How Can I Move from Delivering “Objects” to Bringing Change to the World?

Published July 15, 2015 by Jane Portman
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Ladies and gentlemen, here’s a new line of Q&A posts inspired by your questions. I’ll start with a question by Orlagh O’Brien, a graphic designer from Ireland:

“How can I move from delivering “objects” to bringing real value and change to the world? What will I wish I did when on my death bed? How can I mature from being perceived as a technician to acting as a strategic agent of change within innovation and cultural structures? Yes, I worry about money, but what really worries me is the prospects of not growing professionally or contributing to something bigger.”

Thank you for such an inspiring question, Orlagh! It does include a bit of an answer in itself. That’s right, you don’t “move” overnight towards doing strategic things. Instead, you “mature,” and this is a very correct word.

Also, the fact that you’re asking yourself these questions is great by itself. The most people are trapped in the routine of making their living. They don’t find time to “sharpen the saw,” as Stephen Covey says in his classic book.

In most cases, this transition doesn’t happen by itself. It’s a gradual, stairstep sequence of your own actions and projects. To really inspire innovation and influence other people, you’ve got to become (and be perceived as) an influencer. Imagine Seth Godin or someone like that.

Passively working for others won’t take you there. You’ve got to create a basic roadmap for building your authority, and stick to it.

Here’s what the steps could be for a graphic designer:

At the second or third stage in this list, you’ll have more and more people listening to you. That’s when you can promote your personal values. That’s when you can afford being picky and select only the most meaningful projects. And by moving towards the end of this ladder, the emotional value of your work should increase, as should your earnings and your influence.

It might be hard to imagine all the steps at once. I imagine you’re now a rather established designer in the middle of this ladder.

But wherever you currently are, please have a short-term goal for the next 6 months or so. What is the next big thing for you? What are you going to learn and apply next?

No one will help you and drive your enthusiasm. No boss, no client. You’ve go to help yourself on this route.

It also will be hard to make any of these transitions: you need to get out of your comfort zone, overcome your insecurity, give up some stable lucrative income, and learn new skills. You’ll also have to adopt new ways of making money. And that’s never easy.

Let’s answer another part of the question. What will I wish I did when on my death bed?

I take life as an exciting journey wrapped into unpredictable circumstances. On my death bed, I’d be grateful that I took active steps in this journey. That I explored my possibilities instead of growing stagnant. That I kept getting out of my comfort zone and learning new things.

And it would be important for me that I didn’t give up my personal values along the way.

See, there’s no particular recipe whether I should build a museum or help people in Africa. But the better we help ourselves, the better we can help others: through our work and through our projects.

At a small scale, your contribution means helping clients achieve their business goals, or giving enjoyable, well-paying jobs to your team. That’s meaningful enough. And you can grow from there.

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