People Do What Their Friends Do—How to Get More People Into the Movement for Animals

Article Summary

  • People are heavily influenced by the groups they’re a part of and the social networks they’re connected to.
  • If we want people to get more active for animals, we have to focus on getting them in groups of activists. We can’t simply rely on the person to get active and stay active by themselves.
  • In the long run, the social network that a person is in could be more powerful than the desires and characteristics of that individual.
  • This also means that we need to make it as easy as possible for people to start becoming a part of new activist social groups, since there are strong incentives to stay in their current social networks.

Introduction

Let’s start with some mind-blowing facts.

  • Obesity (source)
    • If someone you’re connected to becomes obese, you’re 45% more likely than normal to become obese. This jumps to 57% if you say the person is your friend—and your chances increase by 171% if you both say that you’re friends (in other words, if the other person also calls you a friend).
    • If a connection of your connection (two degrees of separation, someone who you don’t know) becomes obese, you become 20% more likely than normal to become obese.
    • Finally, if you have three degrees of separation from someone who becomes obese (a friend of a friend of a friend…), you still become 10% more likely than normal to become obese yourself.
  • Smoking (source)
    • If you have a contact who smokes, you’re 61% more likely than normal to be a smoker.
    • If a contact’s contact smokes, you’re 29% more likely to be a smoker.
    • If a contact’s contact’s contact smokes, you’re 11% more likely to be a smoker.
  • Fitness (source)
    • The eventual overall fitness of randomly assigned Air Force Academy squadrons is primarily determined by the least fit person in the squadron.
  • Personality Traits (source)
    • Friends and romantic partners are more alike across many personality traits than they would be with strangers.

Finally, I also found this: “According to research by social psychologist Dr. David McClelland of Harvard, [the people you habitually associate with] determine as much as 95 percent of your success or failure in life.” (source) I couldn’t find the primary source for this research though, and 95% seems quite a bit too high to me, but the basic point remains the same.

Holy crap.

Social groups matter

All of this research illustrates a lesson that we in the animal rights movement need to take very seriously:

The people in our social networks matter a ton—in fact, our social networks may be one of the most important parts of our lives.

This has far-reaching implications for how we should approach our work.

“She doesn’t want to go alone.”

A few months ago, I asked my friend out for a drink to talk about activism. I knew she was thinking about getting more involved, but hadn’t really taken a big dive into anything specific yet. We talked about what kinds of activism she’s heard of, and what she’s thinking about trying, and what her preferred type of activism would be in an ideal world.

She had heard of the main grassroots groups: Direct Action Everywhere, The Save Movement, and Anonymous for the Voiceless. She also spent some time at one of our local sanctuaries, Luvin Arms.

As we talked, a few things became apparent:

First, my friend was probably going to find a way to get involved in activism eventually, with or without friends going with her.

Second, she would get involved faster and stay involved longer if she had a supportive social network encouraging her to do so.

And third, some of her vegan friends wouldn’t get involved if they didn’t have a social group pushing them to do so.

For example, we talked about one of our mutual friends, who was also interested in getting involved but was way more hesitant to go to anything. “She doesn’t want to go alone,” my friend told me about a “Cube of Truth” demonstration put together by Anonymous for the Voiceless. “So we’re thinking about trying to go together sometime.”

I don’t think this is an exception. I think this is the rule. And we need to figure out how to work with it.

People do what their friends do

Whether consciously or not, we like to conform to the groups that we’re in. That conformity leads to us acting like the group, believing like the group, and ultimately obtaining the same kinds of results as the group. (Remember the mind-blowing stats at the beginning about obesity, smoking, and fitness?)

It starts when we’re very young. As soon as we pay attention to what others think about us, peer pressure kicks in. (source) This can be good or bad, depending on what exactly that pressure is.

For example, if all of your friends are animal activists, you probably can’t help but get active yourself—it’s what all of your friends are doing, after all.

Likewise, if all of your friends and family binge-watch TV every night and never talk about animal exploitation at all, it’s going to be extremely difficult to form habits different from those. The moment you start doing different things is the moment you start isolating yourself. Unless, that is, you’re so influential that you can get the whole group to change its habits.

We like to conform with the members of our “tribe”, which some sociologists define as tight-knit human groups of 20-150 people. (source) If we feel like we can’t conform, then we try to find a tribe where we can.

Self-induced isolation

The moment that someone starts going down the path of being vegetarian or vegan and caring about animals is usually the moment that they start going against the norms of the groups (“tribes”) they’re in. (Unless they’re going vegan because they stumbled into a group of vegans, in which case it’s a socially normative behavior.)

Believing something different from the majority causes an emotional response, (source) and it could lead to lower levels of social support which means worse psychological health. (source)

This is a very precarious place for someone to be in as a vegan or an activist. It’s no wonder that many people find it too difficult to be different, and they fall back into the ever-flowing stream of the culture of their group.

Solutions

There are a few ways we can approach this issue as a movement, but all of them require thinking very hard about human needs and interactions.

Solution #1—Plug the person into a new social group

This might be the easiest and most thorough solution, as it leverages existing groups of activists and doesn’t require the person to influence their existing social group.

Since social networks are so important for all of us and dictate much of our lives, we can’t simply assume that everyone is going to blaze a new trail on their own. Thus for every person who wants to get active for animals, we could find a way to get them plugged into a new social network of activists, where the default activities are based on helping animals.

Of course, this assumes a few things:

  1. It assumes that there’s an existing activist network close to the person, or that the person is willing to move to be close to a network;
  2. It assumes that the person wants to be part of a new network;
  3. It assumes that the person wants to be part of this new network; and,
  4. It assumes that the network wants to take in a new person.

If any one of these assumptions doesn’t hold, then it might not work for the person to be plugged into an existing activist network.

For example, research shows that influence from peers only works when the individual wants to remain in the group. If the activities of the group are too undesirable to that individual, then they may drop out and join a different group. (source)

This is an important point that I think we forget a lot of the time. We can’t simply assume that people are going to be willing to join any new social network or activist group. People are very different from one another, and despite how powerful of connecting forces veganism and animal activism are (and they do bring people together), they aren’t powerful enough to overcome all preexisting desires and personality traits of individuals.

A rowdy group of people who love theatrical protests probably isn’t going to be the best place for a quiet person who loves programming. If someone is really invested in outdoor activities like hiking and rock climbing, they’re probably going to need to fulfill that part of the life somehow. There are only so many hours in a day, so it would be easier for them if they could find some activists who also like hiking and climbing.

There need to be spaces for all kinds of people.

Also, remember my friend from above who wanted to go to an activism event but didn’t want to go by herself: How do you get someone like that into a new activist network in the first place?

One solution could be to start by going to where that person is rather than expecting them to come to you—for example, being aware of who is liking your Facebook posts and proactively reaching out to them to grab coffee or have a phone call, rather than expecting people to RSVP to your events or take part in your online campaigns.

Solution #2—Change the person’s current group culture

If people don’t want to join new social groups, then they can try to change their current group to reflect the values they want to be surrounded by.

This can be very difficult, though, because it requires shifting the dynamics of the whole group to be focused on animal activism. Unless the new vegan / activist is very influential, they’ll probably have a hard time creating a whole new group dynamic in their current situation.

Nevertheless, there are psychologically sound ways to try approaching that issue.

Solution #3—Help the person create a new group

It could be the case that someone is really excited and ready to create their own new group of activists. Or, maybe even if they aren’t fully prepared, we could help people gain the knowledge and get the resources required to get going.

Every group and tactic had to start somewhere, and sometimes the best new ideas and approaches come from people just coming into the movement because of their fresh perspective. Starting a new group or network can also be a great option for people who don’t currently live close to other activist groups.

I think the Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) Organizer’s Handbook is a great starting resource for people interested in building something from the ground up, even if they aren’t interested in the tactics or strategies that DxE uses.

Solution #4—Plug the person into a new digital group

Digital social groups aren’t as powerful as in-person relationships, and I’m not sure how much of the research on group influence would translate to a digital environment. But if this is the only option (or the easiest option), then it might be a good solution for someone until they can find an in-person group.

These digital groups could be fairly hands-off and disconnected from each other, like the group of people who follow vegan activists like Earthling Ed and watch his videos. They could be slightly more interconnected, like Challenge 22 Facebook groups. Or they could be fully interconnected online mentoring programs or relationships between individual activists or groups of activists.

