I talk to a lot of young people with great ideas on how to rethink many aspects of doing science. One thing many of these folks have in common is that they’ve been trying for a long time to get someone to hear them out and give them a chance to implement changes on a large scale. But if there’s one thing I wish I could tell everyone all at once it’s this: you don’t always need to persuade everyone in order to try out your ideas or change how you do things. In many cases, you can just take initial steps yourself, show everyone what can work, highlight the benefits, and convince others to join in. We of course have created a hierarchical system in which young people feel they have to stay in their lane, know their place, wait their turn, and get bestowed legitimacy by some person with power in order to take action. But in my experience, there is no more powerful (and empowering) persuasion tactic to sway peers and gatekeepers alike than successful actions, carried out thoughtfully, improved by iteration, and which ultimately make a difference for people.

Is it sometimes risky to take try out ideas or take action yourself? Yes. Are some people more than others disproportionately protected from risk due to many dimensions of privilege? Also yes. But we guarantee limiting what is possible if we always wait for others to buy in, step aside, or lend a hand. Perhaps the thing that I feel most strongly about is that if you have a uniquely good and creative idea, it shouldn’t be constrained by the limited vision of others. The concerns of others can sometimes only be silenced in the doing.

Of course none of this precludes (nor should it) speaking to those who are knowledgeable or experienced. Ignoring the lessons of others indeed can be a waste of time or worse. But sometimes that experience, especially in new contexts, comes with baggage, a visceral aversion to new ideas, or an over-valuing of the status quo (likely itself hard fought in a prior battle against something even worse). So it can be a steep uphill battle to generate top-down change or sway powerful people. But a spark of a great idea put into action by a single person, spread through the vocal support of those whose lives it improves, is something we frequently don’t need anyone’s permission for. So go on then. Show everyone what you’ve got. Even the skeptics will be there, pleasantly surprised and ready to celebrate your success.

Categories: Reflections