Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the deep mainstream.
That said, as a result I’ve also realized how much time I’ve actually spent immersed in our field and engaged with folks who think more or less like me. This is OK. It’s natural we spend time talking with people who think as we do to help shape our own thinking and refine our approach. The challenge is that even when we do ‘go outside’ (or are they inside?) and sincerely believe we’re talking with people different from ourselves, we’re often actually speaking to those only one degree removed from our own communities. These are the folks who are willing to take a meeting with you, the people curious enough to attend a conference on a topic they find interesting and those who will attend a dinner meeting to learn more about something they don’t know much about.
They are not, however, the deep mainstream…
Over recent weeks as Antony and my book on impact investing has been released and promoted and the work of ImpactAssets has begun to gain traction with the investor community, I have found myself spending time not at the conferences and meetings of our field, but on Fox Business News defending sustainable finance and impact investing, or talking with Wall Street executives living in the dark heart of mainstream investing and finance. To be honest, I’ve found my discussions disheartening and more challenging than I would like to publicly admit. I’m embarrassed to tell you, I forgot how hard tradition pushes back on new ideas struggling to emerge and how that same tradition fully conditions people’s understanding of what is ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ – oftentimes, to a point where even the very consideration of something different becomes impossible.
Despite everything I thought I knew, under the lights and in the midst of discussion, I somehow felt a seeping sense of doubt, of personal pause, where you can’t help but wonder if it is you who misunderstood or didn’t see something that was blindingly obvious to others. If we are all honest and unless you are a complete egoist, in the course of debate one can’t help but have moments of doubt.
But so, here’s the thing:
Today, we are, each one of us, assertively moving out of our communities of comfort well beyond one or two degrees of separation removed from ourselves. We are increasingly plunging into the deep mainstream where the dominant practice is to make money and give it away. In coming years, the primary conversation will not be an insider or sector discussion, but rather a conversation with people who in many cases (despite all evidence to the contrary) do not agree we are confronted with broken systems of capitalism and charity; people who’ve never heard of impact investing or social entrepreneurship – and in many cases, don’t care to hear about these ideas. How do we ensure our response to this reception is at the level of our vision and ambition?
A few days ago, I woke to the broad news coverage of Steve Jobs’ passing. Here was a man who broke the rules and changed the world; here was a man who knew something about how to keep one’s perspective, vision and passion when others were telling him he was wrong; and here was a man from whom all of us who aspire to be changemakers can learn. As we take our own vision of impact investing and social entrepreneurship from the fringe to the deep mainstream, we would be well served to be emissaries of Steve, to take forward his understanding of Self and take his understanding of transformation to heart.
As he said in his comments to the 2005 graduating class of Stanford University,
‘Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.’
As we engage the deep mainstream and continue to advance our ideas to a world that so clearly needs them, we should all seek to ‘Be Steve’ and take a lesson from how he lived his life of revolution in those depths, beyond the muddy shores of security.
Jed Emerson is executive vice-president for strategic development with ImpactAssets