This is why you should stop trying to make the world a better place

I wish everyone would stop trying to change the world for the better. Your efforts to change it aren’t doing any good, and may be making the world a whole lot worse.

Don’t get me wrong. I used to be just like you. I created Ideapod with the mission to accelerate human evolution through the sharing of ideas.

But I’ve learnt a lot from this journey, and I can see that Ideapod is a lot better off if I let go of this mission. I think you’ll be better off if you let go of this mission, too.


Because when you’re trying to change the world – or put a dent in the universe as Steve Jobs allegedly said – you’re probably focusing on the wrong goals for the wrong reasons.

And ultimately, the world is doing just fine without your efforts to change it.

Why the advice of Steve Jobs is wrong

Check out this video of Steve Jobs urging you to change the world, originally posted on Ideapod by Brent Dempsey.

Here’s the gist of it:

“When you grow up you, tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

This is an incredibly inspiring speech and it’s really useful for getting started with making changes to your own life. However, I think it reveals a commonly held assumption that is misplaced and results in fuzzy thinking.

The misplaced assumption is this:

Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that are no smarter than you.

Jobs is asking you to adopt this assumption and set really big goals for yourself in order to change the world, as though you can change the world in a top down way.

Yet the reality is that everything around you that you call life was made up by groups of people collectively working together based on overlapping but very diverse goals. Life gets changed in bottoms up ways.

And the changes that come about are almost always different than what was originally intended.

We’re much better off when we recognize this fact and set our goals accordingly.

There’s no such thing as a lone genius

I believe we’ve overly focused on lone geniuses in the stories we tell of human progress, whether in science, entrepreneurship or social activism.

If you look closer, you’ll find that “geniuses” and “visionaries” always work in a wide community of people who often lay the groundwork for a scientific breakthrough or revolutionary new business idea. By focusing our praise on one individual in isolation, we end up missing out on the much richer and more exciting story of where progress comes from.

We end up ignoring the very important tales of partial solutions, near misses, epic failures and most importantly highly active communities of diverse people frantically working together in collaboration trying to achieve an important goal.

Consider the “invention” of the internet. It’s usually credited with Tim Berners Lee, yet what about his less well lauded partner – Robert Callieau – or the many thousands of others who have left their mark on what it has become?

Genuine human progress is most often collaborative and the result of people utilizing their diverse talents, working together in ways where the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.

When we set out to “change the world”, I think more often than we’re basing it on the myth of the “lone genius”, and setting ourselves a task that very often can’t be achieved.

Instead, it’s better to be working with a diverse group of people that share your values and are motivated by something else.

It’s all about collective intelligence

I suppose the key insight I have to offer is that you can’t change the world, because the world is changed as a result of collective action, not because of it.

Let me explain.

Everything in nature depends on everything else. It’s all interconnected. When we look at nature, we try to categorize things by creating labels and separating one thing from another. But it’s all operating together, without there being a single brain controlling what’s happening.

Consider a flower in a field. In a way it’s the whole field that is flowering, because the flower couldn’t exist in that particular place without the special surroundings of the field that it’s in.

Human beings are the same. We can’t exist in isolation and separate ourselves from the world we live in to figure out how we can change it. The world is simply far too complex for our limited human brains to process.

That’s why it’s much better to focus on goals that more naturally arise from your passions and from being absorbed in whatever it is that you’re doing. Human beings are naturally curious and creative. We seek to tinker and improve things around us.

When we work together in groups in a supportive environment where our creativity is nurtured, the result of working together can be incredibly powerful. We can be really powerful in creating short term improvements to the world, and in the long run the world will naturally change.

By trying to change the world, we end up trying to control nature and other people around us. This pathway has only led to destruction.

Rather, the world’s great advances have happened from groups of diverse thinkers and doers working together, where the result is often different than what people intended.

So get out of your own way and stop changing the world. The world may just get better from you doing this.

Further resources

Here is a course that I wish I had have taken at the start of creating Ideapod. It’s all about grounding your ideas in practical ways so you can create momentum:

Also, there are many discussions on Ideapod sharing this perspective of collective intelligence. In fact, with over 15,000 ideas that have been shared, Ideapod is all about the free exchange of ideas. Here are some ideas to get started with:

Finally, I posted an idea on Ideapod linking to this blog post, and it’s generated some very interesting responses. Please join the conversation here:

Here’s the original vision of Ideapod and how it’s changed.

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