Yesterday Jeff Bezos made an unusual request on Twitter. Now, Jeff is a man to whom I am and will always remain infinitely grateful. He has made my life easier. Amazon has been for me perhaps the most important innovation in shopping, living as I have been for the last five years in Africa. While I have worked beside people fighting insurgencies and terrorists; cementing peace and holding elections – his work has brought Purina Veterinary Diets dog-food to my door so that my wife’s ridiculous little dog doesn’t suffer from illness; and has served as an essential part of the lifeline by which I send food to my loved ones in Venezuela – who otherwise would be starved by the narco-communists.
Request for ideas… pic.twitter.com/j6D68mhseL
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) June 15, 2017
So – it is in that spirit of gratitude that I answer this tweet, in the only way I know how. By my writing, and my ideas – and my experience, and tweeting it back. Because I have worked for the last twenty years at that special nexus between now and later; between policy and charity; between politics and development. And I know that these things are all inter-related; and I know how to make an impact.
It has always surprised me that people who are so successful in business are nevertheless unable to translate that to the affairs of people. This is why, for example – despite his monumental sacrifice, his tremendous business acumen and his extraordinary wealth – Bill Gates has not been able to translate business success to philanthropic success and his work continues to be lackluster and uninspiring; and ultimately unsuccessful.
Just as success in business is not about money injected – neither is success in the affairs of people. In order, Jeff, for you to be successful in your stated goal, you could follow the advice below. It has served me well in my own career:
1) Respect the Spontaneous Order: Charity workers, development agencies, philanthropies are all managed by central planners. It is not a field that attracts outside-the-box thinkers; instead bringing plodders who love five year plans, matrices, spreadsheets, indicators and contract management. They love to staff themselves with bureaucrats and technocrats – “experts” and hierarchical organizational structures. But just like economic development in true market economies follows a spontaneous order that is not only un-plannable, but that also defies the desires of the planners, so too work on the affairs of people. Small investments that catch on like fire, motivating other efforts and finding their way to great achievements through an evolutionary process; that is the future.
2) Take Risks: There was an analysis I read several years ago that compared publicly funded to privately funded initiatives in an attempt to understand which were more successful. The report returned with the finding that the source of the funding was not the issue – the issue is whether or not the activity was willing to take calculated risks. Risk-taking is the key to economic growth; and it is the key to momentum on the issues of people too.
3) The Private Nature of Change: Lasting change does not happen from the top down. Lasting change does not come from large, loser-take-all, cookie cutter approaches to human betterment. It comes from innovation, private innovation by private people who defy those who tell them why they can’t; who answer obstruction with the assertion that, in fact, they will. Howard Roark said it best: ‘Do you mean to tell me that you’re thinking seriously of building that way, when and if you are an architect?’, to which Roark answered, ‘Yes.’ ‘My dear fellow, who will let you?’ ‘That’s not the point.’ Roark responded. ‘The point is, who will stop me?’”
4) It’s about Momentum: Its commonplace for people to see the human betterment as a task of Herculean might. Lifting a boulder from atop a road; blocking a failing dam with an avalanche. But human betterment – because it’s part of the affairs of people – is not once and done; not by tremendous efforts or gargantuan financial outputs. In fact – if you read “Dead Aid” or “Why Nations Fail”, you’ll realize it’s actually the opposite. It’s about momentum – one small nudge, followed by another and another and another and slowly the ship of human progress begins to move in the direction of wellbeing; forced so by thousands of tiny bumps, not one enormous collision. Make your private goals seem inevitable, empower a million voices toward that inevitability and you will prevail.
Those are some of the things I’ve learned. Build an organization upon those principles – and you will change the world. I wish you all the best!