Is That All You Need To Make An Impact?

Have you been trying to have a positive impact in peoples lives? Ever wonder about what it means to have an impact?

This was topic of a presentation by Johnathan Grudin’s. Grudin is a renowned researcher at Microsoft Research, an instructor at the University of Washington’s iSchool, and the recipient of the 2014 inaugural CSCW Lasting Impact Award.

Using his experience as the case study, he identified three factors that allowed his work to have impact. The three factors were:

  • Timing,
  • Luck, &
  • Persistence

I would love to believe that I am over-thinking this and that making an impact is really simple as he described.  But I doubt that is the case. I think Grudin would agree. Although at least two of the factors Grudin listed may have had an influence, there is more to having an impact. Let us take a brief look at the factors he mentioned.

Timing: In Grudin’s talk, the timing he referred to was coincidentally giving  his conference presentation early in a conference.  I agree that timing is important, but it’s not enough. How exactly does one “time” their work? Yes there are some strategies, but there are lots of limitations (e.g. your position within an institution, ability to predict need). If you work for a corporation you can’t tell your boss, “hey, give me a break. I’m working on something big, but I can’t reveal it to the world yet. The time isn’t right.” Similarly, when you come up for tenure you can’t tell the review committee that the reason you haven’t published papers is because the market isn’t ready for your idea yet. Doing so in both the setting can earn you a pink slip. 

Luck: Luck? What is that? Personally, I don’t believe in luck. I remember growing up, several people, mainly the adults in my life that noticed that I was getting by without really applying myself, used to tell me that luck is for the unprepared and that if I want to achieve success that I would need to make sure I am as prepared as possible. That way when the opportunity presents itself I will be positioned to capitalize on it. If having an impact depends on luck, wonder where intentionality fits in.

Persistence: Persistence was the factor that spoke most to me. It makes sense that tirelessly working away, assuming that you are and not flying blind, can lead to impact. Nonetheless, persistence is not enough. Impact is relational. I know several persistent people whose efforts have not yet led to anything “impactful”.

What’s missing?    

One audience member suggested that level of “importance” should be on Grudin’s list of factors. Grudin acknowledged the significance of importance, but stated (which I agree with), “that it is not enough”.

Please chime in! What do you think are the missing factor(s)?

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>