Flexible Focus #10: Become the change

by William Reed on July 15, 2010

Empowerment is a process that is often confused with its common cousin, entitlement. The essential mindset of empowerment is abundance, the ability to produce; whereas that of entitlement is insufficiency, the demand to receive. Mahatma Gandhi said that “We must become the change we want to be.” He was a champion of empowerment.

The meaning of the word empowerment is somewhat shaded by the spiritual, political, social, or economic agenda of the individuals and communities which seek it. We must increase our capacity to create anew, not simply settle for our due. If empowerment’s promise is to be lasting rather than temporary, you must learn how to fish, rather than simply hope to be given a fish.

Time is on our side

We live in a time remarkably well suited for empowerment, because of the convergence of factors which John Naisbitt predicted in his 1982 bestseller, Megatrends, which anticipated many of the social and business trends which we now take for granted. In the early 1980s, it seemed a brave new world to anticipate what Naisbitt predicted:

  1. Information economy
  2. Technology on a human scale
  3. Emergence of a global economy
  4. Longer time frames
  5. The growth of empowerment
  6. Self-reliance
  7. Changing framework of democracy
  8. Hierarchy replaced by informal networks
  9. Speed as a competitive weapon
  10. More choice
  11. The power of small business

The growth of empowerment is a natural result, as well as a catalyst for the other megatrends Naisbitt forecast. He defined it as the ability to innovate and to achieve results from the bottom up. This ability is greatly facilitated by shared consciousness of capability, the feeling that it is possible. Empowerment is enhanced by the many points of leverage which technology gives us in perception and communication.

A wonderful world

I witnessed one example recently watching a televised special on the astro photo journal of Noguchi Soichi, the Japanese astronaut who recently returned from six months in space, from December 2009 to June 2010, aboard the Soyuz TMA-17. He shared his beautiful photos of the Earth in space, taken from the cupola of the Soyuz, with over 265,000 followers on Twitter. Immediate and universal access to heavenly vistas of our world in space. During his mission, Noguchi spoke with his friend Sakamoto Ryuichi through an amatuer radio antenna set up on a rooftop in New York City, as the Soyuz flew overhead in space. A conversation between friends made possible by the magic of technology.

What a Wonderful World was the special which TV Tokyo aired on July 3, one month after Noguchi’s return, and featured performances of Jazz numbers by famous Japanese musicians, surrounded by Noguchi’s photos on screens reminiscent of the cupola from which he took them. The music included numbers fitting the theme, What a Wonderful World, Imagine, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, Jupiter, Smile, and Fly Me to the Moon. The program ended with a surprise announcement that the music and the photos would soon be made available as an iPad and iPhone application called What a Wonderful World.

This episode showcases many elements of empowerment, the fact that as human beings we can actually go into space, share our experience in photos and voice with the world, engage in research in outer space, return safely, and produce a television special in 30 days with artistic grace and technical finesse. A masterpiece of flexible focus, which soon you will be able to hold in the palm of your hand.

We did it ourselves!

The Mandala Chart is also a tool of empowerment, limited only by your imagination. Like a mental spaceship, it frees your mind to travel vast distances, crossing dimensions and disciplines with ease. Why be content on well-travelled ground, when space beckons to explore new frontiers?

While empowerment is something that can be encouraged by leaders, it works best when it comes from within. Lao Tzu said in the Tao Te Ching, “The leader is best when people are hardly aware of his existence…When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, the people say ‘We did it ourselves!’” Empowerment works best without interference. But it can be encouraged!

You can start by taking a measure of empowerment in your life, downloading the Empowerment Mandala to use with the following questions.

Ask yourself the fundamental question, in your life are you receiving a fish, or learning how to fish? Find a way to kindle the passion for learning and you will have lifelong leverage. Here are 8 key areas in which you can measure your mindset for empowerment.

  1. Decisions Do you know what you want? Do you make your own decisions?
  2. Access Do you have access to people, information, and resources? Do you stay connected?
  3. Options Do you have choices and alternatives? Do you have criteria to select from among them?
  4. Assertiveness Do you constantly take initiative to improve? Do you seek to do, as well as to know?
  5. Positive Do you have an optimistic attitude? Do you believe that changes can be made?
  6. Learning Are you continuously curious? Are you a lifelong learner?
  7. Engagement Are you actively engaged in your work and your life? Are you flexibly focused?
  8. Self-Image Do you see yourself as blessed with empowerment? Are you capable of realizing your potential?

If you consider these questions in the Mandala format, you will learn a lot about yourself. You will see your own personal Strengths, Weaknesses, Threats, and Opportunities (SWOT), and discover all kinds of ways in which you can empower yourself even more.

Remember that we are already well into the world which John Naisbitt predicted nearly 30 years ago, a wonderful world which we can now see from outer space and hold in the palm of our hand, a world in which we can become the change we want to be.

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