What Does it Take to Change the World?

Image by Nicki Varkevisser, available under CC BY 2.0.

What Does it Take to Change the World?

Written by Emilie

Topics: Entrepreneurship, Guest Posts

This is a guest post by James Watt of Adventures in the Raw.

Two years ago I was a socialist.

I was fed up with Goldman Sachs, I was tired of the ‘rich’ taking all the money from the poor (don’t even get me started on Monsanto!) and I really felt that someone needed to step in and help all the people who’d ended up down on their luck.

Who else should step in, if not the government?

I was friends with anarchists, hung out in drum circles at Evergreen, and generally went around trying to bring about change using the same strategies an old man would use to get kids off his lawn. That is to say, with fist shaking and impotent ranting.

‘Free Time’ Activism, and the Journey to Nowhere

Some of my anarchist friends did a lot to try and help their community, but they were limited by the scale of their thinking, and by their talent and abilities.

Amateur fliers and good intentions don’t cut it. What’s worse, most of my old friends approached their free time as their ‘real time’, and they approached ‘work’ as a necessary evil.

I know in my own life, during my one and only ‘real’ job I spent my time figuring out how to do the bare minimum while still looking busy. My ‘work’ provided no value to anyone, it didn’t improve my skillset, and it only left me with my ‘free time’ to contribute towards doing something I actually cared about.

This didn’t seem right. And it got me thinking…

The Life of the New Entrepreneur

What would you get if you combined a little mother Teresa with a little Donald Trump?

What if you built a business based on providing as much value as humanly possible?

Tom’s Shoes is my favorite entrepreneurial philanthropy example. It was started to raise money for sending 250 shoes over to third world countries. Fast forward to 2011, now they’ve managed to put shoes on over one million kids. The best part? It didn’t require any donations. Everyone involved benefited, both the people in America buying cool new shoes, and the kids over in other parts of the world who get theirs pro-bono because of it.

Every blogger by the way, is a new entrepreneur. Even your free content needs to be life changing, and the only way to manage that is to care enough to make it that way.

So what is the new entrepreneur?

The new entrepreneur knows that thinking of others is the fastest way to open doors. How many people are you helping, and how deeply are you helping them? The growth of your business is a direct result of how many lives you touch, and with what depth.

The new entrepreneur knows there is no such thing as competition. They network enthusiastically, and know more can be accomplished together than alone.

The new entrepreneur doesn’t waste time thinking in terms of hourly work. The only pay you really earn is pay based on results. If you can come in and provide massive value and it only takes five minutes, how is that worth less than paying the wrong person to spend 100 hours spinning their wheels? It’s terrifying if you’re still thinking like an employee, but once you make the shift life’s never the same. Your time has no value to anyone. Only your results matter.

The new entrepreneur is on the rise. In an age of Yelp and online reviews (for big and small businesses alike), small thinkers with a mission aren’t the only ones that need to change. Even purely profit-driven ventures need to start listening and thinking about how they can provide more value. Traditional industries that work for high leverage money without paying much attention to who it’s helping, they’re struggling now.

People who care about change need to look into business if they’re going to make real impact, but profit-minded businesses now need to change too.

When passion meets power

This is my dream. Are you an artist? A writer? A builder? Whatever your passions and gifts are, there are people out there that need them. When you’ve got both heart and skill, you can work miracles that money alone couldn’t even hope to achieve.

I used to believe socialism was the answer to society’s problems. Those problems still need to be solved, but now I’m taking responsibility for choosing one and doing something about it.

An entrepreneur in India managed to get the cost for cataract surgery down to $40, all because he figured out how to apply McDonald’s-like systems to an operation that costs thousands in other parts of the world. Is it better to give money to fund a poor solution, or should you use your talents to find a better one?

My challenge to you is to step it up.

Don’t settle for hourly wages doing something that hardly benefits anyone. You have a unique gift that people out there need!

However, it’s no longer enough to be an activist or a normal MBA style entrepreneur. What are you meant to do in life? Who can those talents help? Why in God’s name haven’t you started getting out there to help those people? You Are Needed. Now get to it, and never stop improving.


