Bill Drayton and Howard Gardner in Conversation

In December 2017, Bill Drayton and Howard Gardner—friends since their days as classmates at Harvard College—had a wide-ranging conversation at the Harvard Club in New York City.

This lightly edited version of that conversation highlights Bill’s vision of the changes that are taking place at rapid pace around the world and how they can and should lead to a world of change-makers.

Bill Drayton, Harvard Class of 1965 Yearbook Photo

Howard Gardner, Harvard Class of 1965 Yearbook Photo

Gardner: So, I’m talking to my longtime friend Bill Drayton. He has talked about what it took to get the big story about changemakers out, and there’s a lot more planning and a lot more time than I would have thought. He didn’t just talk to reporters who said, “Yeah, I’d like to talk to Mr. Drayton and find out what you’re up to.”

Instead, he spoke to people in the media and found out somebody who was an up and coming writer — this is David Bornstein. And, there were articles published, and then a major book. But the point that really hit home with me is that it helps to understand what a changemaker is if you’ve become one yourself.

Now that was probably not thought of as part of the plan initially, but do I have it right?

Drayton: Well, David became a social entrepreneur, introducing solutions journalism much later.

Gardner: Mmm.

Drayton: The original insight, I think, is that if you’ve had a big story, it doesn’t fit into the journalistic story-writing time-frame. You have to find people who are big enough to break a big story. And then you can help them do that, but it’s a completely different type of conversation — “big framework change story” — and it’s ripe. So, there’s some wonderful writers that we’ve been talking to for years who genuinely understand “everyone a changemaker”, but they haven’t done anything.

In terms of writing.

They’ve done other things.

So one of them has set up, come, and said to me, “I’d like to do a book on this.” And another has, as a trustee of an institution, gotten that institution to move, but he hasn’t been writing. Now we’re at the point where we’re in the tipping mode, and so it’s the right judgment for a publisher, or an editor, or an individual writer to say, “Not only is this where the world is going, but it’s now here.” And we’re at the stage where millions and millions of people are going to look dumb if they…

Gardner: (laughs)

Drayton: Just in the last year, literally the last nine months, we have several publishers who’ve now made this decision. It’s a very interesting measure of where we are in the tipping process.

Gardner: So, can you spell that out a bit? What does it mean for a publisher to get it and to be an embodier?

Drayton: Well, it’s always been the case. A great editor or publisher sees a big story and they make a judgment: “This is important. This is important for the readers I want or have, and it’s time.” If they make those judgements correctly, they will get the writers and therefore the readers, and therefore the advertisers and the elan inside their organization. … So, there’s this wonderful book, I just love it, Bully Pulpit. Do you know of it?

Well, it’s by Doris Kearns Goodwin, on progressivism, and the subtitle is “Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.”

I love this book, because it’s so right on this point and, you know, I give this book to people (laugh) when I’m trying … You have the opportunity to do this.

Gardner: McClure’s Magazine?

Drayton: McClure’s. Exactly.

So, Mr. S.S. McClure founds this magazine and he sees the big story. Now, all this stuff is going on. Industrial revolution, and uncontrolled capitalism, and the farmers are mad at the railroads, and other people are upset about the food being unsafe, but no one sees the whole picture. And they don’t understand how it really works.

And so he goes to Paris for Ida Tarbell. As a young woman, she said, “I’m not doing the mom thing. I’m going to be a writer.” She’s struggling writing on the West Bank. McClure goes to her and says, “Ida, you grew up in western Pennsylvania. You remember what happened to the independent oil people there? Now if you really do take on investigative reporting about Standard Oil and John D. Rockefeller, et cetera, it may take you two years, but then, month by month, we will publish this.” And his advice to her was, “This is going to be complicated…. build the storyline around the story of John D. Rockefeller.” So, that’s what made Ida Tarbell’s career. And then it was Ray Baker and various others. And so this is a great editor who saw the moment. This is a framework change when people in America could see, “Oh, that’s the problem. And here’s what we can do about it.”