The important thing is that the person has a space where they’re being influenced and supported in the direction that they want to be—the direction of increased activism and participation in the movement.

Conclusion

There’s very strong evidence that our social networks influence us immensely.

So when we’re trying to get more people active in the movement for animals, we can’t simply ask how to get one person involved—we have to ask how to get the person into an active group that’s taking action for animals.

And if the person is currently all alone, we need to ask why they would come to any event (or join any Facebook page) in the first place. The answer to that question is going to involve feelings of group membership and belonging, and we need to be designing spaces with those concepts in mind.

If the stereotype is a lonely vegan, then let’s figure out how to turn that person into a connected and empowered activist.


Sources


Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.

Book Summary—The Effective Executive, by Peter Drucker

Let’s talk about effectiveness. But first, let’s talk about Peter Drucker.

Peter Drucker died in 2005, a man who authored 39 books over his 95-year life. He’s been called the founder of modern management, and his name will inevitably come up anytime talk of business or management arises.

I stumbled my way into knowing a little about Peter Drucker because of the Tim Ferriss podcast. While Tim and his guests discuss a huge range of topics—and the variety of guests is one of the podcast’s biggest strengths—business is one of the most common topics. (Businesses are some of the most powerful entities on the planet, after all.) Whenever business is discussed, Drucker’s name almost inevitably gets dropped.

The second book I read from Drucker’s anthology was The Effective Executive, which is what we’ll be discussing in this article.

Now before you potentially become disinterested because of the word “executive”—which might bring up images of CEOs, suits, and big evil corporations—I should note that Drucker defines an executive a different way than you might think. He says:

Who is an executive? Every knowledge worker in modern organization is an “executive” if, by virtue of their position or knowledge, they are responsible for a contribution that materially affects the capacity of the organization to perform and to obtain results…Such a person must make decisions; they cannot just carry out orders.

(One quick note. Whenever I quote text from the book, I will copy it verbatim except for changing the default male pronouns “he / him / his” into default gender neutral pronouns “they / them / theirs” and the accompanying verb tenses. So for example, where Drucker writes “he is responsible”, I’ll alter it to “they are responsible”.)

By Drucker’s definition, every knowledge worker who has to make decisions which affect organizational performance is an executive. The last time I checked, that means almost every single person in the animal rights movement is an executive, at least in some capacity.

And, what do we care about as activists?

We care about having an impact for animals. Simply put: we care about effectiveness.

I was drawn to this book for that exact reason, and although it was originally published some 50 years ago (half a century! my word), the advice in the book doesn’t disappoint.

I want to be effective, and I want you to be effective, and I want every single person in this movement to be effective.

So let’s dive in.

The Main Idea

Even if you were to only read the first page of the Introduction of the book, you would learn something.

After working with countless individuals in a huge variety of fields over a 65-year consulting career, Peter Drucker says that effective executives do not need charisma, they don’t need to be extroverted, and they don’t need to be anything in particular when it comes to most personality traits. (This is a similar finding to the Level 5 Leadership that Jim Collins talks about, if you recall.)

But before we throw up our hands and say “I guess it’s all totally random then!”, he says there are similarities in what made all of these individuals effective.

What made them all effective is that they followed the same eight practices:

– They asked, “What needs to be done?”

– They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”

– They developed action plans.

– They took responsibility for decisions.

– They took responsibility for communicating.

– They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.

– They ran productive meetings.

– They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”

The first two practices gave them the knowledge they needed. The next four helped them convert this knowledge into effective action. The last two ensured that the whole organization felt responsible and accountable.

Boom. Even with that much, I personally have enough material to work on for years.

But there’s more good material in the book to cover, so we won’t stop there. We’ll talk about the Introduction first, and then dive into the book chapters:

  1. Chapter One: Effectiveness Can Be Learned
  2. Chapter Two: Know Thy Time
  3. Chapter Three: What Can I Contribute?
  4. Chapter Four: Making Strength Productive
  5. Chapter Five: First Things First
  6. Chapter Six: The Elements of Decision-making
  7. Chapter Seven: Effective Decisions

Along the whole way, I’ll be tying in lessons that can apply specifically to the movement for animals.

The book itself relies heavily on anecdotes that illustrate the points that Drucker is making. In this summary, though, I’ll stick mostly to the points themselves and leave it to you to read the book if you want to see all of the examples he lists from history and his consulting career.

Introduction

There’s a lot of great information packed into the Introduction. Here are the eight practices of effective executives that I already listed in The Main Idea section above, but I’ll now break them out by category:

Get the Knowledge You Need

  • They asked, “What needs to be done?”
  • They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”

Convert This Knowledge Into Effective Action

  • They developed action plans.
  • They took responsibility for decisions.
  • They took responsibility for communicating.
  • They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.

Ensure the Organization Feels Responsible and Accountable

  • They ran productive meetings.
  • They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”

Each of these points is covered in more detail later in the book. For now, let’s talk about some of the main points that Drucker discusses in the Introduction. (There are quite a lot, actually—the Introduction doesn’t quite read like a normal book introduction.)

Decision Making

A lot of this book is about decision-making. The introduction has a nice, concise list of what constitutes “making a decision”.

A decision has not been made until people know:

– the name of the person accountable for carrying it out;

– the deadline;

– the names of the people who will be affected by the decision and therefore have to know about, understand, and approve it—or at least not be strongly opposed to it—and;

– the names of the people who have to be informed of the decision, even if they are not directly affected by it.

Communication

Organizations are first and foremost tied together by the information that gets shared between people: information about roles, about strategy, about facts and resources needed to do a job, etc.

Communication needs to flow from staff to their managers, and from managers to leadership, but it also needs to flow the opposite direction: from leadership and managers to all staff. (Not to mention the communication that needs to happen between peers.)

How should you approach this information problem? Drucker says: “Identify the information you need; ask for it; and keep pushing until you get it.”

In an organization, this might mean asking your teammate or manager for information. In the movement at large, maybe it means reaching out to other individuals to ask them about their approaches to campaigns, or outreach, or fundraising, or other forms of activism.

Opportunities

Whenever you’re holding meetings and creating reports, list opportunities first and problems second. Unless they’re truly existential crises, problems should only be discussed after opportunities have been thoroughly explored. Growth happens when you invest in opportunities, not when you fight fires.

Similarly, put your best people on developing out the biggest opportunities, not on fixing problems. Drucker points out how in Japan corporate culture (at the time of his writing the book), each year companies would create a list of their biggest opportunities, a list of their best people, and then they would match up people to opportunities. This was, in fact, one of the most important roles of HR.

Productive Meetings

Meetings consume a huge amount of people’s time, both inside of organizations and outside of them (in community groups, for example). If meetings are going to happen and occupy so many of our waking hours, we should make them productive.

First, decide what kind of meeting it will be and stick to it:

  • A meeting to prepare a statement, an announcement, or a press release.
  • A meeting to make an announcement—for example, an organizational change.
  • A meeting in which one member reports.
  • A meeting in which several or all members report.
  • A meeting to inform the convening executive.

All of these meetings require different forms of preparation, and should expect different results and action items. Once you’ve accomplished the original purpose of the meeting, don’t move on to a new topic—close out the meeting, and schedule additional meetings for other topics if required. Stay focused on the topic at hand.

Think and Say “We”

It’s good advice to leave the “vertical pronoun” at the door—don’t think or say “I”. Instead, think and say “We”. This is a good reminder for us in the movement to avoid putting individuals on pedestals. Truly great things are built by groups of people.

On a final note related to communication and interpersonal skills, Drucker says: “Listen first, speak last.” This is crucial when dealing with large teams, or teams composed of people with very different personalities and communication styles, or when you’re involved in projects that span multiple teams.

Listening first is also important when interacting with others in the movement who you may not necessarily understand or agree with. Maybe you don’t understand what institutional meat reduction work is or why it’s important, or you’re not sure how likely it is that fundamental rights advocacy will be successful. Maybe it’s hard for you to actually believe someone when they say that they think humans need to eat animals to be healthy, or you vehemently disagree if someone says they’re focused on reducing animal suffering but not eliminating animal farming, and your first reaction is to judge the person or think that they’re being insincere.

