TED Conversations

Ryan Smith

Accenture Consulting

TEDCRED 20+

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The world's biggest problems may be more easily solved by FOSTERING A NEW CULTURE than by enforcing new rules.

Poverty, Corruption, Climate Change, Infrastructure, Environmental Protection, the list of intransigent global problems and opportunities without simple solutions goes on...

Issues like these are huge and systemic. I used to consider these problems within the context of a system. Change what goes in to change what goes out or change the rules of the system.

Most people offer solutions to these problems in the form of enforceable laws and policies within governments, companies, or other institutions. I'd like to propose that we consider a different perspective from which to focus on solutions for large, systemic problems: Culture.

Culture change means making different ideas Normal. We need this more than we need the enforcement and administration of Rules. In short: fostering a healthy, self-sustaining ecosystem > pesticides & weed-pulling.

The Social Animal by David Brooks proposes that poverty is a culture passed down from generation to generation. The most successful education reforms target culture change first.

Analysis of cultural norms among airline pilots and copilots lead to a drastic drop in crashes by South Korean airlines after steps were taken to foster a culture where copilots were more likely to speak up to more senior pilots when they identified potential issues.

Genghis Khan rallied the natural culture of a nomadic people inherently skilled at moving and organizing large encampments, riding and breeding horses, practiced marksmanship, and adaptable survival skills to build one of history's largest empires. Can we mobilize latent cultures to solve intransigent problems?

Why do countries with similar laws sometimes have drastically different outcomes for gun violence, education, and other important issues often considered primarily "legal" issues?
When is fostering culture change more effective than enforcing rules?
How can we apply "change management" concepts to big issues?
As leaders, what is the best way to change culture... for the better?

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  • Jul 11 2013: If you want to change the culture, you have to change the media message.

    I suggest starting with an email to Oprah.
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    Aug 1 2013: The cultural change that is needed to address your concern for Poverty is a change of heart. We must begin to have a genuine care for people that will result in all of us reprioritizing the use of our personal resources (see my conversation on churches giving 50% of their collections to the poor).

    25 thousand children will die today from preventable causes because we do not care. Why does that not move us?

    You are correct, we cannot legislate morality.

    I just read a TED conversation asking why we should spend billions on colonizing Mars when we have so many problems here.

    The real change that is needed is a change of heart.
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    Jul 19 2013: .
    Yes!
    "FOSTERING A NEW CULTURE" without invalid (harmful) happiness
    will solve the problems.
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    Jul 13 2013: "As leaders, what is the best way to change culture... for the better?"

    Personally I think big corporations have the kind of power to change culture, even more so than Government.

    But in the end, a big corporation started from one person who made friends.
    People are the fundamental units of culture. Changing culture is changing people. And it all starts with a single person who makes friends, and then it snowballs out of control to the entire human population.
  • Jul 13 2013: wow ,The final nail in the coffin
  • Jul 11 2013: This is done all the time, but you want to control this instead of letting freebooters do it.
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    Jul 10 2013: Interesting topic Ryan!

    I believe that to change a paradigm, the idea has to come from different segments of our societies. You mention the environment as one challenge we face. Some of us have known for a long time that it is important to take care of our environment, and some folks do not believe that to be necessary, so they may continue to pollute.

    If enough people are genuinely concerned, we pass laws that might force the issue. When enough people learn more about the consequences, we may start planning and developing with consideration for the environment, which is happening in the area where I live.

    Corruption is often an accepted behavior. Those in power do favors for some people, and the favors are returned in another way, regardless of the laws, and/or the impact to other people in the community.

    We had corruption in our local government, which everyone seemed to accept, and in some instances, the environment & environmental laws were ignored. Some folks said...."this is how it is...this is life"!

    When I first started exposing corruption, I was considered an "enemy" because I encouraged changing a paradigm that had been in place for a long time, and change is difficult for a lot of people. Some people balked at change, and fought it for a long time, some people actually looked at information and realized we could change and they joined the effort toward change. 10 years after the fact, some people said..."oh...I get it now"! That, of course, was after the change had been implemented.

    Consider prejudice in the USA. A document was signed a couple hundred years ago saying all men are free, and most of the signers of that document owned hundreds of slaves. There was a war 150 years ago after which slaves were freed...sort of. 50 years ago, some people were still restricted regarding where they could sit on a bus!

    The more people supporting change for the better, the faster change might happen. "Change management" happens with awareness.
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    Jul 10 2013: This is, indeed, a very common approach in institutional settings- schools and school districts, public agencies, and big innovative companies. There are continuous activities in all these settings designed to change the culture.

    I agree with Pat that the best points to achieve cultural change are local.
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    Jul 10 2013: Culture evolves slowly to bring quick change rules seems necessary .
    Moreover our species is so intolerant to bring inclusiveness , we need rules , laws etc , that's the sad fact.
    How much time it would take even in the most developed country to stop rampant racial discriminations once it had if there was no enforcement of law ?
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    Jul 10 2013: I agree on the importance of culture. But I don't think it is best achieved on centralized level as this subjugates the individual. Which is more of a brainwashing. Changes in the culture have to be at the local level.