Gardner: So, let me ask you about something that just came up today when I was doing an interview with a leader at the local college here. The person said to me, “You know, we’re trying to mobilize the students, but we’ve been behind. We’ve been behind because we’ve been using email, and of course they’re using Twitter and other social media platforms, and we just don’t have either the knowledge or the personnel to work on that.” So, you and I have been talking about books and magazines, but I’ve also said to you people don’t read anymore, meaning that they don’t read books. So, to what extent are you thinking in terms of the 21st century media rather than books and magazines?

Drayton: I don’t think it matters whether it’s this or that…

Sure, the medium has an impact, but this is a gigantic framework change. That’s just a fact, F-A-C-T.

From the year 1700 to now, the rate of change and degree of connection has been going up exponentially. Mirror curve going down: negative demand for repetition. Those are facts. Here we are. Old system dead. It’s continuing because of inertia, with more and more pieces falling off because they are failing and some other pieces making it into the new structure, and they will survive. We are just at a point where the old system doesn’t work anymore. And you know, if you are a 12-year-old or a 15-year-old, you have to figure out that this is the new game and to play in this game, right now, you’ve got to practice being a changemaker.

And you want to be a part of an “everyone a changemaker” school, youth program, whatever. Your parents have to figure it out. And the school board and the education writers. Everybody. This is a very profound framework change. People get lost in many distractions including social media because they don’t see the strategic change or their way forward. It’s the society, the schools, and youth programs. It’s terrible. So many are deeply disempowered.

Gardner: Yeah, but what you have to realize, what you have to concede, is that most of the use of social media platforms is no better. In fact, it’s frivolous.

Drayton: So, when you have an “everyone a changemaker” school — and we have a lot of them because of the Fellows and because of the Youth Venture initiative — it’s very different. It’s the norm for kids to have an idea and build a team and build something and make it work. And they are all being invited to participate as contributors or clients of the others. And it’s the norm. And people are empowered. And the moment you got your power and you know you can change the world …

Gardner: Yeah.

Drayton: You can express love and respect and action. You know what reaction that brings. You have the skills that the world wants.

Gardner: Tell me if I have the chronology at all right. You’ve been thinking about and developing both the idea and the practice of changemaker for decades. The notion of empathy, which at one point I think you called active empathy or something like that, is a somewhat newer idea in your conspectus. Is that right?

Drayton: I think it’s always the case. Great entrepreneurs have to intuitively know where the world is going to be in 20 years. And they have to be right about that. Because they’re launching a change that’s going to take 20 years to get there. And if they don’t know what the environment is going to be, they’re not going to succeed. So, we were like that. We knew consciously — the curve sort of knew that. And we could see empirically that a wave of social entrepreneurs, which is the cutting edge of this thing, were moving into the social arena.

The “everyone a changemaker” revolution started around 1700 with business. In 1980, it moves into the social arena. You’ve got a wave of social entrepreneurs. And we have a framework change goal introducing the construct of social entrepreneurship, which is deeply empowering everyone, including millions and millions of people who will never be entrepreneurs.

You can care, you can organize. That’s practical. It’s respectable. In fact, people will respect you for doing this. That is empowering for people, so that’s part of the “everyone a changemaker” revolution.

We did not consciously articulate our “everyone a changemaker” insight until about 12 years ago, but we knew it intuitively.

Gardner: Yeah. And I think, even if you didn’t put it into words, for people who knew what you were about, this was not a mystery to them.

Drayton: But it makes a big difference when you say it out loud. Everyone is a Change-maker. So, it’s not just a small number of people or some people, but everybody.

Because everyone has to be because (otherwise) you’re marginalized. The “new inequality” is: Are you a changemaker or are you out of the game? All the old inequalities are still there, but if you were in a winning group in the past and you missed this turning point, you are now on the wrong side of the new big divide. And if you’re part of a group that was doing badly before and you got on this, you’re part of the new winning arrangement.

Gardner: Or at least you’re in the game.

Drayton: There is such overwhelming demand for people who have changemaker skills, especially with anything resembling the high level. Sure, the old prejudices are there, but this is a turning point that’s so powerful …. just look at the difference. How long did it take for the new wealth, not based on land, to be very powerful and very prestigious? And it took over …

Gardner: But not very empathically, which is why I want to ask: When did empathy become a major part of the narrative?