James Watt has mentored with some of the most baddass internet marketers you’ve never heard of, and he has chosen (so far) to use his newly found powers for good. Small business owners, authors, coaches, info marketers, and and anyone else with a message worth spreading can find him and his (usually) carefully crafted nuggets of wisdom at Adventures in the Raw.


  1. I love the testimonial & message. I remember the drum circles in Venice Beach; the sandwich board preachers the aimless vagabonds.

    A) There is amazing evil in the free market
    B) The free market is the system we have to operate w/in.

    Tom’s shoes, The Yellow Deli, Celestial Seasonings, Burt’s Bees…there are so many wonderful models of wold-shifting through the free market. And it invites the “dreamers, the criers, the magic-bean buyers.”

    Most of my students are either apathetic (and don’t even care that they’re apathetic), or they are silently angry. They are all looking for engagement, a voice, a way for their work to be seen and shared.

    And there is nothing like seeing a student–usually the quiet “empty vessel”–light up when you discover something they have to share with the world.

    I find I can keep some pretty radical ideals, while operating w/in a system. Lincoln was an abolitionist, but sure make some freakish choices…he stayed the course, though, and I think he was a major player in the deconstruction of the slave-system.

    In fact, the radical ideals (and the injustice of the world) can become an amazing creative catalyst…we see this everywhere in graffiti. I wish those artists had either the opportunity or the peace of mind to be in a world-shifting system.

    I suppose that’s why I teach.

    Great piece,

    • Emilie says:

      Great comment Mark!

      I asked James to contribute to the blog during a heated discussion on this very topic. I’ve found that many of my radical/artistic friends misunderstand my interest in entrepreneurship. I actually stopped hanging out with some of them because I felt like I couldn’t be open about the stuff I was excited about.

      But yeah, a lot of people hear the word “business” and think my aim is simply to make money and go lie on a beach. I actually had one friend basically imply that activism is more important than anything I could possibly be doing in business. I find this attitude a little self-righteous. There are MANY ways to help people and make the world a better place. Who says that inspiring people to embrace their dreams and do what they love is any less important than going to a protest? Also, my talents and passions lend themselves far better to this sort of life… Honestly, I would make a shitty activist. :P

      Thanks for your input Mark! Really interesting.

  2. Toms Shoes is not an example of a new kind of entrepreneur. It’s the same old white savior model refitted with hipster shoes. The question of whether shoes is the most pressing need (or even a widespread need at all) for people in those countries, the model is still one of charity. “We” come in and “save” “you”.

    Not only that, every time Toms rolls up with a big full of shoes, it undermines the local economy. Local businesses can’t compete with free. This affects the business owners, the people they might employ, the local producers of materials, the people they might employ. And that’s not even considering the emotional/psychological effects.

    Toms shoes is a clever marketing strategy designed to reap huge profits for the company (you essentially pay full market price for two pairs of shoes… so they profit off the markup twice on each purchase). It’s not designed at all to do anything good for the world.

    All that said, I know that the point of your post isn’t really about Toms but about something bigger and something deeper. And I think what the Toms example illustrates (and what you already pointed out) is that good intentions aren’t good enough: whether those good intentions are hand-made flyers or mass produced imported free shoes. If you want to be a new entrepreneur, you still need to do some good old-fashioned reading, listening, learning, and critical thinking.

    (Full disclosure: I own one pair of Toms shoes)

    • james says:

      Good points Brian. I really haven’t decided yet whether or not the shoes are good either. Kids getting sick or being denied entry to school due to lack of shoes isn’t good. On the other hand, local entrepreneurial solutions are always going to be more desirable than foreign ones. (that’s why Kiva is my favorite charity at the moment)

      You got the real point I was trying to convey though. Whether or not the shoes are a worthy goal in and of themselves, he managed to generate over a million shoe donations through his entrepreneurial talents. Something he never would have been able to do just from donating himself. We’re always better off if we can find opportunities to learn and leverage high impact skills, as opposed to just taking the obvious route and giving money or protesting on our off time. As far as whether or not the solutions are good or bad… we just finished up fail week, right? All solutions are iterative. The best you can do is network and learn what you can, and then get out there and start moving some mountains while staying open to potential problems with your initial ideas.

  3. Morgan says:

    Hi James,

    Right on!!! This reminds of me of so many people out there who are absolutely MISERABLE in their hourly jobs. I just look at them and say, “If you’re so miserable, quit. Do something you love!”