Remember: Listen first.

Chapter One: Effectiveness Can Be Learned

In case anyone might confuse “effectiveness” with “brilliance”, Peter Drucker wants to clear that up almost immediately:

Brilliant people are often strikingly ineffectual; they fail to realize that the brilliant insight is not by itself achievement. They never have learned that insights become effectiveness only through hard systematic work.

The good news is that this kind of effectiveness can and must be learned, by all of us.

First of all, who is an executive? I already put the definition in The Main Idea section, but it’s important enough to restate so that we know who exactly we’re talking about.

Every knowledge worker in modern organization is an “executive” if, by virtue of their position or knowledge, they are responsible for a contribution that materially affects the capacity of the organization to perform and to obtain results…Such a person must make decisions; they cannot just carry out orders.

Practically speaking, this means almost all of us who are in the movement for animals.

An executive may manage people, or they may not—whether or not you manage someone is irrelevant when it comes to being an executive.

What is “effectiveness”, then? Simply put: results.

Effectiveness isn’t defined by output, or by creativity, or by efficiency, or by scientific rigor, although all of these things could help contribute to effectiveness. But at the end of the day, what matters is the actual results that you get.

Organizations often mistake effort and resources for results. For example, an organization will put more people on an opportunity, thinking that will mean more productivity. That could be true; but it could just as easily not be true. The only measure we can go by is the actual results being produced; results are all that matter.

Pressures Towards Non-Results

Drucker says there are four primary realities and pressures that push executives to not achieve results:

One—The executive’s time tends to belong to everybody else.

In other words, the executive cannot shut out the rest of the organization in order to “focus on work”. People are constantly making demands on their energy and time.

Two—Executives are forced to keep on “operating” unless they take positive action to change the reality in which they live and work.

In other words, executives often keep working on the things that simply show up in the stream of events, no matter what they are or how quickly they come. Instead, they should be asking the question “What is important here?” and only giving time and attention to the important things in their current position, the things that they’re responsible for contributing.

Three—The executive is within an organization.

In other words, the work and output of the executive is often used by others in the organization in order to generate results. The executive isn’t usually a lone island generating results on their own; rather, they are part of a team.

Four—The executive is within an organization.

In other words, the executive’s perspective often gets tangled up in internal matters. Information from the outside world is distorted, undervalued, or ignored, which leads to false perspectives about what is important. Crucially, the executive must remember that results happen outside the organization.

In animal rights, this is especially true. The impact we want to have involves animals who are kept “out of sight, out of mind”, trapped in warehouses and cages far away from where we can see them. If we’re not careful, it’s easy to think that the events and happenings of the animal rights movement are valuable in and of themselves—they aren’t. They’re valuable because of how they potentially impact animals.

Don’t forget that “being active” isn’t the same as “getting results”. Our goal is not to simply put in the time and do the work. Our goal is to help animals. This can be easy to lose sight of from within the movement, especially in the parts of the movement that are far removed from the animals themselves.

Learning Effectiveness

The reason that organizational effectiveness is so important is because no one person is capable of being amazing at everything.

We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, our areas of deep knowledge and our areas of very little knowledge. We must employ our strengths in the best manners possible, and help others be effective in their strengths, in such a manner that our collective results are to create an impact. (This is explored more in Chapter 4 about Making Strength Productive.)

So how do we learn effectiveness?

Drucker says that effectiveness is a habit, or rather a collection of habits and practices.

These practices are learned by, well, practicing—over, and over, and over again.

Drucker says:

There are essentially five such practices—five such habits of the mind that have to be acquired to be an effective executive:

1. Effective executives know where their time goes.

2. Effective executives focus on outward contribution.

3. Effective executives build on strengths.

4. Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.

5. Effective executives, finally, make effective decisions.

The rest of the book covers these practices in more detail.

Chapter Two: Know Thy Time

When you think about getting things done, what do you imagine?

If you’re like most people, you might think about a todo list or task list. You might think about the projects that need to be done.

Drucker says forget all of that—you should really be starting with an analysis of where your time goes. After all, what is life except an endless progression of time that gets used in one way or another?

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”


Annie Dillard

Money can be earned, saved, spent. People can be hired, fired, or can volunteer. Basically all resources have some degree of flexibility in how much is available, how it can be saved and spent, etc.

But not time.

Time is an ever-flowing thing, sweeping us along second by second. You can’t change it; you can never get more of it; and you can never get any of it back.

Therefore time is what we should turn our attention to first and foremost.

There are three steps to this process:

  1. Find out where your time goes.
  2. Eliminate or delegate everything that’s unproductive.
  3. Create large blocks of time in your schedule for productive work.

Step 1: Record Your Time

You may think you know where exactly your time goes, but there are probably at least a few things that you would get wildly wrong.

How long do you spend in meetings each week? How much time do you spend answering emails, or on chat platforms like Slack? How much time do you spend exercising?

How much time do you spend working on the single most important thing that you could be doing?

If you’re like most people, even if you think you know the answers to these, you’re probably wrong.

The first step is to simply track where your time goes. You can use any method you like to track your time, but a key point is that is must be tracked as it happens and not from memory later on.

Take at least a week or two to do this. Drucker says you can have your secretary do this if you like. (Ha! Secretary. He did write this in the 1960s…)

You can use Excel or Google Sheets, or pen and paper is fine too. Or you can break out a fancy time tracker app like Toggl if that helps you. (I use Toggl to track my time, albeit not as consistently as I would like.)

The point isn’t how you do it. The point is to track where your time actually goes.

Drucker says that the most effective executives he’s witnessed will do this process on an ongoing basis, and they will review the results every month or so. This helps them identify patterns in how they’re spending their time that are invisible to them on a day-to-day basis. They can then make adjustments in their schedules for the next month.

Once you know where your time is going, you can be more purposeful about how you’re spending it.

Step 2: Manage Your Time

After tracking where you time actually goes, now it’s time to decide what can be pruned or delegated.

First, you want to find and eliminate anything that doesn’t actually need to be done. For each activity in your activity log, ask yourself: “What would happen if this were not done at all?” If the answer is “Well, nothing” or, “Not much”, then stop doing it.

Tada! You just got some time back.

Second, for each activity in your activity log, ask: “Could this be done just as well or better by someone else?” If the answer is “yes”, then see if someone else can do this activity.

It’s really a question of comparative advantage—How is your time best spent, compared to the time of other people? If you’re a world-class writer and a terrible graphic designer, it simply doesn’t make sense for you to spend time designing images and logos if you could pass those off to a graphic designer on staff.

Third and finally, look at each activity and ask yourself: “Is this an example of me wasting the time of other people?”

Sometimes you’re the culprit of wasting time. We all are. You might be able to identify something as a waste of time right away, but often you need to ask other people. Drucker suggests asking your colleagues: “What do I do that wastes your time without contributing to your effectiveness?” Seeking this kind of honest, candid feedback is an incredibly important part of being effective.

Drucker also discusses four kinds of time-wasters, which I’ll just mention here briefly.

Types of Time-Wasters

  1. Lack of system or foresight. An example is a recurring “crisis”: a tight deadline or stressful project that happens every year. This should be anticipated and planned for.
  2. Too many staff. As you add more people to a team or project, the managerial overhead increases. There are points at which adding more people is a bad thing.
  3. Poor organization, which can easily be identified by an excess of meetings. Meetings exist because information and decision-making are stored in the different heads of different individuals. With good knowledge sharing practices and a cohesive, well-communicated strategy, people require fewer meetings to understand their role in the organization.
  4. Malfunction in information. People need the right information at the right time. If they don’t have this, time is wasted.

Step 3: Consolidate Your Time

After removing the unnecessary activities, using the idea of comparative advantage to push certain activities to other people, and eliminating or solving time-wasters, you’re now ready to consolidate your time into the largest possible chunks.

Why does having large chunks of time matter?

It matters because human brains simply require a certain amount of time to process information and become fully absorbed in the work at hand. It’s not possible—or at the very least wildly inefficient—to try to accomplish something complex and important in 5-minute chunks.

One hour of uninterrupted and focused time working is vastly superior to six separate periods of ten minutes spread throughout the day.

