animals but to get rid of them. Every year, they would euthanize over four million animals.

Fed up with how things were, Winograd attempted to start the first no-kill shelter. When Winograd went to the city council to plead his case, people flew from all over the country to testify against him. His critics said it couldn’t be done, it would be inhumane and it would be financially irresponsible.

But Winograd persisted.

He went to the locals, the weird, the few who cared enough to join his cause.

And it worked.

After a few years, San Francisco became the first no-kill city. Winograd went on to do it again in other places like North Carolina and Reno.

It turns out, the best way to change the minds of the majority, to challenge the status quo, is to enroll 25% of the population. The challenge in our day is figuring out how to get 25% of the population to support your movement.

It’s a common misconception though to think we must change the minds of everyone in the entire world.

This isn’t true.

Winograd didn’t have to change everyone’s mind. Most people don’t care about animal shelters. He went to the tribe of those who did care about animal treatment first. And then pleaded his case to the ones who might care next.

The world is divided into tribes. Tribes are defined as an assembled group with common interests and goals (insiders).

Rockers who prefer Van Hagar over Van Halen is a tribe. Skiers who enjoy riding $60,000 gold plated skis is a tribe. Apple has a tribe. So does Samsung, and Nike, and REI.

When we are talking about changing the world, we are not actually talking about changing the entire world—we are talking about changing a segment of the world.

Another way to think about this is the Presidential Election.

If the Presidential Election has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t aim your message to everyone who can vote. No, you target those who do vote. Specifically, the swing voters, the ones who are not sure who they want to vote for yet.

Social change starts at the edges. A small group of people that are eager and ready to be assembled.

Slowly, over time, as your movement grows, once you hit the tipping point, you have an opportunity to cross the chasm. And maybe, make the change you are seeking to make.

Don’t treat the internet like an arcade game

By 1982, four years after Space Invaders launched, it had grossed over two billion dollars. Equivalent to seven and half billion dollars today.

Here’s the thing, arcade games are designed to repeatedly feed quarters into the machine until your stack runs out. (Think of the urgency the countdown creates when you’re out of credits.)

Once you’re out of pocket change, it’s game over.

This is completely different from how the internet operates.

The thing that makes the internet so great and to have the means of production right at your fingertips is…

If you mess up, you can try again.

The cost? Almost nothing.

The work you do doesn’t need to be perfect before you ship it anymore.

Ship it and then continue to make it better.

Your first shot isn’t your only shot. There’s no cost for another turn.

What do you need more of to succeed?


This is a photo of/by Yves Klein called Leaping into the Void.

Leaping not because he knew for sure he could fly, but rather, he believed he could.

We live in a culture that is quick to categorize the improbable as impossible by stacking one false limit on top of another. Creating an illusion that you have gone as high as you can go.

Sometimes we need a hammer. But often, the thing we lack the most is the courage to plunge into the unknown.

How high will you dare to fly?

What would you do if you had nothing left to lose?

After WWII ended, the Japanese were struggling to pick up the pieces. Tokyo was wrecked. And for Masura Ibuka, things kept going from bad to worst.

Hanging by a thread, Ibuka wanted a project that could put his little company, Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation, on the map. He turned his sights to the new transistor radio released by Bell Labs.


As you can see, the original transistors used a vacuum tube and was so bulky they were viewed as a piece of furniture.

Ibuka looked at this and wondered what a transistor radio would look like if it could fit in your pocket?

(Sound familiar?)

After several years of trial and error, Ibuka and his team did the impossible and created the world’s first portable, pocket-sized transistor radio. The TR-55 became an instant hit and it completely changed the culture of how people listened to music.

Ibuka would later on rename his company to what we know today as Sony.

As a result, many Japanese companies followed Sony’s example in exporting electronics. One year after the TR-55 was launched, the total number of electronics exported from Japan increased 2.5 times.

Japan economy would go on and make a miraculous turnaround, becoming the lead player in global electronic exports.

For most of us, conditions will never be optimal. There will never be enough time or money or resources.

It will always feel too early to begin. The fact is, in order to reach the end of your journey, you must start at the beginning.

The beginning is where you will find yourself with nothing to lose.

Don’t waste the opportunity.

“How did you go bankrupt?”

“Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

Hemingway accurately describes how human beings hit rock bottom.

At first, it’s slow and gradual while the small and seemingly inauspicious decisions we make work overtime to knock us down.

Until one day, you wake up the person you said you would never be.