    But they’re always afraid. They always come back at me with, “Haha, yeah right!”

    And I just can’t believe how negative and pessimistic their out view on their own life is. Life is just too short to be miserable.

    And it’s unfortunate. It’s always the people with so much passion for something outside of their hourly job, that are afraid to leave their hourly job to go after what they love.

    • Emilie says:

      Hell yea !

      I drives me CRAZY listening to people complain about how they can’t change their situations, how “unrealistic” that would be… I can’t listen to that stuff anymore. It just puts me in a negative state which affects MY productivity. You’re never going to change your life without vision and belief. And like, as a coach, don’t ask me for advice if you’re not open to the idea that this is actually possible. It’s not my job to convince you of that. I can’t anyway. It’s something you need to claim for yourself.

      (man, I’m ranting a lot today… :)

      Thanks for the comment Morgan! You’re awesome.

      • I think you need to be careful here, especially as a coach. The fear people have about extending themselves and doing what they love is much deeper than it might appear on the surface. “Haha yeah right!” might be a carefully managed surface manifestation of crippling fear that can’t be overcome without help.

        I don’t suggest that it’s your role to provide that help. But if someone has come to you at all, it means they’re looking for the way across. Their resistance to your suggestions could be just one of the many guises of self-sabotage with which you, as a coach, will have to contend.

        Speaking generally, when trying to get someone to hear how crazy they sound, it’s more effective to provide them with a safe space in which their madness can become audible.

        • Emilie says:

          You’re right, Peter. I think I was having a particularly cranky day when I wrote this. I was actually dealing with one friend in particular who didn’t hire me as a coach, but sort of unofficially asked for advice and then spent a good half hour telling me about how hopeless her situation was. I don’t think she was actually interested in my help. So anyway, that’s what was on my mind at the time.

          I actually wrote another post about why it’s important to charge for your coaching (https://puttylike.com/why-you-should-be-charging-more-for-your-work/). Friends who ask for advice are often far less serious about making big changes. That kind of thing can be really draining for a coach.

          Also some coaches focus more on the emotional blockage stuff. Tony Robbins gets off on helping people overcome limiting beliefs and change their thought patterns. That’s not really my thing. I mean sure, I do some of that indirectly, but usually only where it arises as a form of resistance. The main focus is still on building a business.

          You’re right though, I should have been more careful about how I phrased this when I was really just wrapped up in one very specific situation. Thanks for the reminder. :)

          • Hi Emilie,

            Yeah, it’s frustrating to give your best to someone who, in the end, is just interested in venting.

            Some people seem to get a charge from letting off the steam, and then they’re cool with letting the steam build again. The quick hit emotional experience keeps them coming back to that spot over and over.

            I wonder how many times they have to do that before they can see it and really bust a move. It’s like giving up an addiction.

            Maybe you’ve encountered that in your coaching: people who are addicted to their circumstances?

            I love puttylike.

  4. There isn’t going to be an economic “recovery” because we’re not in a depression, we’re in a major permanent transformation and the new entrepreneur is a key figure in that. Great observations, James. I like your take on this and the spirit you show.

  5. Irish howard says:


    Is a New Entreprneur like:
    – a social entrepreneur? or
    – an entrepreneur with a social conscious? or
    – Or a Karma powered entrepreneur?
    – or something completely different??

    Might be a little harsh on MBA entrepreneurs there – going to business school doesn’t necessarily drive all karma from your soul :)

    • Have you read Creating A World Without Poverty by Muhammad Yunus? Based on your comment, I think you’d enjoy it and get a lot out of it.

    • james says:

      Hey Howard!

      I definitely don’t mean anything against MBAs, it’s more of a critique with the system that trains them.

      I think the real definition of a new entrepreneur: it’s just someone who helps people with a genuine need, as opposed to a businessman trying to create a sense of need just to sell his crap.

      Doing it right isn’t even necessarily about compassion (though that helps!). I think as long as you have enough empathy to really connect well with your audience, you’re good. If that empathy and understanding is driving your marketing, customer service, and ethics, then you know you’re going to be making good choices.

