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What are the best ways to change the world?

Due to strong interest in this topic, "What are the best ways to change the world?" will be repeated on Sunday 25 May (follow this link to RSVP). Since the version on the 25th is easier to get into, please RSVP to it if your schedule permits.

We all see aspects of the world that we want to change. How should we go about effectuating these changes? Some of the major approaches to changing the world include the design arts, education, literature, art, science, psychology, politics, economics, morality, and religion. In this discussion we will explore the advantages and disadvantages of the different approaches to changing the world.

One way to look at the problem is along the dimensions of "change options" versus "change preferences". In the change options approach one focuses on designing new options that might spontaneously be adopted thus changing the world for the better. The more common approach seems to be to use politics, economics, and psychology to change people's preferences to effectuate change.

Here is another way to subdivide the problem:

1)  motivational or process approaches:

a. This approach aims to change societies/individuals views about what is best for them and what should be important, the hope is that when you change the motivation or view that behavior change will follow on its own

b. This strategy includes information provision, motivational interviewing, lobbying, and exposure techniques. How can we see these methods used in politics?

c. Example of using the arts:  Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher (2006)

"You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that  you probably can't, but also knowing that literature is indispensable  to the world ...  The world changes according to the way people see  it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way ... people look  at reality, then you can change it." --- James Baldwin

2) Outcome approaches:

a. This approach focuses on physical and objective change as the goal and hopes that will real objective change motivation and views will follow.

b. This strategy includes choice architecture, framing effects,context changes, subtle changes in environment to "nudge" people in beneficial directions, Behavioral economics traditionally placed here but can include more process/motivational approaches

c. Example in hiring policy: Pennsylvania hospitals ban the hiring of smokers (

3) Behavioral economics

a. While this approach relies mostly on nudges and environmental changes it does include motivational approaches as well.

b. Types of nudges:
    i. Eliminate choice (don't hire smokers, or fire them)
     ii. Restrict choice (only allow smokers to work under limited conditions)
     iii. Stick-type incentives (pay extra if you smoke)
     iv. Carrot-type incentives(reward for not smoking)
     v. Guide choices through default policy (auto-enroll smokers in smoking cessation programs, have them opt out)
     vi. Enable Choice (provide lots of free smoking cessation programs)
     vii. Provide information
     viii. Do nothing

Suggested reading and/TED talks:






Thinking, Fast and Slow:

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  • James F.

    Looks like we beat the acoustic problem. I am glad of the circular-type seating, there is a lot more clear exchange and I feel more connected to every one of us. I am especially proud to have met so many who search for a way live more abundantly. That knowledge takes the edge of despair I sometimes experience by too much attention to the destruction and suffering that goes on. Thanks for your company and your efforts. I look forward to seeing everyone soon.

    1 · May 11, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Then I ask, what were the moments or periods of great change? The Enlightenment in Europe certainly, and the American and French Revolutions in their week. The Renaissance. The global anti-imperialist national independence movements after WWII - India, China, Indonesia, much of Africa. Did anyone mention technology? Arguably the greatest force for change in history: the Agricultural, Industrial, Info-Tech Revolutions. And what about women as a force for change? Of course, that can fall under the broad category of politics. Let's not forget the movements for the abolition of slavery. Against the death penalty. Against genocide and racism. For the recognition of the Universal Rights of "Man" - for human rights.

    May 11, 2014

    • CJ F.

      I value the agricultural, industrial, and info-tech revolutions. They represent humanity acquiring new design faculties to forge ever greater forward life support from ever fewer pounds of material, ergs of energy, and seconds of time. Profound revolutions!

      Cultural revolutions are much harder to assess. Is the tail wagging the dog? Is there any way to know?

      May 11, 2014

  • CJ F.

    I felt my advocacy for the designer and engineer was a bit inarticulate. Let me cite Paul Valéry's "Eupalinos": "The Constructor ... finds before him as his chaos and as primitive matter, precisely that world-order which the Demiurge wrung from the disorder of the beginning. Nature is formed and the elements are separated; but something enjoins him to consider this work as unfinished, and as requiring to be rehandled and set in motion again for the more special satisfaction of man. He takes as the starting point of his act the very point where the god left off ... the masses of marble should not remain lifeless within the earth constituting a solid night, nor the cedars and cypresses rest content to come to their end by flame or by rot, when they can be changed into fragrant beams and dazzling furniture."

    There is something elemental in re-forming nature from what came before: it is I think a noble way to change the world by re-building the ever-evolving present re-newed again ...

    May 11, 2014

  • Will B.