As Drucker explains:

The effective executive therefore knows that they have to consolidate their discretionary time. They know that they need large chunks of time and that small driblets are no time at all. Even one quarter of a working day, if consolidated in large time units, is usually enough to get the important things done. But even three quarters of the working day are useless if they are only available as fifteen minutes here or half an hour there.

Here are some ideas for consolidating your time:

  • Work from home a couple days a week.
  • Schedule all of your meetings for certain days of the week, or for certain periods of the day.
  • Keep your mornings blocked off for focused work—no meetings, no interruptions.

Above all, don’t let meetings and interruptions encroach on your consolidated work time. If you find that this time is starting to be divided up and interrupted, it’s time to review your activity log again and see what changes need to be made.

Chapter Three: What Can I Contribute?

Drucker sums up this chapter in this question:

What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve?

Don’t worry about efforts. Focus on results.

Also, don’t worry about your title. If you achieve results, you are an effective executive. If you don’t achieve results, having the title of “CEO” won’t make you any more effective.

As you’re thinking about results, remember that results only happen on the outside. It doesn’t necessarily matter if you like the things you’re producing, and it doesn’t necessarily matter if you feel good about whatever you’ve been working on—to be effective, you must look at whether your efforts have had results in the domain that you care about.

For us, the question is: Are our efforts actually helping animals?

Are we actually moving the needle closer to the end of animal farming, the end of animal exploitation?

(One quick note! Your health and well-being are of course important. But we have to remember that when it comes to diagnosing the effectiveness of the work itself, we must look at the results. These things aren’t necessarily at odds—it’s probably the case that you do your most effective work when you’re healthy and have high levels of well-being.)

Areas of Contribution

There are three areas that an organization needs to excel in, and thus three main areas where you can contribute:

  1. Direct results.
  2. Building values.
  3. Building and developing people for tomorrow.

Drucker says that an absence of any one of these could spell the decay and death of the organization. Your contribution to each of these three buckets depends on your specific role; some roles might contribute to all three, but more likely you’ll be focused on contributing to one or two of them more.

Demands of Changing Situations

One particularly challenging aspect of contributing to an organization over a long period of time is that your role will probably change, perhaps many times.

Each time you find yourself in a new role or a new situation, your contribution is going to need to change. This means you’ll also need to reassess which organizational buckets you’re contributing to. (The three main categories are listed in the previous section, remember.)

The Role of Specialists

We shouldn’t necessarily try to be generalists. In fact, in a very significant sense, it’s not possible to be a true generalist these days.

All knowledge workers these days are specialists in some sense—they know many things that others simply don’t have the time to learn, and they don’t know a great many things about other fields. Thus, knowledge workers need to take full responsibility for communicating with others in a clear and understandable way, and must not take pride in boasting their knowledge above others or making others feel confused or overwhelmed. Knowledge workers also need to understand that they contribute in certain specific ways, and that they need the contributions of others in many other ways.

Remember, effective executives work within organizations, which means that your work is usually only going to lead to results because of how it interacts with the work of others. If you do a poor job of communicating your contributions to others, then your efforts won’t lead to results.

Effective Human Relations

Drucker says there are four basic requirements of effective relations:

  1. Communications. Sharing information, and asking for information and expectations from others.
  2. Teamwork. Asking who needs your contribution in order for results to occur.
  3. Self-development. Building your own knowledge and skills so that you can contribute however is needed.
  4. Development of others. Helping others rise to the occasion of the challenge based on what your collective contribution needs to be.

In a larger ecosystem like the animal rights movement, we need to imagine how these principles translate even when we’re not in the same organization as the people who we work with. “Teamwork” might mean creating a coalition of individuals from different organizations. “Development of others” might mean holding webinars and training sessions for anyone in the movement who wants to join.

Chapter Four: Making Strength Productive

Each of us has many weaknesses, and a few strengths. To be maximally effective, we should all build on our strengths to the extent possible.

The question should be, “What are this person’s strengths and how do I put them to good use?” rather than, “What are this person’s weaknesses and how do I avoid them?”

Getting People in the Right Jobs

Favoritism and close personal relationships can actually be an impediment to answering this question objectively. If you really like someone, or if you have a close relationship with them, you may be tempted to put them in a role simply because that’s what you want or what they want.

Instead, you must do everything in your power to ask the question of what a person’s strengths are, and employ those strengths to the best use of the organization.

But organizations usually have jobs that simply need to be done, and those may or may not match the strengths of people at the organization. How are we to proceed, then?

First, know that you may have gotten a job description wrong. If everyone who you put in a particular position seems to fail, then maybe you’ve designed an impossible (or at least bad) job.

Second, make jobs challenging and big, so that people can grow into them and feel pushed to achieve great things. If you put someone into a small, limiting job, they will quickly lose any passion they may have started with.

Third, conduct effective reviews of your people. These reviews should focus on finding strengths, rather than finding weaknesses. Ask what the person has accomplished in the past, and what the person needs to continue developing in order to fully grow into their strength.

Fourth, know that to employ strengths you will have to put up with weaknesses. The one caveat is that you shouldn’t put a destructive person who lacks character and integrity into a position of power where their influence could corrode the whole organization.

Additionally, to keep people with strengths around, you have to remove those who don’t provide results—first by moving them to different positions to see if their job wasn’t a good fit for them, and if this doesn’t work then by removing them from the organization. It’s unfair to those who contribute a great deal to have to put up with those who don’t, and it will in fact cause your best people to leave.

Chapter Five: First Things First

Do first things first; do things one at a time; and do second things not at all.

Quit things that aren’t worth your time, even if you’ve already invested a lot of time and energy into them. (Google “sunk cost fallacy” if you want to learn more about this particular topic.)

Those are really the primary lessons of this chapter, and more words aren’t necessary.

(Do remember, though, to keep in mind the lesson about consolidating your time into large chunks—focused time is of utmost importance.)

Chapter Six: The Elements of Decision-making

Making decisions is one of the most important tasks of the executive.

Effective executives concentrate on the small set of important decisions that need to be made, and they don’t see “decision-making speed” as an asset. They want to make correct decisions in the most important matters, even if it’s slower and requires more work.

To become an effective decision-maker, you have to learn to separate general cases from specific instances:

General cases should be solved once, and solved thoroughly.

Often, there is already a solution that someone else has discovered, and all you need to do is recognize the situation as being a generic problem and then seek out the solution. Each time this particular case comes up again, it should utilize the same solution unless the situation has changed. You shouldn’t waste time making the same decision over and over again, or treating situations as special when they’re really generic (and potentially already solved).

Always ask yourself: “Is this truly a unique situation, or am I dealing with a general problem that others have faced before?” If it’s a general problem, use rules and principles to solve it.

If you’ve identified a decision as truly unique—which is rarer than we might think—then you need to assess the situation pragmatically according to the specific details.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that a decision isn’t truly a decision unless it is carried out as work. This means informing people of the decision, communicating who is responsible for which parts of the required work, and making other organizational changes as necessary to reflect the decision.

Elements of the Decision Process

There are five elements of the decision-making process:

  1. Understand if the decision is related to a general problem and requires abiding by a rule or principle;
  2. Identify the “boundary conditions” that a solution needs to satisfy, meaning the requirements the decision has to stay within;
  3. Think about the true solution before attempting to factor in the compromises that may be necessary to actually make the decision;
  4. Make sure that the decision is going to turn into action; and,
  5. Test yourself by gathering data and getting feedback about how effective the decision actually was.

Let’s talk a little more about what goes into effective decisions.

Chapter Seven: Effective Decisions

Drucker kicks off this chapter with a great assessment of what exactly a decision is:

A decision is a judgment…Most books on decision-making tell the reader: ‘First find the facts.’ But executives who make effective decisions know that one does not start with facts. One starts with opinions. These are, of course, nothing but untested hypotheses…The understanding that underlies the right decision grows out of the clash and conflict of divergent opinions and out of the serious consideration of competing alternatives.

So we must turn opinions into evidence, evidence into decisions, and decisions into action.

Testing Your Opinions

Facts don’t come first. Opinions—untested hypotheses—come first.

What follows after that is actually the basic structure of the scientific method: you ask yourself what information would strengthen or weaken your hypothesis; you gather the relevant data; you then see what the information suggests about your original hypothesis; you revise your hypothesis; then you repeat.

One of the most crucial aspects of the decision-making process is deciding what kinds of data you’re going to be looking for, and from where.