      I think the number one thing I have against most MBAs I meet though… unfortunately, they’ve all been taught to think about marketing as just being the same as branding. Corporate voice and brand centered marketing (ME centered marketing in other words) is a heck of a lot less effective than marketing that’s there to serve, educate, and help.

      I added Creating a world without poverty to my amazon queue, I’ll definitely be checking it out!

      • Emilie says:

        I’ve been reading Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” and he talks about how when the typical company wants to become “more authentic”, they will go out and do market research. It’s completely backwards. You need to stand for something and have a reason for existing- reason more than just making money.

  6. Tessa Zeng says:

    You guys are great. Totally on the same wavelength here. Especially love this:

    “Every blogger by the way, is a new entrepreneur. Even your free content needs to be life changing, and the only way to manage that is to care enough to make it that way.”

    Put another way- if you don’t care enough to make your free content life-changing, should you be blogging? If you don’t care enough to investigate what ‘life-changing’ really means, should you be making content?

    • james says:

      I’ve seen a lot of niche bloggers try and get started from the affiliate marketing crowd. When Emilie mentioned the ‘become more authentic’ corporate strategy, it made me think of them. They have all the SEO tactics right, keyword optimization, the latest tools, and even the market research on the frustrations, fears, and aspirations of the target market.

      In spite of the leg up though, I haven’t seen many of the affiliate bloggers take off in the same way that people in the unconventional crowd regularly do. When you go beyond ‘research’ and towards real empathy, and when you look beyond ‘how can I make money from their problems’ to ‘how can I leverage my passions and strengths to help them’ it really makes it a lot easier.

      Course, then there’s Jeff Johnson… so I guess the old way isn’t entirely dead:p.

      This way will always be a hell of a lot more fun and fulfilling though: ). Even Jeff Johnson puts a lot of energy into building his core tribe and offers, so even he approaches part of his business at least like a new entrepreneur.

  7. Holli says:

    This is a very timely post for me personally. I really enjoyed the candor you, James, included from your life and observations with a clear analysis of what the new entrepreneurs are.
    Thanks for an insightful and encouraging post:)

    P.s. Agree with the sentiment that activism needs a new face with more effectiveness. Because frankly, standing in a chain isn’t what it used to be.

  8. Seth says:

    James, you’ve dropped so much good stuff into this post. Here are two points that stand out for me.

    First, the section about learning to do as little as possible to get by. I can’t imagine spending my day in a worse way…and I say this as someone who has done this. But, this is related being paid for your time and not your output, which leads us to the next point.

    The distinction between time worked and value created is a crucial one. I’ve put in long days and tried to justify them, but when I look back, I was just doing stupid, low-value stuff in an effort to make myself feel like I was doing something worthwhile.

    Much better to go in, create a ton of value in an hour or two, and spend the rest of the day playing frisbee golf or reading novels or building another side hustle.

    Glad to see this posted here on Puttylike, Emilie.

    • Emilie says:

      “Much better to go in, create a ton of value in an hour or two, and spend the rest of the day playing frisbee golf or reading novels or building another side hustle.”

      I wholeheartedly agree!

      Can’t wait till I’m in Portland and I can focus on work for an hour or two and then go read in the park. That dream gets me through this cold Montreal weather (it snowed here today)…

      Anyway, thanks for the comment Seth. :)

      (and Holli!)

  9. Thanks for surfacing this post on Twitter, Emilie. It’s another reason why I’m really glad I found Puttylike.

    And thank you, James, for writing it.

    I think my favorite aspect of the new paradigm is the convergence it creates between getting along in a system of financial exchange, and personal growth.

    It used to be that you dealt with your inner noise in your free time, kind of like the “free-time activism” James mentions. Under this new emerging model, inner growth is integral to building your business.

    So many people feel they have something to offer, that there’s a place for them in this new world of creative entrepreneurship. But as soon as they make a move, or even think about making a move, up come the obstacles.

    The internet has made financial independence based on your passion so possible that the sense of that possibility is reaching people who might not otherwise have been sensitive to it.

    This has created a market for coaches and marketing consultants. It’s also brought together communities of like-minded people. Best of all, it’s called people to begin the journey of self discovery and external connection we’re all here to make, and which the entanglements of the old system have until now made difficult.

    Go, Puttylike!

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