Language matters. It frames our challenges and guides our thinking. It can limit or expand our viewpoints, act as either an invitation or a barrier for others to get involved, focus our attention or distract us from the real issues.
There can be a tendency in the non-profit and social change sector to be very problems-focused. Our passion and inspiration for change often comes from seeing something deficient and wanting to improve it. However in focusing exclusively on the problem we risk losing sight of our higher goals, which is the creation of a better world on the other side of that problem. Success comes from focusing on solutions, not problems, creating a world that supersedes those problems, rather than simply reduces their impact, scope or effect. As my old cricket coach always used to say: “focus on the gaps, not the fielders”. (Mental note: cricket analogies don’t generally work with Americans). Or as Hildy Gottlieb, thinker, author and social entrepreneur says, “problem solving doesn’t solve problems.”
Reflecting on this recently we came to the conclusion that we had got this wrong. Somehow as we were creating StartSomeGood we ended up using language that was very problems-oriented and somewhat negative in tone. The key example of this was the two main subheadings on our Venture pages, which read
Problem then solution. We realized we were forcing emerging changemakers to frame their initiatives around the problems (the fielders), rather than solutions (the gaps). We believe that this type of framing is less inspiring for potential partners and supporters but is also a less empowered, less transformational way for changemakers to think. We believe we can encourage our community to express their ventures in a different, more inspirational, more inviting way. Starting first with describing the better world they are creating, then describing their actions in the pursuit of that world.
Starting today, here’s what the sub-headings on new Venture Pages are
What Is The Future You Are Creating?
How Are You Creating It?
We hope this speaks better to the future being created every day by changemakers on our platform and allows a fuller expression of each of their vision and intentions. Much of the work of social change is describing a better world, changed in some important way, better serving the needs and aspirations of citizens, communities, countries and regions, and painting a picture so evocative that people want to be part of making it happen.
And it begins with our choice of language.
Please let us know what you think of this shift in the comments below!