Drayton: Well, first of all, it’s always been there. So, one of our four criteria for the election of staff or Ashoka Fellows has always been ethical fiber.

Gardner: Yeah, and that’s true. I know that from you.

Drayton: And we know you can’t be a good entrepreneur if you don’t have that (empathic trait).

Gardner: Well, the former head of Uber does not … the reason I’m pushing this is it seems to me, you and I have written and talked about this before that changemakers can cause a lot of trouble and that’s where I think …

Drayton: Yes …

Gardner: The move toward empathy is so important.

Drayton: No, you’re exactly right. So, I’m sorry. I know I’m jumping into the future, so let me just finish up on that last strand for a moment and then I’ll focus on empathy.

So, in the human lifecycle, you’ve got to master cognitive empathy really early. Because you need that to be able to master the other three essential changemaking skills: sophisticated teamwork, opposite to the past leadership, and changemaking. And if you don’t have the cognitive empathy skills that allow you to serve the good of all, you will be rejected, marginalized. This is the first generation where you can’t be a good person by diligently following the rules. They increasingly aren’t there as change accelerates. You will hurt people. You will disrupt groups. So, cognitive empathy is completely fundamental.

Now, we are in the transition zone. The old system was rules, punishment, fear. Well, that doesn’t work very well. So, of course, you have people who are taking advantage of the transition. And, once you’re in the new arrangements where every institution absolutely has to have people that have mastered this set of skills, starting with cognitive empathy, it allows you to be a trustworthy, good person committed to the good of all. Every organization needs to have you use these skills and purpose. You can’t have everyone be powerful and not have this. So, you move into a coherent system where everyone wants this because it makes you healthy or happy and live longer. Everyone around you wants you to have it and they help you and every institution. The transition is the messy part. People are no longer living in tiny communities where you don’t need this empathy-based ethics.

Gardner: Or you have it within the community — what I call neighboring morality — but it doesn’t extend beyond the community, what I call ‘the ethics of roles’.

Drayton: Why was psychology invented as a field in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? Because we really needed it.

And all those little communities, tiny little communities of 500 or 1,000 people, most people don’t even need … Not only the village, but they’re part of it. I mean, it’s astonishing. Even today, there are vast numbers of people who live on one street in a village and that’s it.

Gardner: Interesting. You may not know this, but Freud initially studied hysteria. And his cases were about hysterics. It turned out that they were overwhelmingly women,… they tended to be women who had grown up in the (small country villages), so to speak, and then moved to the city, and they couldn’t deal with it. So in a sense, I mean, psychology was probably invented for many reasons in many places, but it’s interesting that it was that dislocation from what the Germans called “From Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft” from community to business that was very disruptive for generations.

Drayton: Community and a system of living by rules, you do what your father did and your mother did, et cetera, et cetera. By the late 19th, early 20th century, the rate of change in major parts of the world had reached the point that people desperately needed these sets of tools, so the field of psychology is invented, and it’s popularized almost immediately. I do not think that was an accident.

Gardner: And actually, even though I’m not particularly a fan of how it’s done, the big psychology in the last 20 years has been positive psychology. I don’t know if you’ve heard that phrase or not, and it does try to focus on happiness and empathy and things like that. But to me it’s too sloganish, faddish, and a little bit creepy. But you know, it, it’s certainly important.

Drayton: What gives you stability in managing and understanding this is if you start with “This is the way the world is organized and will be organized” and work from that to what’s needed. So, 150 years ago, we needed everyone to be literate in written language. Everyone. Completely radical idea. It just was needed. Now, we face a similar reality-based need — that all humans learn how to contribute value in an everything-changing world as changemakers.

All this is building, in my view, to humanity becoming one big organism. We’re developing very rapidly to operate like a brain. For any particular goal or need, a very large part — 20% or so — of the brain lights up and, you know, memories, and the inner ear and the left toe, they are all ready for you.

The same thing is true with humans as a species now. And this is now going into the future…. the entrepreneurs, the big nature framework change, pattern change entrepreneurs deeply from within committed to the good of all — that’s what a social entrepreneur is. It’s not defined by subject matter. That group of entrepreneurs is (parenthetically) the only group that takes everything into account because that’s what their value system is. They are not in it for the shareholders or this or that ideological point of view. And they are not the lazy person who leaves pieces out. This is the group of entrepreneurs that you want to be as powerful as possible. And that’s what our “Collaborative Entrepreneurship Jujitsu” (CEJ) process is about. And, we are now restructuring the movement so that, right down to the budgets, we build around the CEJs — not geography, not function, not subject matter.

