The Character Traits of Systems Changers


You can read the biographies of all our interviewees here and we heartily recommend that you do – they are a visionary crew.

We’ve spotted some shared character traits that span the wealth of experiences and perspectives here. These traits give us some clues about who the effective systems changers of the future will be.

Systems changers aren’t afraid to think big – really big. They want to orchestrate huge social and cultural changes. They have a strong sense of their own and others’ agency, best summed up by the view that ‘we created these problems, so it is within our capacity to solve them’. You won’t find systems changers just making recommendations for what government needs to do –instead they will roll up their sleeves and use the power they have to effect major change.

Systems changers are comfortable with change and uncertainty – more than that, they embrace it wholeheartedly. They are not afraid to take leaps into the unknown. Partly this seems to be driven by a kind of impatient optimism – a desire to change things, and a belief that things can get better. And partly it seems to come from not just a willingness to learn, but a hunger to do so. This means failure is less of a daunting prospect than it might otherwise be.

Systems changers do not have the personal/professional divide that has underpinned industrial models of working life. They can’t just ‘switch off’. This is a vocation rather than a career. Systems changers are playing the long game though, they recognize the dangers of burnout when taking on entrenched complex problems. They are often passionate about what time with friends and family and space to reflect can bring to the project of systems change.