    The discussion was very informative and engaging. People listened to on another and responded appropriately. The exchange of ideas reflected this.

    1 · May 11, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Here's one I haven't seen mentioned: Organizing.
    As Margaret Mead famously said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

    1 · May 11, 2014

  • CJ F.

    For tomorrow's discussion here are some more ideas for ways to change the world:

    - Design

    - Leadership

    - Volunteerism

    - Art

    - Science

    - Engineering

    - Mathematics

    - Philosophy

    - Architecture

    - Management

    - Institutional design

    - Law

    - Story-telling

    - Parenting

    - Media (Movies, TV, Internet)

    - Religion

    - Prayer

    What do you think is a good way to change the world?

    May 10, 2014

  • Andrea

    This may seem unrelated, but an interesting book is called "That's disgusting - unraveling the mysteries of repulsion". In the later chapters the author discusses marketing concepts- as an example, an ad showing an abused animal disgusts people so they flip the page/change the channel/tune out where as an ad showing a cute but maybe lonely animal increases donations to animal shelters. Makes you think about the fact that documentaries that rant about the awfulness of things turn people off, whereas intriguing/interesting solutions have a better chance of adoption. Reward vs. punishment - how does one make NOT doing something (Smoking/Overeating/Having unprotected sex/Getting drunk) more appealing than doing it?

    May 9, 2014

  • CJ F.

    For Sunday's discussion "What are the best ways to change the world?", we will explore your ideas about changing the world. What are the strengths and weaknesses of your favorite approach to changing the world? What do you think of these suggestions?

    - Can passion change the world? Or is it problematical? W.B. Yeats: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

    - Can writing change the world? James Baldwin: "You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can't, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world ... The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way ... people look at reality, then you can change it."

    - Can reading, learning, discussions, or teaching change the world? Is on-line education changing the world?

    - Can entrepreneurship change the world?

    - Does the Thinking Society change the world?

    What ways would you suggest?

    May 9, 2014

  • CJ F.

    Some of my favorite Bucky Fuller quotes relate to a design service mystique that belies the political economic and psychological approaches:

    "It is not for me to change you. The question is, how can I be of service to you without diminishing your degrees of freedom?"

    "War is the ultimate tool of politics. Political leaders look out only for their own side. ... They are obsolete as fundamental problem-solvers."

    "You can't better the world by simply talking to it. Philosophy to be effective must be mechanically applied."

    "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

    "Revolution by design and invention is the only revolution tolerable to all men, all societies, all political systems anywhere."

    "I learned very early and painfully that you have to decide at the outset whether you are trying to make money or to make sense, as they are mutually exclusive."

    May 8, 2014

  • CJ F.

    I wonder about this categorization of ways to change the world: invent new goals (innovative design), select among the goals extant (political economics), and modify preferences (psychology).

    The innovative design approach suggests we should create a new solution that is better than any of the extant options. Maybe it integrates the other goals or (ideally) transcendentally eclipses them bringing humanity into a new reality.

    The political economics approach: maximize a utility function or put the choices to a vote. Assume preferences, goals & values are fixed: our way to change the world is determined by a vote or mathematical calculation.

    The psychological approach: assume preferences, goals, and values are malleable, change the world by changing others. This approach includes some of the behavioral economics options that Katie studies.

    Is inventing new goals feasible? Expedient? Is choosing a controversial goal better? Or reducing it to economics? Or changing people?

    May 7, 2014

  • CJ F.

    Since the waiting list has gotten too long, we have scheduled a repeat of the topic "What are the best ways to change the world?" on Sun May 25th:

    If your schedule permits switching to the other meetup, there are plenty of seats available there. Just go to­ and RSVP to that one, then come back here and set this RSVP to "no". Thanks.

    Since we want to accommodate as many people as possible, please only attend one of the two events on the best ways to change the world.

    May 6, 2014

  • CJ F.

    The idea for Sunday's topic on "What are the best ways to change the world?" originated when I discussed with Katie the end of a Kathleen Bawn lecture on political economy: (from 58:00 to the end: most of the rest of the video is boring administrivia).

    Bawn sees two broad approaches to changing the world: 1) political economy assume that preferences, goals & values are fixed (in politics we look for a strategic way to favor our preferences over others while in economics we look to maximize our profit) and 2) psychology which studies how people's preferences, goals & values can be changed to our ends.

    In a taxonomy of different ways to change the world, surely there are more options that just the political & the psychological!

    What is your list of different ways to change the world? Can you classify them into categories? What are the strengths & weaknesses of each approach?

    Are you aware of any comprehensive taxonomies for ways to change the world? Where?

    May 5, 2014

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