As a very clear and specific example of this, consider the animal advocacy method of leafleting. If you’re trying to make decisions based on the effectiveness of leafleting, you might think to look at how much people change their diet after they receive a leaflet. In fact, this is mostly what the movement has done thus far.

But what happens if you ask the questions: “How likely is it that a person who receives a leaflet will become active for animals? What kind of impact might they have?” This is a completely different measurement that will have completely different implications for the decision being made.

Choosing what exactly you’re measuring and looking for isn’t trivial. It has very big practical implications.

Drucker’s advice: To make an appropriate decision, you have to have alternatives. You must identify alternatives to what you’re measuring before choosing one.

Fostering Disagreement

In order to make an effective decision, you need to understand as many aspects of the decision as possible. This doesn’t come through quick consensus—understanding must come through opposing and conflicting points of view.

Drucker says:

The first rule in decision-making is that one does not make a decision unless there is disagreement.

If there isn’t disagreement, then you’re probably missing some crucial information: a risk; a downside; a critical perspective; something you haven’t thought of.

Decisions are never black and white; they are always trade-offs between competing interests and resources and constraints. You have to understand what all of the trade-offs are before you can make the judgment call required for an effective decision.

Drucker points out three reasons why disagreement is important:

  1. First—As the decision-maker, everyone wants something from you and may plead their case in a certain way in order to obtain the outcome they desire. They may omit undesired information, or inflate positive results. The only way around this is to seek disagreement about the issue and to try to uncover the evidence.
    • Example: A person who runs a sanctuary and a person who builds web apps are going to have very different opinions and information about what’s effective.
  2. Second—You need alternatives to choose from, and disagreement provides those alternatives. If everyone is in agreement about a single solution, then there aren’t any serious alternatives, and you’re probably missing information.
    • Example: If everyone agrees that “yeah, we should pool our money to put up a billboard with vegan messaging”, maybe you haven’t really thought through what other high-impact activities you could do with that money.
  3. ThirdDisagreements stimulate your imagination to think of creative, unique, holistic solutions that combine ideas and possibilities in novel ways.
    • Example: If one person thinks we should focus our time on getting a celebrity to post about animal rights, and another person really thinks we should launch a ballot initiative banning meat in a small city, maybe we can combine those and work with a celebrity to be the spokesperson for the ballot initiative.

Of course, disagreement can also bring heated emotions and clouded thinking. This is why the reasoning and evidence behind the disagreements are so important. You must adopt the view of the other people and truly try to see the value in the alternative viewpoints being put forward. (Helping another person construct the best version of their argument is called “steelmanning” and is the opposite of “strawmanning”.)

Make the Decision…Or Don’t

Finally, ask the question: “Is a decision really necessary?”

Another way of asking this is “What happens if we do nothing?” This is always a possibility, and for many of the less important decisions might be the default best decision.

But if you’ve decided that the benefits outweigh the costs, and you’ve done the work of finding alternatives and getting all of the information you need to make the decision, then now is the time to act. Many people will give up once they discover that the decision that needs to be made is difficult, or will be unpopular, or will require a long time to implement. But once you’ve made a decision, don’t be tempted by further delay or inaction—not unless there is truly additional information that will likely influence your decision.

Gather the evidence; find the alternatives; make the decision; and act.

Conclusion: Effectiveness Must Be Learned

Woo! This book packs a ton of information into a relatively short space. The whole book can be skimmed in an afternoon or read in a day or two, but the information contained inside of it could take a full career to truly get a grasp of.

There are a lot of lists and guidelines. Let’s review the most important ones:

The Eight Practices of Effective Executives

  • They asked, “What needs to be done?”
  • They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”
  • They developed action plans.
  • They took responsibility for decisions.
  • They took responsibility for communicating.
  • They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.
  • They ran productive meetings.
  • They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”

The Five Practices to Become an Effective Executive

  1. Effective executives know where their time goes.
  2. Effective executives focus on outward contribution.
  3. Effective executives build on strengths.
  4. Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.
  5. Effective executives, finally, make effective decisions.

My advice is to identify one of these aspects that you could work on, and get started. Keep this framework in mind, and return to it often to see where you can improve your own effectiveness.

And if each person in the movement for animals grows their effectiveness 10%, or even 1%, the compounded positive effects for animals will be immense.


Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.


The Misinterpreted Parable of Horses and Cars in New York City

There is a parable floating around the animal rights movement. It goes something like this.

Parable of Horses and Cars

Horses used to be the main form of transportation in the United States. Of course, horses don’t want to be ridden—they’re “broken” to be domestic, and then taught to be ridden and obey humans. Being subjected to hard labor causes horses a lot of suffering, physical and mental.

In New York City alone, there were probably a hundred thousand horses being exploited for transportation. If you lived back then, you probably would’ve wanted this to end. It probably wouldn’t have.

But then along came the car.

Once the car was invented, it was quickly recognized as a superior form of transportation. Within a few years (or decades), the use of horses for transportation was almost completely phased out in favor of cars.

As we can see, technological progress can do more to reduce suffering than advocating from an ethical standpoint.

Thus, we should all focus on technological progress (such as the development of cell-based meat) as the answer to animal liberation.

This is an interesting takeaway, and certainly one that is worth considering.

Technology is incredibly powerful, and it often shapes the course of history. As the book Guns, Germs, and Steel demonstrates, those with the most advanced technology often go on to influence or control the rest of the world.

In fact, I believe the movement for animals could benefit from a much greater appreciation of the power of technology. We should be encouraging people to learn programming, to learn how to create machine learning algorithms, to learn about drones, to learn about the “internet of things”, to try developing cell-based meat, and above all to understand how science and technology are tools that we must use in one form or another.

We should be taking advantage of technology much, much more.

But there’s another thought that I have, which is that since we have another hundred years of history under our belt, we should analyze the full implications of this parable.

Parable Redux

With the car came the ability to much more easily transport large quantities of goods a long distance. In this simple fact you can see the beginning of our modern day shipping and transport infrastructure that moves an unfathomable amount of material from one place to another every single day.

There are good parts of this, and bad, and horrific. For example, our shipping infrastructure also moves hundreds of millions—billions—of animals from farm to slaughterhouse, and then it moves their dismembered bodies from slaughterhouse to grocery stores.

With the invention of the car came the invention of the factory assembly line, and with the assembly line came many other industrial machines and processes that directly and indirectly gave rise to factory farming.

“Get big, or get out”—words spoken by Earl Butts, who saw the potential for industrializing our agriculture. And, ignoring for a minute all ethics and environmental consequences, he was on to something. Industrialized animal agriculture (and non-animal agriculture) gave us mountains of food for cheap.

With the power of industrialization, we get more things, faster, for cheaper. Pretty cool, eh?

Except for when it isn’t.

The car not only signaled the end of the use of horses, but it also indirectly signaled the beginning of the rise of factory farming—a system of cruelty so vast that the net negative impact on sentient beings is almost assuredly much, much worse then the total negative impacts caused previously by humans using horses instead of cars.

So we can start to see that there are really two lessons in this parable instead of one.

The first lesson is that technology is powerful and shapes the course of history. I completely agree.

But the second lesson is perhaps more subtle, and requires more historical context—and it’s potentially more important.

The second lesson is that technological progress is neutral. It can be used for good, and it can be used for bad. Unless there is an inherent reason why the technology should not be used for bad, it will probably be used that way if there is any incentive to do so. Technology can be used to replace horses with cars. Technology can also be used to construct factory farms and inflict endless torment on trillions of sentient individuals.

Expanding Our Moral Circle

So what keeps us from using technology for evil, and only for good? The answer is our collective human ethics—the things we are, and aren’t, willing to do as humans.

We aren’t willing to conduct painful or destructive experiments on humans without their consent—and often even with their consent—even if doing so might lead to some great breakthrough in medical knowledge that could save lives and prevent suffering. No matter the gains, we simply aren’t willing as a society to cross that line.

Anytime we discover a new thing that we aren’t willing to do (or allow) in human society, we construct a new law to codify it. When we think the whole world should abide by that law, we try to get unified global agreement on the issue, often through an international institution like the United Nations.

Our ethics become our laws—and vice versa, in many cases.

Thus, when taking the long view—the view that looks hundreds or thousands of years into the future—we must discuss ethical progress.