So, a new issue comes out. All around the world, we don’t control this. Great entrepreneurs come up. They see it. They have a solution. And we are really good at spotting them, bringing them together, and seeing the pattern. And this is virtually the only focus group with any value about the future, because this is a focus group of entrepreneurs who can’t succeed in their life if they make bad judgments about what the world is going to be like in 20 years. And so, overwhelmingly, 90-95% of the 1,000 (Ashoka) Fellows who are focused on kids put kids in charge.

It’s the same ratio when you look at health. It’s a smaller number of 600 or 700 Fellows. Overwhelmingly, they put patients, family, friends, neighbors, and peers in charge. Both of those patterns fit what an “everyone a changemaker” world needs and the way it’ll work. So, we have two independent ways of saying, “Okay, check.” This is where we have to end up. And both of them are in the frame of what’s good for the whole of life, not for this piece or that piece. So, then, the methodology we’ve developed in the last three years, which is totally thrilling, is working. We’re far enough in now that I can tell you it’s working. It’s a four-stage process of how the team of leading social entrepreneurs build teams of others — I’ll explain that — and opens that up to absolutely every single human being so that you get into the mass tipping stage three.

Stage One is recruiting Big Game capacity co-leaders, chiefly Fellows. Winning top Big Game organizations with huge power is the first part of Stage Two. The other half is making the ideas, services, and links open to all, e.g., the 14-year-old girl in a district town in central India. Stage three is the soap opera with daily episodes. That’s what we must provide once you have tens of millions of people who have to find a safe place to get evocative stories so they can understand and participate in these changes and not get left behind. Then, there’s this huge demand for publishers. And that’s where we are — we’re very close to that.

And so, when we go to publishers, we’re saying everything I’ve said to you, and this is your big strategic opportunity, a really big one. So, once you see it’s in everyone, meaning literally everyone — a powerful person, the giver, the changemaker world, and then you’ve got to have a different definition of growing up, which starts with cognitive empathy, which you have to have to be a good person. Without that, you don’t have the skill to be in life for the good of all. Which is why that particular definition of empathy is so completely critical.

Then, the younger, the better, but …

Gardner: No, just a definitional question. Jujitsu, how you’re using it. Pressure, counter-pressure, any challenges?

Drayton: So, this image is a slight simplification of jujitsu. But this great big gorilla of a person is charging at you and you’re a little person.

Gardner: (laugh)

Drayton: And you hold your pinkie out and you do at just the right point and the gorilla goes head over heels and crashes. So, it’s knowing exactly the move that will use the energy of the forces that are there, of the existing world, to tip it.

Gardner: So, I have three things, that I want to ask you about and since you know me, you’re not going to be surprised by any of them.

The first is the trend toward authoritarian leadership around the world. The second is artificial intelligence. And the third is brain and genetic manipulation. Because one thing that hasn’t changed in millennia is what human beings are, but those two things could. And so, I’m wondering there to what extent do you think about them. So, you can take those in any order.


Drayton: Responding to the first issue, you see this pattern all over the world. We have increasing we versus them politics. Pretty much every where in the world, income distributions are getting worse, regardless of the nature of the economy or the ideology of the country. What’s happening is the new inequality. Many people (including almost everyone you and I know personally), even though they don’t say it out loud, are in the new economy. They’re doing very well. Their incomes are going well.

I mean, the support is people who have less and people who have more have said it’s an unholy alliance. Just like the Southern Democrats and the northern Liberals in the 30s.

Gardner: I don’t understand. What’s the alliance?

Drayton: An unholy alliance between poor people and people who are very rich and don’t want to give up anything. It’s the opposite of jujitsu. And you’re right, I mean, Scandinavia is less troubled than other parts of the world, but even there you see it. Yeah. But, your point here would be that when it looks like big change is going to happen, people re-trench in various ways.

I don’t think this is necessary. Our job is to stop it.

