The power of one: Making a difference personally, professionally
Each person has the unique ability to have an impact on the environment around him.
There are a lot of people out there who say that one person can’t make a difference, that it’s impossible for an individual to have a major impact or start a trend or create a culture.
I wholeheartedly disagree. I think it’s within each person’s realm of possibilities to make a difference in his or her own life, in the community, or at a global level. Derek Sivers, at a 2010 TED conference, explained this theory in a very simple presentation. His talk, “How to Start a Movement,” used an amateur—yet powerful—video of a person dancing alone. As you watch this example of the young man gyrating to music, you see that he’s the only one out there, looking somewhat ridiculous.
Then someone else joins the dancer … and then another, and then another. He goes from looking a little nutty to looking like a trendsetter with many followers. This person has made a difference, and he’s had a major impact on the crowd around him.
High-level creative geniuses—think Elon Musk, Nikola Tesla, and Steve Jobs—often are seen as slightly off-kilter when they first come up with an idea. Their unorthodox ways of creating something new start off like the lone dancer—looking rather odd and alone. Once their idea picks up momentum and followers, it becomes brilliant, even historic.
How does this translate to what engineers do every day? I often hear engineers say, “I’m not creative,” or “I don’t have the ability to think any other way than analytically.” Again, I disagree. Engineers are creative every single day, and on every single project. Big-box stores aside, every building project is different. The building siting is different, the owner has different needs, the tools vary from project to project. Engineers are learning from others throughout the project. Even though they may use the same tools and may specify the same systems day in and day out, the outcome is always slightly different. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
The 40 people highlighted here would likely agree with my opinion that one person can make a difference. They’re living proof that it’s done every day—from designing high-performance buildings, to molding young minds, to engaging with others in unique ways. The 40 Under 40 winners truly embody this idea of “starting a movement,” if only with the simple act of doing one thing—dancing like nobody’s watching.
Take their enthusiasm, youth, and activism to heart. And don’t be afraid to get up and dance with them.