From Words to Actions…

…has been a theme that has taken up a lot of my thought and practice for the last few years.  Seeding conversations on ‘things that matter’ seems to be quite a straightforward and affordable task. But helping to get from words to actions proves to be a much more challenging.  And, when all is said and done, perhaps it is what is done that really counts.

More conversations leading to more actions… In part it is just a numbers game.  If 1 in a 100 conversations spawns some planned action than perhaps we just need to have more conversations.  But so often when we try to have more conversations we just repeat the same old conversations.  Groundhog day. Different conversations leading to more actions… So it is not just more conversations that we need. But different conversations too.  Conversations that will help us to play with new ideas and new possibilities.  And we can learn how to have such conversations and get better at them.  But we can also encourage them just by talking with different people with different perspectives.  And the challenge of finding different people welcoming them into a convivial conversation, helping them to find their voice and really hearing them should not be under-estimated! But still this is not enough. Building teams to get from words to actions… You perhaps have had the most inspirational conversations exploring the art of the possible in whatever field matters most to you. How things could be different.  Better.  Changed.  Before you go back to your current reality and the coping mechanisms that you use to pretend that really things are not so bad. Because as well as seeing the possibilities for ourselves, many of us need the support of others who have also glimpsed the possibility and are prepared to act in its pursuit.  Finding ‘common cause’ matters not just for the reassurance of not being alone but for very practical reasons of sharing workloads, accessing skills and other resources, maintaining conversations and so on. But the chemistry and physics of the team is vital.  Too often we find a bunch of idealistic dreamers with not real change management disciplines struggling to turn words into actions.  And building a team that constructively manages the tensions between idealists and pragmatists, artists and project managers is not easy. Feeling the force…. But what we are really talking about here is building power.  The power to act. Individually and collectively.  The power to develop ideas, choose from options, plan, resource, implement, observe, evaluate and adjust.  Building enough power to overcome those who would really rather things stay as they are.  And I suspect that very few of us do power well. Helping… And then there is the question of making sure that the powerful team of activists with dreams, visions, plans and resources has a community around them that knows how it can help.  That can smooth the way, make introductions, encourage, advocate and assist.  I think as a community that we sometimes struggle to find the good people, the great projects, and when we find them we are not that clear on how we can help, what difference we can make.  And this is in part their problem (most of us are not very good at being helpable) and part ours (we don’t really understand the practicalities and dynamics of helping).  There is much that we can do to become a much more helpable and helpful community. Because trying hard is not enough… This one is a toughy. Lets face it, many of us have been trying hard for decades in some cases to ‘make a difference’.  And to say the least the results are often disappointing.  Few of the indicators that we really care about move very far in the direction that we might like.  And in order to carry on we shirk our accountability for resultsand instead just point to the fact that we are trying our hardest. But perhaps if we held ourselves and others to account more for results than for effort we might just find ourselves some more effective ways of working.

I will be running a workshop on ideas for helping to get From Words to Actions as part of Leeds Summat on November 26th from 12-1pm in The Shop Space in the Lower Foyer of Leeds University Union.  It would be great to see you!


  1. Norman Perrin says:

    Great post, Mike. Coincidentally, over breakfast in the hotel this morning, I was contemplating this very question.

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