Everyone is a changemaker. I mean that very literally. It has to be. There’s no guarantee that it comes out right. What’s happening now is those people who are not in the game and don’t have the skills and are not developing the skills, every year the level of these skills that is required is going up. It’s not going from A to B. It’s on and we’re on an exponential curve. So, you know, they’re falling further and further behind.

Gardner: Yeah. But that like leads right into artificial intelligence, which is what I worry about. Because of more and more things that people used to do are now done more efficiently, more effectively by machines, much of what we have traditionally considered to be work. Something you know a great deal about —ordinary labor and white collar work — is transformed and there may not be a replacement for it.

Drayton: Well, I mean, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a lawyer. I don’t want to be a truck driver.

Gardner: But, radiologists are also being replaced. 

Drayton: Who wants to be a radiologist?

Gardner: (laugh) Probably a lot of people in this club where we are meeting.

Drayton: (laugh)

Gardner: But, you know, people have to have a livelihood, right?

Drayton: Yes, actually we can figure this out. So, here are things that we know we’re going to need more and more of and are very satisfying for both sides of the transaction. All of us need help growing up and not just for 20 years, but we’re going to have to keep growing up as the world changes faster and faster and …

Gardner: That I certainly agree with.

Drayton: And well, you know, you help me, I help you.

Gardner: (laugh)

Drayton: Can we figure out how to monetize that?

Gardner: (laugh)

Drayton: Well, we did that, you know, with potatoes and beets. Why can’t we do that with different ways of helping one another?

Gardner: Well, especially if we live longer and longer, it’s a new kind of problem.

Drayton: Well, and …

Gardner: I mean, as you know Social Security was based on the assumption that not many would reach our age.

Drayton: Yes. And so, of course it’ll be different, but you know, we’ve gone from 97% of the world’s people living in small, isolated agricultural villages to 2% of the U.S. population doing agriculture. And we’re not poor. We haven’t collapsed because of that.

Gardner: Yeah, but it is true that the new entrepreneurs in the technological world are able to do what they do with very few people. That’s the big difference from steel and coal and so on.

Drayton: You know, if we’ve gone from 97% agricultural to 15%, are we really going to die if it goes to 2%? No. I think it would be marvelous if all that energy, people had the ability to work together as a species-wide brain, providing consciousness to the universe. Which means we’ve got to help one another. And why do we have this artificial boundary between people and the rest of a) life and b) creation?

It doesn’t make sense. I believe the South Asian point of view versus the Abrahamic point of view.

Which is very homocentric. But anyway, you can leave that aside if you want …

Gardner: I think it’s an interesting and important idea. I guess if you look at the history of humankind in a generous spirit, our circles have gotten larger.

Drayton: This is what sets humans apart. I just read this article about how the first multicellular creature came about. Apparently, the main hypothesis is that one cell ate another. And the other said, “Oh, this is very comfy in here.” And then you had two cells, and you start creating an organelle and, now we’re billions that make us up. And it’s the story of cooperation being what wins, which is very different from the image of Darwin. But the evolutionary success is cooperation.

Now, think about the frontiers, the projects that we humans can give ourselves to figure out how to cooperate better, more. And, as I say, why limit it? What if we find life elsewhere? Well, we will find life elsewhere. That’s obvious.

Gardner: Yeah, I guess it depends on what you mean by ‘life’. Most people are interested in whether there are entities that we could have some communication with. But, of course, that’s a much higher bar than, uh …

Drayton: Well, if you’re a South Asian …you think, you are one with an amoeba or a rock.

Gardner: Mmm.

Drayton: The South Asian point of view is that the universe is one. And nirvana is your getting back to that point. You have universal, complete 100% empathy, unity with the universe as a whole. Not just humans. I don’t know if it’s right or not …

But why not? It’s certainly an attractive idea. And you know, if you observe even relatively simple forms of life, it’s hard not to empathize. Children certainly empathize. And Howard, I saw my first mountain lion in life ever this September.

I was coming up this mountainside and it was reasonably steep. It was above the tree line. I don’t know what it was doing up there. It’s not supposed to be there, but there it was. So, I looked up and there was this mountain lion 40 or 50 feet ahead just walking across. I’m going up. It’s going this way. And it was just this amazingly beautiful powerful being. You could see the muscles, that long cat-like stride. And it was beautiful. Now, how could you not empathize?