Technological progress is neutral. It must be constrained by ethical progress.

If we want to broaden our societal ethics to include nonhumans as well as humans, we need to expand humanity’s moral circle. Unless we manage to inspire a greater ethic within humanity, any technology which is used for good today might just as well be used for evil in the future. And, as we’ve seen with factory farming, the numbers of individuals who are impacted in the future might be mind-boggling to us today, just as the number of factory farmed animals today would probably be shocking to people living at the turn of the 20th century.

The point is that as we’re all hoping for technology to help us in this movement for animals—something which I’m personally very hopeful about as well—don’t forget that technology is not enough. We must also expand the ethics of humanity to use technology for good.

The lives of boundless future individuals depends on it.


Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.

How to Overcome Six Types of Isolation in Animal Activism

It’s important to talk about negative emotions.

We all feel them at one point or another: sadness, anger, disappointment, frustration, loneliness. Sometimes they’re small feelings that we can easily manage. Sometimes they’re bigger feelings that hang around for days, or weeks, and you have no idea how to make them go away.

“Isolation” often involves negative feelings, and it’s important to talk about those. Sometimes, though, isolation isn’t necessarily a negative feeling—but it can have negative results nonetheless.

I’ve felt or fallen into each of these types of isolation in the past, some of them fairly frequently. I’m sure many of you have, too. So let’s talk about it.

Six Types of Isolation in Animal Activism

First, there’s the type of isolation where you just feel alone. You want a friend, a comrade, someone to talk to—frankly, anyone. Doesn’t matter too much. This can happen if you move to a new city, or get a new job, or fall out of your old friend group. Honestly, maybe you’ve never had that close of a friend group to begin with, or you haven’t had one for a while. You’re just lonely, and want connection.

Second, there’s the type of isolation where you want another activist to talk to. You feel like the only one in the world who cares about this enormous problem, and you just want to talk to someone who says, “Yeah, animal exploitation is horrific, we absolutely need to end it.” You want someone on your side. You need someone who understands the emotions you struggle with regularly.

Third, there’s the type of intellectual isolation where you’re only surrounded by people who think the same way as you do. This could look like being a part of a tight-knit, homogeneous activist group where you all think about animal activism in the same kind of ways. It could look like working for a specific animal advocacy organization and not interacting much with other groups.

Maybe you see someone advocating for animals in a totally different way and think, “How could they possibly even think that’s effective?” Maybe you work on corporate campaigns and can’t possibly see how disruptions would ever be effective. Maybe you go to slaughterhouse vigils and don’t see how creating new plant-based products is actually moving the needle.

Fourth, there’s a kind of moral perspective isolation where you think that no one could possibly be an ethical human while they’re participating in animal exploitation. “I don’t care if they’re trying to eradicate global poverty, and they recycle, and they volunteer for their local PTA, and they’re mostly vegetarian. If they eat chicken twice a week, they’re a horrible, evil human being with no moral values.” You think that the ethical point you’ve reached is now the baseline for everyone else to be at right at this moment, and you view people as either “ethical” if they meet your requirements or “unethical” if they don’t. It’s hard for you to support the good that other people are trying to do in the world if they aren’t vegan.

Fifth, there’s the isolation of only knowing other activists and vegans online, and not in-person. As much as the internet connects us, and as awesome as digital technology is, there are many things that can only be had—or are much easier to have—through in-person interactions. Sure, you could get on Google Hangouts and drink a beer with your friend, or have a phone call and “grab a coffee” with someone who you don’t know as well, but it’s not going to be exactly the same. One specific example of this type of isolation is working remotely for an animal advocacy group, like I do. There are a ton of in-person dynamics that don’t really happen between me and my colleagues, because we interact exclusively digitally. This is really hard and can lead to feelings of isolation.

Sixth and last, there’s the isolation that comes from being in a close relationship (romantic or not) with someone who isn’t on the same page as you about animal exploitation. This can feel even worse than simply being alone, sometimes, because you feel like you should be connected with this person on deep issues, but yet there’s this major discrepancy—one of the most important issues to you.

Antidotes to Isolation

So you might be thinking, “Cool, thanks for creating a real bummer of a post. I appreciate all the sadness.”

I get it—it’s not fun to talk about negative subjects when there isn’t some kind of solution presented. First, feel free to acknowledge any of these feelings or types of isolation if they apply to you. It’s ok to acknowledge the feelings without having a clear solution right there.

But since you mentioned it, let’s go ahead and talk about some ideas for solutions.

Type 1: You’re Just Plain Lonely

Set yourself a goal to try to connect with someone in person in the next few days. An easy way to do this is by asking people questions. You can ask the barista at the local coffee shop what they do in their free time. You can ask the person sitting at the table what they’re reading or working on.

You can also find events specifically geared toward meeting new people. A great place to do this is on Meetup.com. Just create an account, search for some groups that sound interesting to you, and go to the next event. Once again, asking people questions about themselves is a really great way to start getting connected to someone. “Hey, my name is Steven. What’s your name? Are you in school, or do you work full-time? What’s one of your favorite things to do around here?” You can also try to connect with other activists specifically.

Type 2: You Need Another Activist

This one might be a little harder than Type 1, just because there are fewer animal activists in the world than there are non-activists. If you can find local activists who live in your city, or even a neighboring city, reach out and see if you can grab coffee. Like I mentioned above, asking the other person questions is a great way to start building the relationship and keep the conversation flowing. You can try to find local activists through Meetup or Facebook Groups.

If you can’t find anyone local, then connect with someone digitally. Reach out, and see if you can schedule a phone call or video chat just to get to know each other and see what they’re working on—something more personal and human-feeling than just typing back and forth.

Type 3: You’re Intellectually Isolated

If you find yourself thinking that your way is the only way to advocate for animals, or if you can’t possibly see how the work of others is effective, then you might be intellectually isolated.

Try to mingle with different types of activists who are working on the issue from different fronts: people working on corporate campaigns; people doing protests; animal sanctuary staff and volunteers; folks who make vegan products; media and content creators; etc. There is a lot of work being done out there, and you’ll be able to do your best work if you can talk with people approaching activism in different ways.

Also, read widely and learn from all areas of activism and life. If you’re someone who “hates history”, go watch a YouTube video on history. If you never read anything about psychology, go pick up a book on it. Staying curious about all subject areas is a good way to keep yourself from getting stuck in an echo chamber.

Type 4: You Think Nonvegans Are Devoid of All Ethics

It can be easy to think that if someone is contributing to animal exploitation, they’re simply not an ethical person. But this kind of black and white thinking isn’t only incorrect, it can also make you feel bitter and angry towards other people and keep you from connecting with them.

Most people view themselves as ethical, and they usually have reasons why they think that. “I’m nice to others,” or “I help out my family and friends,” or “I volunteer at the local food bank,” or “I donate to charities.” And these are, in fact, good things that we want to exist in the society we’re helping to create. We just also know of another facet of ethics that hasn’t made it into these people’s identities yet. It’s our job to show them how the ethics that they already practice also extend to nonhumans—we’re simply helping them extend their ethical identity which already has a foundation built on other things.

Type 5: Only Knowing Activists Online

This one is hard, and it’s probably where a lot of vegans find themselves.

First, consider asking activists who you know online if they want to have a phone or video call with you sometime. Typing or texting back and forth is fine, but it lacks a lot of the human elements we crave: tone of voice, laughing along with someone else, the back-and-forth banter of conversation, the facial expressions. Bring the human elements into the digital realm as much as you can.

Second, consider traveling to see other activists at least once a year, more if you can. The Animal Rights National Conference is a great place to see people, as is the Animal Liberation Conference. You could also just travel to visit a specific person you know, or you could go to a big activist hub like Los Angeles or London to meet up with folks there.

Third, make sure you’re finding value in spending time with the non-activists who live near you. There’s always something to learn, and there’s always a connection to be made with someone different from you, even if that connection isn’t related to helping animals. Who knows—maybe if you invest some time in local relationships, those people will become your vegan activist friends one day.

Type 6: You Have a Close Relationship With A Nonvegan / Non-Activist

This one is really tough, and can be very emotionally taxing.

