Bill Drayton is a social entrepreneur with a long record of founding organizations, bringing big change, and service. As a student, he founded organizations ranging from Yale Legislative Services to Harvard’s Ashoka Table, an inter-disciplinary weekly forum on how society truly works. After graduation from Harvard, he received an M.A. from Balliol College in Oxford University and his J.D. from Yale Law School. Over ten years at McKinsey & Company, he brought significant structural changes to policy and organizations. He also taught at Stanford Law School and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He served in the Carter Administration White House and as Assistant Administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency, where he launched emissions trading and many other lasting reforms. He launched Ashoka in 1981. He used the stipend he received when elected a MacArthur Fellow in 1984 to devote himself fully to Ashoka. Bill is Ashoka’s Chair and Chief Executive Officer. He is also chair of three other organizations; Youth Venture, Community Greens, and Get America Working!
Bill has won numerous awards and honors throughout his career. He has honorary doctorates from Yale, NYU, and others; and he is a Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. He is a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Council on Foreign Relations. He was selected one of America’s Best Leaders by US News & World Report and Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership. Other awards include the Yale Law School’s highest alumni honor, the National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Achievement Award International; and the National Academy of Public Administration National Public Service Award.
Bill is an avid backpacker. He especially loves long, off trail, above the tree line immersions.
As Ashoka’s CEO, Bill brings history-based vision and a deep grasp of how things work to help Ashoka keep learning and keep changing big time so that it and its community can make the truly big contributions it can and must. He has overall management responsibility and, as one of three members of the Leadership Team, has special responsibilities for Purpose Teams (e.g. Young People, Climate), “Jujitsu” Partners and Metro Areas, Frame Change/Communications, organizational evolution, and Search/Talent.
(photo: (c) Yusuke Abe)
The New Reality
The Historic Moment
Why are income distributions getting worse everywhere — regardless of the nature of the economy or of ideology? Why are there worsening “us versus them” politics spreading across the world? And why do so many people feel pushed to the margins?
We are living in a truly historical turning point as a world that has largely been defined by repetition is replaced by one defined by its opposite, change. The rate of change and the extent of interconnection, each multiplying the other, in the world have been accelerating exponentially for at least 300 years. Globalization and technological innovation connect us in unprecedented ways, lowering barriers and allowing everyone to participate.
At the same time, the demand for repetition work has been falling exponentially since 1700. In the past, value came from efficiency in repetition (think assembly lines and law firms). People learned a skill (e.g., banker or baker) and repeated it for life in a workplace with many walls. All this is dying. These are facts.
Now, value comes from contributing to and adapting to change. In an everything-changing (and thereby causing all around to change) world, one must be a changemaker to play.
However, being a changemaker requires sophisticated skills that are almost the opposite of those required in the disappearing world of repetition. And an everything changing and therefore an “everyone a changemaker” world must everywhere be organized in fluid, open teams of teams.
The New Inequality
Much of the world’s population has learned how to contribute to and adapt to change and how to be effective members of the ever-changing, open teams of teams that are how this new reality is organized. Moreover, they help one another become better changemaking players as the game accelerates — because that is critical both for team success and personal happiness. This portion of humanity is doing very well.
However, the very large other part of society does not have the changemaking skills needed to play in today’s new reality where everything is changing ever faster.
The result: The world is sharply and increasingly divided by a new inequality.
And, unlike other inequalities, this one gets worse every year as change accelerates and those in the game help one another become ever more skilled and confident — while those on the losing side fall further behind faster and faster.
Why are income distributions getting worse everywhere? Because there is a bidding war for those with changemaking skills and disappearing demand for those without. (Anyone who has not mastered changemaking’s complex skills will hurt others and will disrupt teams.)
And that’s why “us versus them” politics is fast spreading across the world. When society tells so many people: “Go away; we don’t need you; it’s your fault; and, by the way, your kids don’t have a future,” we are hurting them in the deepest way possible. And they respond with lasting fury.
A world so divided, a world so profoundly hurtful to so many, is deeply dysfunctional and, worse, unethical.
The New Framework
What are changemaking’s critical skills?
- Cognitive Empathy. This, the foundational skill, which must be mastered in childhood and continuously developed thereafter, requires one’s cerebral cortex and one’s mirror neurons (“I feel your pain”) learning to work together consciously to understand and map the world’s fast morphing kaleidoscope of people and contexts. Without this, one will hurt others and disrupt groups — and therefore be pushed aside. (It is no longer possible to be a good person by diligently following the rules because, as change accelerates, they cover less and less.)
- Sophisticated Teamwork. Essential a new world. Collaborative Teamwork in fluid, open "team-of-teams": where we give small groups the freedom to experiment while driving everyone to share what they learn across the entire organization.
- New Leadership. The old model of telling others what and how to repeat now is both ineffective and a barrier to organizational adaptation to the new game. The new leadership starts with envisioning new opportunities, bringing the right team together, and designing the synaptic architecture needed for the group to work together. That enables all in the teams to contribute on all these levels.
- Changemaking. Before a leader can thus envision/enable/ensure, (s)he must have the abilities to grasp the patterns of change across millions of interconnected actors all in motion; to foresee what these patterns will be in futures coming into the present faster and faster; to spot needs/opportunities for a better world; to imagine how to engineer the best (and fast-evolving) team of teams; and to develop the skills required to convene and continuously empower and keep focused (and refocusing) both individuals and teams.
The world’s most urgent task — and therefore Ashoka’s core strategic focus — then is to help everyone “see” the new reality and grasp how they all can be contributors, and all be powerful, i.e., all be changemakers.
Then we can all work together to tear down the new inequality and to improve how the evolving new world is designed. There are two necessary foundation stones here:
- We must redefine what success in growing up requires. Children must master cognitive empathy and young people (teens) must practice and practice being changemakers (all four skills). The test: What percent of teens know they are changemakers? The future of any community or society will turn increasingly on how they do on this measure. (The same skills are needed over life, which now requires all groups to hire for and help all their people become changemakers.)
- Organizations must quickly change into fluid, open teams of teams — of changemakers.
Ashoka's Theory of Change
Then there is the follow-on work of applying these universal principles to geographies (e.g., metro Seattle or India), demographic groups, and fields (e.g., the environment or social finance).
Over the last six years, Ashoka has developed a theory (now practice) of change that allows our community to work together actively to engineer these changes. This “Collaborate Entrepreneurship Jujitsu” (CEJ) process, which has served prior major framework change movements well, is taking hold.
The Ashoka community and movement is uniquely positioned to succeed in this work. We intuited “everyone a changemaker” from the start (as have most Fellows). We have been consciously building our understanding and approaches for a dozen years and have as good a grasp as anyone.
We also have the unique and critical advantage of 3,600 Ashoka Fellows (plus other entrepreneur partners).
- As change accelerates, such first class intrapreneurs constitute perhaps the only truly reliable focus group foretelling the future. They won’t bet their life work without at least intuiting what society will be like when their creation matures and must fit twenty years hence. We, therefore, can rely on the patterns in their work (e.g., of our more than 1,000 Fellows focused primarily on young people, 90 to 95 percent put them in charge) as guides.
- They create thousands of “how-to” models.
- They are the right people we need to co-lead the CEJ process. They were born to change the world and have lots of practice doing so.
- The CEJs, especially when Fellows are co-leading, hugely help the Fellows and their work.