If we don’t have the imagination to spot value creating opportunity, something is wrong with this picture.

Gardner: Yeah, but what I’m just thinking is that these wonderful epistemologies and eschatologies unfortunately coexist with, you know, what’s happening in Myanmar and, as you said, in India and so on. And, you and I are both betting on the better angels. I am just much less optimistic than you are. And that’s in part because, you know, you’ve made moves, which have been reinforced in the sense that they work better than many people would have expected. And then, you keep raising the gauntlet or the envelope or the jujitsu movement.

In contrast, my training is basically to be critical and skeptical and to think about why things might not work, even though I love what you’re doing and I want it to work.

We would be kind of a yin and yang if we were in the same office every day.

My mentor Jerome Bruner, whom you know of, and George Miller started the Center for Cognitive Studies at Harvard. Bruner was a great optimist. He said, “Every day, I would plan for optimism and Miller would plan for pessimism.” (laugh) And much, much nicer to be on the optimistic side.

Drayton: But it’s not just about optimism. It’s fact.

Gardner: Well, it’s fact that things are changing quickly and that most of us are not able to instantly get with the program. It’s not fact what will happen. That’s the Trump phenomenon.

Drayton: But, Howard, we have gone from no life to one cell to two cells to us being here. Cooperation wins.

That’s the story. That’s a fact. And if you look at all three and a half billion years or whatever it is, it’s an exponential curve. And we are privileged to be at the point where we leave the world of rules …

Rules will still be there to help us, but they are really increasingly minor authors. It’s not rules, punishment, fear. It’s people from their deepest beings freed up to be good people, to express love and respect. To have this way of living, and with everything around them reinforcing that and helping that. We don’t have that now because we are in this wretched transition. And so, of course, we have craziness at the moment.

We are hurting so many people now.

Gardner: Norman Ornstein, the political commentator, said something quite shrewd about Trump. He said, “You know, we are a nation with laws. But we’re also a nation of norms.” And, you know, the number of norms about how one treats people, whether it’s publicly or in your own circle, that have been basically, you know, exploded by, one man and his circle is So, the way I think about this in my work: I’m very familiar with what it means to be in a profession – and transformative and disruptive things are happening to all manner of professions, from professors to radiologists to journalists.

But the way I put it is, maybe the professions will disappear, but I wouldn’t want to be living in a world where it wouldn’t make sense to say, “He or she is acting like a professional, is very professional. And he or she isn’t.” Whether it’s the people who serve here in the club, or the people who are served, you can evaluate each person on whether he or she acts professionally.

Drayton: So, in a world defined by change, not repetition, it’s totally psychologically stable, because people are changemakers. They have those skills. You know, I would go crazy if you put me on a repetitive job. I would be very unhappy and then I would either leave or I would blow the thing up.

People have, for millennia, been living in a world of repetition. Efficiency in repetition was the game. You learn one skill, you repeat it for life in a world of workplaces with walls. Well, this world is going away, has largely already gone away. And many of these people have no clue.

Cognitive empathy is hard. You’ve got to connect the mirror neurons and the cerebral cortex and God knows what else to make that work. And, you’ve got to practice it a lot and then you’ve got to constantly be building up your map of how the world works, because otherwise you can’t understand the kaleidoscope of constantly changing, morphing contexts and combinations.

Gardner: You know, you were talking about how the world has been a world of rules and the invention of science is very interesting in that regard. 

Because when you were saying about how you would be bored out of your mind, I posit that people go into science particular with that motivation. Though it may be understanding amoebas …

Drayton: Not wanting…?

Gardner: Not wanting to live in a world of routine. And those of us in science do depend on people who will be more routine to make sure the cages are clean and so on. That “scientific attitude” was not really manifested in much of the world beforehand.

Drayton: It was one period and it was …

Gardner: The Greeks.

Drayton: And North India at the same time.

Gardner: The so-called axial age.