First, think about the things you do have in common. Make sure to emphasize those when you’re with this person, so that they feel connected to you. This will not only make your interactions positive, but it will also put them in a better emotional space to hear your thoughts about animals. Read up on nonviolent communication and emotionally focused therapy to better understand how your language and emotional connection with the other person are incredibly important.

Second, understand what you need your boundaries to be. Some people choose to take the liberation pledge and not sit at tables where animals are being eaten. Some people set strong boundaries that they’re only going to live in a vegan house or apartment where no animal products are eaten. Be honest with yourself about what you need, and communicate that clearly and empathetically to the other person.

Third, if the other person is antagonistic about your beliefs, or if you feel like you aren’t being supported in wanting to help animals, you always have the option to leave the relationship. This obviously isn’t the easiest solution or the most ideal, but sometimes it might be the best choice. This is especially the case if there are any unhealthy or toxic patterns in the relationship related to your desire to help animals (or for other reasons too, of course).

Final Thoughts

Finding someone who cares about you and who is willing to talk about any of these issues is always a great step to take, if you can. This person could be a friend, a family member, a therapist, or another activist in your area.

Also, make sure you’re taking care of yourself. We sometimes like to think of our minds and our bodies as separate, but they’re all part of the same system. Make sure to get enough sleep, eat healthy food, exercise daily, and have some kind of practice like meditation or self-reflection.

Finally, here are some resources that can help you out further if you need.

Good luck!

Resources


The Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.

How to Solve Problems and Understand Things Using a Space Analysis

First of all, the title “Space Analysis” sounds really epic, doesn’t it? Like we’re going to be cosmologists or meta-astronauts analyzing outer space.

We’re not going to be doing that.

But, what we will be doing is equally cool—and definitely more useful for you.

What Is It?

Conducting a space analysis is a way of taking a huge potential set of activities and options and looking at them in an organized way that you can understand and communicate. It’s about finding the gaps in your thinking, and seeing the relationships between pieces.

It’s going from a heap of books to a library.

It’s going from a random jumble of websites to Google.

It’s turning the massive physical world into a small paper map.

It’s going from infinite uncertain options to understandable finite choices.

If you’ve ever felt uncertain, or like you’re missing something, or like you don’t know how to tie a bunch of different things together into one unifying story, then a space analysis can help you.

Personally, I’ve used a space analysis like this for some of the most important turning points and projects in my life, and it always helps me gain clarity into the situation. (In fact, I have a project this week where I’m going to be using it again.)

Let’s Get Technical

“Ok, ok,” you might say, “but what’s the definition of ‘space’?” I’m glad you asked.

I come from a math background, so that’s how I usually think about things—and that’s where this concept of “space” comes from as well.

If we want to get technical for a minute, there are a couple of mathematical definitions of space that we can look at. These definitions are from Wikipedia:

  1. In mathematical optimization, a feasible region, feasible set, search space, or solution space is the set of all possible points (sets of values of the choice variables) of an optimization problem that satisfy the problem’s constraints, potentially including inequalities, equalities, and integer constraints. This is the initial set of candidate solutions to the problem, before the set of candidates has been narrowed down. (source)
  2. In mathematics, a space is a set (sometimes called a universe) with some added structure… A space consists of selected mathematical objects that are treated as points, and selected relationships between these points. (source)

Basically, a space is a way of thinking about a range of possibilities—the whole spectrum of possible solutions, the complete picture. We want all the relevant points, and we want them right here. That’s our space.

The “relationships between points” mentioned in the second definition is something we’ll come back to later, but essentially it’s helpful to think about where things exist in a space, in relation to each other.

But enough with definitions. Let’s get some practical examples going.

First, Think of Maps

When we talk about “space analysis” or analyzing a “space” of options, I want you to think about a map.

A map shows where things are in relation to each other, and this is what a space does. It can also show holes in your knowledge—blank spaces on the map where you don’t know what’s there.

Furthermore, perhaps you’ve drawn the boundaries of the map where you currently think they are, but maybe there’s actually more to be discovered outside those boundaries. Maybe some of your locations and shapes and names for things are wrong. Maybe you totally don’t know that Australia exists and so you just put ocean and sea monsters in that part of the map.

No sea monsters, but we do have some angelic something-or-others going on. (source)

This is what we’re doing with space analysis.

The key is—and this is kind of sexy—we’re not just doing it for things that can be physically mapped… we’re doing it for…

…anything.

Spaces That Can Be Analyzed

Let’s get some specific examples in here related to animal advocacy so that you have a better idea of what this is all about.

One space we could look at is the space of tactics an organization might use: from leafleting, to protests and disruptions, to corporate campaigns, to individual animal care, to app building, to legal advocacy.

Did I leave anything out of that list? Of course I did—I can immediately think of open rescue as something I missed, as well as writing pieces for the media. I also missed social media activism, creating plant-based products, and a whole host of other things.

Asking the question “What did we miss?” is a big part of conducting a space analysis.

You’ll notice that this space currently isn’t organized in any meaningful fashion. We’ll talk about that more later.

Here are some other spaces we could look at:

  • The space of projects you could work on in the next 6 months.
  • The space of people working on animal issues. (Potentially including individuals, nonprofits, companies, grassroots groups, etc., or some subset of these categories.)
  • The space of products that involve animal exploitation.
  • The space of organizational structures.
  • The space of types of impact we want to have for animals. (Like ACE’s menu of outcomes, which we’ll talk about later.)
  • The space of kinds of technology.
  • The space of habits you could develop.
  • The space of subject matter you could study.
  • The space of places you could look to hire new staff or find new activists.

Whenever you’re faced with a big brainstorming session, or some question about vision or strategy or choosing among different options, ask the question: Can I map this out? Is this a space I can analyze?

Most of the time, it is.

The Quadrant

In our maps above, we have a bit of a problem…we didn’t define what distance means.

Why did I put “plant-based products” close to “app building”? Why is “open rescue” closer to “sanctuary work” than it is to “disruptions”?

Maps need some meaningful measure of distance, and that definition of distance is what determines where things go on the map. Without some way to talk about distance, we might as well just create simple lists of things rather than mapping them out. (Borrrrrring.)

Visuals are way better. (map source)

For example, on a map of physical places, we define distance in terms of units of physical distance such as miles or kilometers. If we have a map of the internet, distance might be in terms of page links or topics.

Distances can be precise, or they can just be guesses about the relationships between items.

http://internet-map.net/

One easy way to begin mapping out a space is by building “quadrants” composed of two axes, where each axis is a quality or descriptor. If something is far along one axis, it means the thing is very like that quality that the axis represents.

This is all kind of confusing to write about—it’s easiest to just see one first:

A mostly inconsequential quadrant. (…mostly.)

We don’t have to be all boring with these, either—quadrants can get as weird as you want:

Unsurprisingly, Abe Lincoln himself gets a 10/10 on the “like Abraham Lincoln” axis.

You can also construct a graph that doesn’t have the “opposites” on the other side; this is basically the upper right section of a quadrant. (Certain things we might want to graph don’t really have opposites, like the graphs below.)

Let’s construct a graph that we actually care about.

Data on farmed animals from here.
Population data from various sources. Animal data includes fish.

Even with a very rough graph (not very precise, no tick marks on our axes, no labels, etc.), one of the most important results jumps out at us: China has way more farmed animals than other countries. This is one of the powers of visualization—you can easily see the important points and filter out the noise.

Humans are much better at visual analysis than they are at pure number crunching or equations. Even in mathematics—the subject that’s known for endless numbers and equations—you’ll find that many of the greatest mathematicians think about things in terms of pictures and visuals before translating their thoughts into equations. (For example, Einstein had his now-famous “riding on a beam of light” thought experiment.)

The human brain just works better with visuals.

Multiple Quadrants

If we could easily graph things in three dimensions (or four, or five…), we could use more axes and get a better understanding of a space at a glance. But alas, we can’t—so for now we’ll stick to two-dimensional quadrants.

We can, however, use multiple quadrants to analyze the same space in greater detail. Let’s analyze animal rights organizations in two separate quadrants.

A plot of various animal rights groups by acronym. This is my initial guess at placement to demonstrate the purpose of the technique and isn’t meant to be my definite thoughts about how these organizations relate to each other. For a list of acronym meanings, see Appendix 3.
Same caption as the above quadrant.

