Practical cookbook for radicals

Radicals are people who change things by going to the root of things. Radical comes from the Latin radix which means root. Radicals are people who live and die by their principles. Radicals practice what they preach. Radicals are people who set their own rules and sail their own course, follow their own compass. Radicals have little respect or need for rules. Radicals have high standards and live by them. Radicals make things hard for themselves on purpose. For radicals, every moment matters, everything matters. Radicals sense how the world can be better and do things to change it accordingly. Radicals continue long after it hurts. The most discriminating trait that separates a radical from a poser or someone who thinks good intentions are enough, it that for the radical only results count. If nothing changes, the radical has failed. Change is all that matters to a radical. Difficulty, discomfort, and pain are of little importance when it comes to creating the change that is needed.

Radicals change the world. The world is constantly changing so somewhere radicals are working on this change. They are directing a disproportionate amount of energy into creating change somewhere. They might be working all night. They might be enduring pain. They might be learning skills way out of their comfort zone. They might be upsetting people and losing friends. They might be ridiculed and denounced. Their intentions are good but chances are that they might be misunderstood. Radicals might come across as annoying, irritating, pretentious, unreasonable, unrealistic. Radicals disrupt the status quo and most people like the status quo. Radicals push the boundaries and most people need boundaries. Radicals create friction to get things moving and most people like to keep things cosy and nice. Even if radicals achieve results and make the world better, they might still be reminded of the fact that they created friction to do so. People might forget how the world was before the change but they might not forget the friction that was caused and by whom.

Being a radical is not fun. Changing the world is not fun. Don’t expect applause. Expect pushback, denunciation, rejection. There is something in a radical that pushes on regardless. Radicals will be changing the world in spite of the negative energy that is projected onto them, in spite of the lack of appreciation. But radicals are people too. Radicals have a need to feel connected, radicals want to be loved, radicals like to feel appreciated. They will continue regardless, but maybe there are some things that could make the journey a little less painful and the impact a little bigger. These two might just go hand in hand. A set of internal and external strategies might make the life of a radical and their surroundings a little less stressful, easier, smoother, while achieving more at the same time. Maybe we can move towards a likable radical. Last week I read this article by Rutger Bregman (in Dutch) about this idea of the radical and that it’s no fun. This might seem like a radical idea about radicals, but maybe being a radical can be fun. Maybe a radical can be liked, appreciated, loved. I have tried some strategies that helped me, maybe they can help other radicals as well.

In most contexts, pain has a negative connotation. But pain can also be seen as a sign of growth. If you go to the gym, if you have a muscle ache, that is a good sign, a sign that you are getting stronger. The emotional pain of rejection, denunciation, ridicule, opposition that comes with being a radical can be seen like growing pain as well. Just like muscles, your emotional strength can also be trained. Discipline is a key aspect of the life of a radical. To be more impactful, you have to be stronger and handling emotions is a part of that.

A good basic set of strategies fall under the concept of patience. Change takes time. Radicals might have a tendency to want to move to fast and underestimate the speed at which other people can move. Radicals can change their perspective in an instant when they see a new truth. Other people might take years. Sometimes it’s about planting seeds of change that need to grow. Nudge. Water them now and then. Ask the right questions. Shine a little light on them and wait until they grow into plants and trees. The smoothest path to change is many tiny steps. At some point, people will be open to your message. If you push too hard, the opposition will only grow. Only if you wait for an invitation, the minds of people are open to your message and things will be much smoother.

People might forget who planted the seeds, watered them for years and shone light on them. Things might change because of the efforts of the radicals but they might not get any applause or appreciation. That is okay. The need for appreciation comes from the ego. This is of course a hard thing to get past but the change that wanted to be born must be the highest goal, not the appreciation. A radical is an instrument of the change that wants to be born. We are all connected and we all have our roles to play. No man is better than another, only different. Letting go of ideas of the self, conventions, identity and control is the path to selfless leadership that will help in dealing with the trials and tribulations of the ego.

This might seem like a paradox since the radical wants to change things. But if you do not embrace the current reality, you work out of frustration. Frustration can be a powerful force but it is not good for your peace of mind, the people around you will not be happy, and the negative energy makes your efforts less effective. If you are able to embrace the current situation while striving for change at the same time, this causes less stress and you to be more effective. Santosha they call this in yoga. You are far more effective if you are grateful for what is than if you are frustrated. Embrace that radicals are a minority. Embrace that people don’t see the world as you do. Appreciate what is.

The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.”

— O’Brien from Presencing Institute

Always be selling

Changes need to be sold. Every step of the way. All day, every day. Sometimes you need to apply a little force and disrupt things a bit but even then you have to sell the disruption afterwards. Find out what the “customer” of your disruption needs, show them a better future, nudge them. And don’t forget after-sales. Confirm them that they made the right choice. Learn to speak different languages: business, technology, marketing, accounting, and speak in their language. The best way to predict the future is to design it. The best way to change things, is to design a better future. Nothing is more powerful than visuals in selling. If you can show people the future, it is far easier to sell than to try to explain it to them. Add storytelling to that, and you have a powerful sales strategy. Stories is the way people experience the world. Stories are the most powerful tool for change in the world. Everything is a story. If you can change the narrative, you change the world.

We live in systems. All things are connected. In the past century, we lived in a world that cut things up into pieces, departments. That doesn’t work anymore. If you want to change things, you have to learn to see how things are connected and what forces are active in systems. Systems thinking is an area of knowledge, a skill that will make change easier.

Peace of mind for the crazy ones

Educating yourself, developing skills, humility, patience, gratitude, following your heart, focussing your energy on yourself, self-discipline, being in love, these things matter to all people but maybe more for radicals. Maybe we are all radicals to some degree. Maybe any movement is change. But maybe some people are more radical than others. Maybe everybody wants to make the world better. Steve Jobs once said that “Maybe the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are they ones who do.” Radicals are crazy by definition. Crazy means not within the norm. The largest hurdle towards change is the desire to fit in, to be liked, to keep things nice and cosy. Maybe radicals are the ones who step over this boundary sometimes because their drive towards truth and justice and to manifest the future that wants to be born is stronger than their desire to be liked in the now. Maybe if you are crazy by definition, peace of mind is more important. At least to be effective as a change maker, peace of mind is a good thing to have. Not giving fucks to things that don’t really matter is a good skill to develop. Finding ways to give a fuck about things that do as well. That is the journey. Radicals are about results and anything that helps to get the results is good.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you enjoyed it. If you clap for this essay, I will know I connected with you. I will dive deeper into the topics around Design Leadership in upcoming articles. If you follow me here on Medium, you will see them pop up on your Medium homepage. You can also subscribe to an email service here on Medium which will drop new essays right into your inbox. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn to see new articles in your timeline or talk to my bot at dennishambeukers.com :) You can also find me on Instagram. When I am not blogging about Design Leadership, I work as a design strategist and project manager at Zuiderlicht.

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Dennis Hambeukers

Design Thinker, Agile Evangelist, Practical Strategist, Creativity Facilitator, Business Artist, Corporate Rebel, Product Owner