Drayton: And what happened there was that you had a series of towns that experienced a town meeting-like, civic community. It was so far superior to kings and tyrants. And then, there was a coalition of cities like that in both places. So, you had a critical mass, that for 150 years, you had the first outbreak of the “everyone a changemaker” world. Leading to the invention of history, geometry, and so much more.

Gardner: Or at least the people who counted, which would have been male voters …

Drayton: But, if you listen to some of the Delian League tales of these times, the women were not equal, but they participated in the culture too. 

Then Philip of Macedon modernizes the phalanx. And in his generation, that’s the end of the city-states in Greece. And his son Alexander went on to demolish everything else.

And you know, the phalanx is a form of organization. The team is the next form. In a team, everyone is responsible for helping everyone else individually and collectively build the skills and teamwork needed for overall success. That means also helping build and constantly rebuild the synaptic architecture of the team.

Gardner: Let me switch gears radically because something happened earlier this week. And, I was surprised because I made a connection, which I hadn’t made before. At Project Zero, which is our organization, we had a visit from a major educational policy maker.

We were talking about international tests where the performance of all countries are compared with one another. You know, Finland is first, Singapore is second, the US is 45th, etc. I asked him, “How about if individual states or individual cities could be included in the rankings and not just ‘official’ nations?” And he said, “That would be fine with us,” which I was pleasantly surprised to hear him say.

So, how do you deal with the nation thing? I mean, we’re talking about the Delian League and you know, it’s been a motif in various ways for as long as we have recorded history.

Drayton: Well, nation states are actually pretty recent.

Gardner: Well, nation states from the 17th century, but I mean the notion that you are, a Roman or that you are a Persian goes back thousands of years.

I’m saying, here we are, you know, in a world which is currently defined by nations. If you were the czar so to speak, what scenario do you see?

Drayton: We are a part of building that alternative. So, Jean Monnet set this in motion for Europe. Europe’s the most balkanized, the most tribal of all continents bar none. And it’s caused huge trouble for the world. So, Monnet went after that by articulating the positive goal of a united Europe and then working from a citizen group, finding political opportunities that were “wins” for all the politicians to build European institutions. And then you’ve got a positive dynamic of idea, institution strengthens idea, makes it more credible.

I think it’s a prototype. That’s why I think he is the second greatest person in the last century.

Gardner: I guess, part of what I’m saying is it was easy to underestimate the reactionary powers.

Drayton: But, Howard, we’re just now getting to the turning point.

Gardner: I mean, people have seen this coming for a long time.

Drayton: The Renaissance was an effort to get back to the city states organized the way the Greek polises were. And you know, Charles of France and his medieval army made that a crazy idea. And England develops the first integrated/de-centralized society bigger than a town meeting. And that provides a critical piece. So, that wasn’t that long ago. And you know, this has been evolving very rapidly. Those curves, since 1700, are mathematically exponential. Both the up rate of change and the degree of interconnection. Down is declining demand for repetition. Those are just happening. So, you know, of course, the transition is a mess. That’s what I keep saying.

Gardner: You have to hope you’re right.

Drayton: So, our job, for all of us, is to build the reality. And the form, as usual, will follow the reality.

Gardner: What about changemaker schools?

Drayton: Most principals and teachers have not defined themselves as big. Their job has not been to change the world. They don’t have practice in the big game. And so, this is not where we’re going to find the leadership for the change that’s going on now that we need. It’s first the Fellows.

Either 1,000 or 1,300 Ashoka Fellows are focused primarily on kids. And Fellows that are not primarily focused on kids deal with kids. You can’t deal with the “new inequality” if you don’t deal with kids. Almost all of the Fellows put kids in charge. And when we help a community see what this means, it changes their lives in really profound ways.

Gardner: So, the kids are educating the adults in a certain way?

Drayton: Well, if you look at the “Your Kids” tool, that’s exactly what happens. So, roughly 10 days ago, we were in Phoenix with the top managers of Boehringer Ingelheim US. And we did “Your Kids” with the managers. They overwhelmingly want it. They want to be trained in how to do it. We’ve done it with machinists. We are working with the service workers, vis-a-vis the janitors and lunch ladies in the schools. This is their way to get dignity as well as make sure their kids succeed.

