The 2 reasons projects for good are failing to change the world

You want to start something that is purpose-driven in making the world a better place. To make a difference. To make an impact and help others.

But it’s hard to get heard.

If you’re trying to get through the noise created by the internet, you might have thought about releasing a project for free or open source so others can help spread it easily.

And it might have worked. You’ve gotten some attention.

Check out these examples of projects who’ve been raising the generosity standards for business, society and the environment.

Logodust, shared their rejected logos in the public domain and got a ton of exposure in blogs and from designers who used their logos in their mockup designs.

Yes, that article about Logodust got shared 3914 times!

Undraw has gotten a lot of attention for its open source illustrations that can be easy to adjust to a brand identity.

And world saving projects are also doing it:

Nike shared its circular design workbook to help designers make more conscious decisions of how their products life would end. And that workbook got featured in big publications.

The Ellen Macarthur Foundation and Ideo also shared their circular design guide and got a lot of attention in the design world.

Levi’s shared in open source a process they’d been developing for 9 years to reduce the water used to make a jeans or denim jackets. Their hypothesis was that if everyone in the industry adopted this practice, it would save globally 50 billion liters or water.

And I am always pumped by these kinds of projects who release their powerful methods and ideas for the world to use.

But over the years and after studying active open source communities, I’ve realized that most of them are losing a huge opportunity to do much more. They could create a much larger cultural change and impact for the world and the project’s themselves. So, here’s an attempt to figure out how we could increase this impact.

Before going any further, I want to express my admiration and respect for what these projects have already done. And I’m not just saying that for the sake of this article. I understand they’ve developed their projects based on data and research I don’t have access to. But a good friend (hi Scott!) once told me something like: “If you can help others, how dare you withhold this from them? That would be stealing!”

So let’s dig a little deeper into what is constraining these projects’ impact:

The pattern that these projects are following is that the creators are sharing in one direction: From them to the world.

This is a great start, but since ideas don’t have momentum, they will at some point stop spreading and developing.

And that is why it’s so important to create bidirectional channels that make it possible to share from you to the world, but also from the world to your project.

What would that look like?

1/ Learn how to ask others to help bring your vision to life, and reward their help.

If these projects had invited others to add to their work and curated their submissions, can you imagine how much more powerful and empowering they’d be?

Logodust or Undraw could become the Unsplash or The Noun Project of logo designs and illustrations with thousands of designers creating even more incredible and generous libraries of resources visited by millions of users.

Levi’s, Nike and the Ellen Macarthur Foundation circular guides could be getting feedback and enhancements on their methods. They could also be getting concrete examples of how people are applying them to their personal use cases and creating libraries of design, data and processes in different industries that would be incredibly useful to get us all to develop this circular world a hundred times faster. They could become the Arduino, Adafruit or Sparkfun equivalent of circular design communities.

And it would be beneficial to the contributors as well. They would collectively build an audience that is attracted by free and curated content. And they could benefit from the knowledge released by their peers to get inspiration and develop their own ideas even further.

Some roles they could open would be to add comments to the designs. To offer people to show how they applied the processes they suggest, or to enhance the case studies available and showcase practitioners and their results.

And of course, you could also offer the community to moderate itself so it doesn’t all depend on you.

2/ Make it easy for others to create incredible stuff with you

To make this possible you’ll have to prepare to receive the ideas and feedback others have in their minds and experience.

For this you can set up wikis where people can publish, edit, enhance and translate your methods or documentation.

You can prepare a promotion page or Youtube channel where you advertise the best submitted projects to the rest of the community like Adafruit does with its Show and Tell weekly show, that has collected an astounding half a million video views over its 200 videos.

Like FreeCodeCamp or Fairphone do, you can create forums where people discuss, enrich and debate about their approaches and put your idea to life.

You could even create an easy to navigate library of the most useful and intriguing projects created by the community like Instructables or Arduino do.

Or you could even facilitate the organisation of local meetups or events for people to work together on your topic like FreeCodeCamp does to get its code students to practice together, or like Makesense does to get citizens eager to work on local projects and use a design thinking process to come up with solutions for the concrete challenge of a local social entrepreneur.

In short

We know you want to do good. And you are doing a tremendous job by actively investing and trying to create a better world that’s less polluted, more generous and more humane.

The thing is that most of us outside of your project would love to do the same, help spread your mission and help create that better world much faster. But we can’t because we have no access to your knowledge.

As the author Bernard Shaw wisely noticed: “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”

In the old story of patents and copyright, people and organizations thought they had to build their innovations on their own. But then came the exponential organisations and businesses like TED, WordPress or Arduino who understood that sharing their knowledge in the open, so communities can create with them, is a much more influential and resilient way to develop the ideas they cherish.

As a result, these organisations enrich their communities lives, and in return, communities help the organisations innovate and promote their projects at an exponential rate. The kind of exponential rate we need to improve the planet’s condition and those around us. Do we care enough about future and present generations to share our positive solutions not only in Open source, but in a way that others can add to it, so they can spread as fast as the internet has over the last 20 years?

I’ve always felt pretty powerless to help the environmental or social causes. To help regenerate life and our ecosystems faster than we consume them. To help create empowering and inclusive communities where people can all find their role and deploy their passion and purpose.

But there was this time I stumbled on a TED talk by Shubhendu Sharma, an engineer who developed a method to grow forests 10 times faster. He shared his solution in Open Source so anyone could do it on their own if he wanted to. After being regularly bombarded by messages of war, desertification and increasing pollution, this talk really sparked a light of what a better future could look like. A light that showed that there are people who know how to revert the harm we do to the nature and society we depend on. And these people are sharing this knowledge with all of us!

And this is something I hope we can all access to.

If you’ve put a lot of sweat into creating a project and want to share it with the world, are you ready to take the opportunity to make it so much more powerful, not only by opening it, but by connecting it to others? What channels and roles can you prepare to connect with the others?

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Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

Jaime Arredondo
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  1. Very interesting Jaime. I am following your blog with a lot of interest. I am into collaborative work and organisations for more than a decade now, and I really appreciate your sharp views, as well as your choice of topics and and your approach to providing solutions.

    1. Author

      Thanks a lot Tibi, it means a lot coming from someone with your experience 🙂

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