August 07, 2004
Your influence

How do I influence others in a way that changes the world? This is something I’ve been thinking about lately.

My personal effect on the working of our world seems pretty insignificant. I have no progeny (human or creative) and I can think of nothing I’ve done that will live on after I die. Nothing sticks out as me having changed someone’s opinion or actions. At least as far as I am aware…

When I consider it that way, it seems that only a handful of people have any real influence on the world—the leaders and luminaries we read about in the news, for example.

But for each newsworthy leader, there are levels upon levels of people who influenced him. And sometimes you just can’t know that you’ll be one of those influential people. As far as I know, there’s no way to predict what effect you’re going to have on the world through your actions. It’s the butterfly effect on a human scale.

As a fictional example:

President John Doe makes the news when announcing a new government policy to build a colony on Mars. Who influenced him in launching the program?

  • Sam Smith, his speechwriter, puts the words in his mouth that will be echoed in the media.
  • Bill Johnson, a lawyer and lawmaker, helps him to draft the new policy.
  • Jane Riley, his chief science advisor, meets with him for hours to discuss the possibilities, risks and rewards.
  • Vladmir Morovsky, Russian premiere, announces a program to send men to the Moon and to Mars.
  • Bricker Sloan, a lobbyist for the aerospace industry, arranges campaign funds and support.
  • Millicent Harvey, an actress and personal friend, plays a space heroine in a film and relates the experience of making the movie.
  • George West, supervisor at his first job, talks to him about the company’s goals of corporate dominance in the widget market and jokes about dominance throughout the solar system.
  • Betsy Doe, his mother, sends a care package of rocket-shaped cookies to his graduate college dorm on July 21, 1969.
  • Mr. Wilkins, his 6th grade English teacher, reads aloud to the class from his favorite book, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars.
  • Bob Doe, his grandfather, shows him the planets through a telescope when he’s a boy.

So even though most of us are not the luminaries we read about in the papers, we do have influence on things those luminaries do. But maybe not the way we imagine.

All these thoughts raise more questions: Is there a way for an ordinary person to cut a wider, more obvious swath through the world? Is it important to do so? Do we need more luminaries? What the most important contribution you, personally, can make to the world?

Posted by kuri at August 07, 2004 02:02 PM


You can improve the lives of everyone you meet. Kindness and a smile will be passed on. That is your legacy.

Do you realise you’re influencing people just by updating this blog?

Posted by: jon on August 7, 2004 03:55 PM

The first few months that I was blogging, printed pages from your “Illustrated MT Templates” were thumbtacked above the desk. It seemed that no matter what search terms I typed in when I was looking for help understanding my templates, your site was at or near the top.

At first I was mostly concerned with the technical details of blogging; now I’ve discovered the joys of seeing someone else’s life through their eyes in real time.

Posted by: ginny on August 7, 2004 11:16 PM

I read the ‘How to save the world’ blog on a very regular basis, and it has really changed my view on what i can actually DO in my life to improve things in the world in general, to facilitate and create change. Personally ive come to the conclusion that you need a really clear vision of what you want the world to be like, and go about motivating and being motivated by others from there. Your vision needs to be flexible and open to being influenced by others visions, but yeah, you need to start out and remain clear. But honestly, i think its the accidental influences that have the most effect, the rocket-shaped cookies for example… the stuff you never realise, the effect you never know you had.

Posted by: j-ster on August 8, 2004 01:58 PM

you have an effect on the world to the extent that you dont allow the world to have an impact on yr ownself.

Posted by: ns on August 9, 2004 11:55 PM
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