In that methodology, which we’ve discussed before, the host organization person says “It’s a world of change. We either are there or we must get there, but this is about your kids. They’re going to have to live in this world of change.” Ashoka then says the same thing in a different way. And then, a young person who has her power stands up and tells her story. And that’s it. People in the room, they’ve been told twice, world of change. This is really important for something that most people care about more than anything else in their life. And then they see this young woman who has her power. She is going to be a happy, healthy, long-lived person. The world wants her. She knows it. She has it. That’s the turning point. They have just seen and felt what their success as a parent or grandparent requires.

Ashoka then asks three questions: “Is your daughter practicing changemaking like Daniella?” “Does your daughter have Daniella’s power?” “Does America or Brazil or whatever have a future if all our kids don’t have this?” Then we jump into what you must and easily can do to get your daughter thus to get her power. The key to the success of Your Kids is the young person. That’s it, Howard — I just get goosebumps every time I see a young person who has that power. It’s just, you know, all animals have evolved to feel deep satisfaction when their young can fly. This is life success…

We’ve got four major new thrusts, all mutually reinforcing. We are going to start moving them out, this year. First, LeadYoung, stories of young changemakers for school intranets and more. Second, Ashoka Young Changemakers. These kids have to apply to be co-leaders in the Everyone a Changemaker movement, because we need them to do that. And they have to make that decision.

Third, Peer-to-Peer Allies. We never have “trainings”. At least if I have my way. Anytime the word “training” comes up, I try to cut its head off! Then, fourth, Your Kids. You can see how all four reinforce one another, feed one another. And the demand is overwhelming. It’s absolutely overwhelming. We’re way behind. We underestimated the market.

Well, we’ve been saying to universities, through Ashoka U, that probably one of the most strategic things you need to do is reach out to the high schools and middle schools that feed you and help them see the new pedagogic reality …

Gardner: Absolutely.

Drayton: And you are championing the young people in those schools who are being powerful now. You. NYU or Arizona State or wherever. And, then, of course, you’re going to be able to recruit the people who are going to be the changemakers, the really strong ones.

And they will define your campus culture, and they will be really successful alumni in the new game. This is the smartest thing you can do.

New York City does really well when it has immigrants.

It’s a city designed for that. So, why doesn’t the city go out like a football team, and recruit changemaker immigrants?

Gardner: So, you were talking about John Lindsay, Mayor of New York City, immigrants. This, this must have been in the late 60s, early 70s.

Drayton: My prescription is that the city should go out and go to places like Gujarat and Maharashtra and recruit. And you get people who have that energy. The city is made for them. This city is made for immigrants to start things …

Gardner: But, I did have one other idea. You were concerned, and I think even upset by something that I told you or wrote you a year or two ago. But there’s a way of spinning it so that it fits very much into what we are saying now. The one finding from our study, which we already discerned years ago, was that mental health is the biggest problem everywhere. From the elite schools to the most unselective, the very fact that the mental health is the biggest issue everywhere.

Maybe this is a symptom of the fact that the kids realize that the world is changing in a way that they are not going to be able to deal with. And that’s all they know because they haven’t been at your feet.

But it’s not to say that if they end up in a changemaker environment at ASU or NYU, they’ll suddenly change. But it could be a symptom.

Drayton: It’s hard, I think, for any of us to even begin to imagine what it’s like if you know the world doesn’t need you, doesn’t want you. I mean, that’s terrible. And then, you’re in this wretched school and everyone tells you “you can’t”. And you’re being narrowed and narrowed, which is the exact opposite … I mean, it’s a terrible thing that’s happening.

Now, I didn’t have that sort of a childhood.

Gardner: None of us did.

Drayton: Right.

The fact is that this world is here now and you don’t have the opportunity to just follow a set of skills and a set of rules. That option is gone. And if it isn’t gone now, it will be in five years. This is the new inequality.

Gardner: Bill, I always thought of you as being a species and you’re trying to find conspecifics. And there were conspecifics. They could have been anywhere. But you were a mutation, an aberration.

And now, we’ve reached the point, for better or worse, where we need the aberration, the mutation, to become part of the natural DNA. And this is why starting very early is essential, because to undo the damage that is …

Drayton: Absolutely. Yes.

Bill Drayton today

Howard Gardner today


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