In the last week I have kept reading Ben Rhodes’ “The World as It is”, given two radio interviews, and also discussed things like what counts as impact with the WonderWomen.
Much of this has left me with questions as to what we count as impact, how do we see ourselves in bringing change or changing things in our lives, and how does all of that affect on the kind of work we do and actions we take.
I was speaking with a colleague just last week about impact and he noted that for him, academia was not the only or the right path in creating lasting impact.
At first I found that confusing because for me, science has such an immense power to change things, to bring out new perspectives, to introduce new ideas.
But I can see where he is also coming from.
After I watched The Final Year a few months ago, the documentary about the last 12-months of the Obama Administration, I saw something that made me question my own impact.
The work pace, the decisions that these administrations make, the far-reaching impact of these decisions at a global level; this, I felt, was what impact is made of.
But it also depends of the scale, your vision, and what you count as impact.
For someone, real impact is in changing people’s lives in practice; coaching football teams and changing young people’s lives by investing time and effort in building their confidence.
I have to honestly admit that I failed to appreciate this view first as it did not align with what I see as impact.
And that led me further to question what an “impact” or “influence” really is, how that is playing out in my own life, and why impact means so different things to people.
Deliver value, then choose your platform
What Seth Godin and authors like Dorie Clark always emphasise is that in order to have impact and influence, we really need to deliver value.
In a recent article by Allana Akhtar on how using social media can become very tasking on our energy and focus, she discusses how Dorie advises people to always focus on doing activities that add real value to your audience.
Social media nowadays is a big time consumer and many people use platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to “sell” their ideas and to grow a following.
Yet, it is key to keep in mind that none of these platforms are within our control.
If Facebook or Twitter decided to shut down tomorrow, we would lose the majority of these connections and networks if we have only focused on increasing our social media profile on these platforms.
But the real impact and influence actually comes from doing the actual work: doing the thinking, the innovating, the value-adding part of your ideas.
That cannot be taken away by social media platforms or networks.
Authentic brand is built on your ideas and the ways that you choose to use particular platforms or activities to influence change that you see as the most important.
This is similar to “Deep Work” by Cal Newport in how focus on innovation and in-depth thinking and reflection is where the best ideas are found.
I especially like his definition of deep work:
“Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time”
Taking time to do that instead of tracking your social media counts (or article citations) is far more productive than focusing on mechanisms to spread your ideas.
Delivering impact in climate adaptation
As academics, there are many different ways of delivering impact.
But as said, this also depends on the scale of impact that we seek, the mediums we are comfortable using, and the ways we believe we reach the audience that we want to speak to.
For example, I have been somewhat terrified to do live radio but this week’s interviews have actually inspired me to look for more such opportunities to talk about adaptation.
Yet, impact is not just about communicating our ideas but is as much about the decisions that we make: which values to honour, which ideas to support.
This week for example saw a landmark case in Australia where the court in New South Wales decided to reject the proposed Ricky Hill coal mine on the basis of its impact on climate change.
This decision now sets precedent to other legal cases in Australia and globally, and is creating an impact in legal rulings and decision-making when it comes to climate change.
We also see people like Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish climate activist, who has inspired a movement of school strikes for climate by her own actions on sitting at the steps of the Swedish parliament every Friday to raise awareness.
All of these decisions by these institutions and people are about impact.
At a more personal level, what counts as an impact in climate change adaptation is about the cross-over and interlinkages between adaptation science, theory and practice.
For me, impact comes from being part of the global scientific community, being able to shape some of that thinking about adaptation whether it’s through media (radio, tv, blogging), writing scientific papers, participating in the IPCC assessments, and blogging.
I see IPCC in particular a massive opportunity to distill the core knowledge on climate adaptation, to provide useful knowledge and add value in how we make decisions on adaptation, and communicating that knowledge for those who find it useful.
What I do find changing and inspiring for example at my university that the discussion about impact is shifting towards societal impact that is broader than just the number of scientific publications that you produce.
Impact is starting to be more about how we communicate our science (alongside publications of course), how we connect with the public, and how we are part of creating change.
We all have very different ideas as to what a real “impact” looks like and acknowledging those differences needs to be at the core of the conversation.
Some people see public outreach via radio and tv as the most impact measure to change public opinion, to enable other perspectives to be heard.
Others focus on working on community projects, changing things one project at a time, or supporting youth groups and equipping people with better life skills.
All of these activities count as impact for some and not for others.
But at the core lays in the very idea of you: your goals, vision and perceptions on how to create positive impact in the world.
In the end, it’s about focusing on creating something of value.