And those are quadrants. Tada! Keep them in your mental toolkit. If you want an easy way to create quadrants in Google Sheets, see the example I created: Space Analysis – Graphing Quadrants in Google Sheets.

Categories

Another simple way to look at a space of things is to simply categorize them into some logical buckets.

NewProtein.org does this pretty nicely with a couple of infographics they have for “new meat” and “new dairy” companies, using categories like “Creating New Foods” and “Supporting New Protein” and subcategories within these such as “Cell-Based Food”, “Plant-Based Food”, “Manufacturing”, and “Incubators”. This is absolutely one way of mapping out a space. (The URL for this section of their website is even called “maps”.)

Animal Charity Evaluators has a very helpful categorization of types of impact that they call the Menu of Outcomes. They asked the question, “When we’re advocating for animals, what types of impact are we trying to actually create?” Asking the question and coming up with categories is absolutely one form of space analysis—and it’s both simple and helpful. In this case, ACE conducted a space analysis of “types of impact”. (We’re actually going to talk a little more about ACE’s menu of outcomes in the section below.)

One really helpful way to use this approach is to divide the full space up into a few very big categories, and then work on dividing those categories up into subcategories, and so on. Here’s one very practical way that I do this for my own life:

Steven’s Categorization Of: What’s Important in Life?

  • My Well-Being
    • Physical
      • Exercise
      • Diet
      • Sleep
      • Reduced stress
    • Mental
      • (same as physical)
      • Learning
      • Good organization
      • Reading
    • Emotional
      • (same as physical)
      • Meditation
      • Time with friends and family
      • Helping others
      • Feeling productive
  • The Well-Being of Others
    • My friends & family
    • Other humans
      • People in my city, state, and country
      • Those living in extreme poverty globally
    • Other nonhumans
      • Farmed animals
      • Wild animals

I first start by asking one of the biggest questions that exists: What are the important things in life?

“Well,” I say, “the only things that matter are those things that matter to conscious beings. I’ll say there are two main categories, my well-being and the well-being of everyone else.”

By starting there, I can begin to break things down further into more actionable subcategories, such as “physical health”, and even more specifically “exercise”. Once I’m satisfied with the specificity of my subcategories, I can decide how to take action on them. In this specific case, I could list out specific routines or habits that would tie in all of the important pieces: a morning routine that involves exercise, a healthy breakfast, and journaling, for example.

Categories are just a way to divide up your space into smaller, more manageable pieces. And while we’re talking about dividing things up into pieces…

Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive

Let’s talk about “mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive” ways to divide up a space.

(We’ll call it a MECE division.)

MECE basically means “make sure you’re aware of all the pieces, and that the pieces are all unique.” No overlaps, and you’ve covered 100% of whatever you’re analyzing.

As a more concrete example, let’s go back to our example of a map of the world. On a map, one possible MECE division would be to draw lines between countries (and also lines dividing countries from bodies of water). Any point on the map will only be a part of one country or body of water, and the whole globe will be sectioned off into countries and water. It’s both mutually exclusive (things can’t be in more than one group) and collectively exhaustive (the whole map has been categorized).

(Of course I know that geopolitical boundaries aren’t actually this simple, but let’s just assume they are for the sake of the example.)

When we’re coming up with a MECE division, we want to ask: “Is the full range of possibilities listed here? And are my boundaries between options clear cut?” Dividing up your space into MECE divisions gives you an easy way to talk about different areas of your map.

As another very straightforward example of a MECE division of a space, let’s suppose the space we’re looking at is all real numbers—which, simply put, is just a number line. A MECE division of this space is to create three groups: the negative numbers, the positive numbers, and zero. All numbers are included, and no value is part of more than one set.

The real numbers can be split into a MECE division consisting of:
negative numbers, positive numbers, and zero.

Maybe you’re looking at the space of strategies you could employ for the next three years. You might try to define the potential impact areas, as ACE has done with their menu of outcomes that we mentioned above. This menu of outcomes represents the full space of outcomes that ACE thinks we might be trying to achieve with our work, where the different outcomes are pretty distinct. In other words, all the possibilities are listed and the boundaries are clear. That’s MECE.

Source: https://animalcharityevaluators.org/research/methodology/menu-of-outcomes/

This isn’t the only way to look at a space of course. It’s perfectly possible (and sometimes desirable) to have items that overlap in various categories and have more complicated connections and relationships between them. For example, we might take more of a systems thinking approach where we consider pieces both by themselves and also as part of larger entities (“systems”).

But that’s a very big topic for another day.

Trying It Out

Are you ready to dive in and try this for your own project or problem?

Here are some ways to think about conducting your own space analysis.

First, what is the space you want to look at?

This might actually not be easy to answer. (“Uhhhh…the whole animal rights movement?”) Something that’s too big or not clearly defined at first might begin to take more shape as you start asking more specific questions about your space and the pieces of it.

Try to think about the specific domain that your problem or project fits into. Are you looking at tactics? What kind of tactics? Or are you looking at people, or ideas? Try to clearly define your space so that you have an easier time analyzing it.

And sometimes it’s totally fine to have a big, vague answer like “the whole animal rights movement”. That might be what you’re trying to analyze, and that’s great. (In fact, when I’m doing these kinds of exercises I usually start with the big picture and then gradually zoom in as needed.)

Second, what’s the goal you’re trying to accomplish?

Do you want to have a clear decision that comes out of this space analysis, or a choice? Or are you simply trying to categorize things to understand them better?

There are many different goals you could have with this process, so knowing what you’re trying to accomplish is important. You can ask yourself: Am I looking to make a decision or am I simply looking to learn?

Third, what approaches are you going to use to analyze your space?

Maybe you’ll start with a simple categorization, and then construct some quadrants as a means of better understanding your space. Or maybe you need to start by just writing everything down on post-it notes and moving them around to see what kinds of patterns emerge.

It’s usually best to start by getting something down on paper and then getting more specific and precise from there. Action leads to understanding—if you’re having a hard time knowing where to start, just pick something to do and figure it out as you go along.

Fourth, after you’ve discovered something or made a decision, how are you going to document what you’ve learned?

It can be really helpful to summarize the analysis you did afterwards, both as a means of better understanding it yourself and also as a way to store it for future reference. One easy way is to create a Google Doc with the basic steps you went through and insert any graphs or visuals you made. This resource might be helpful for others to look at as well!

Conclusion

This is a tool I use all the time for breaking down complex, uncertain topics into understandable pieces. When I’m faced with an important decision, or when I’m trying to determine some kind of strategy for the next six months, I’ll turn to a space analysis, breaking down the space of decisions that I could make.

I hope this is useful for you as well—and if you have any suggestions for additional tools or ways of thinking that are helpful for you, please let me know!

Appendix #1: Some Spaces That Can Be Analyzed

Here is a list of some of the spaces that you could analyze that might help your understanding of the animal rights movement. Some of these spaces are applicable to building grassroots activist communities; some of them are applicable to creating new vegan products; some of them are applicable to any kind of public-facing messaging you do.

I only included things here that I think have a direct application to some aspect of the movement.

There’s no limit to the kinds of spaces you can analyze. The main question is, how will understanding one of these spaces help you to help more animals?

  1. Professions and skill sets that we need more of in the movement.
  2. Personality traits of activists, non-activists, non-vegans.
  3. Types of vegans.
  4. Types of non-vegans.
  5. Types of activism.
  6. Types of animal advocacy groups.
  7. Aspects of sentience.
  8. Aspects of animal exploitation.
  9. Parts of society that need to change in order to reach a vegan future.
  10. Parts of the animal rights movement.
  11. Categories of food items that we can create vegan versions of.
  12. Social/religious institutions, and their relationship to animal rights.
  13. Forces that indirectly prop up animal exploitation.
  14. Structures and types of communities.
  15. Types of popular media outlets.
  16. Types of social media.
  17. Types of websites.
  18. Ways people spend their free time.
  19. What people spend their disposable income on.
  20. Kinds of new technology.
  21. Movement funding sources.
  22. Movement funding recipients (organizations or tactics).
  23. Types of other social movements.

Appendix #2: Some Questions to Ask When Analyzing a Space

This list isn’t intended to be comprehensive, but more to spark your imagination and see what types of questions you could ask yourself during the process of conducting a space analysis.

  1. What are the main categories of this space?
  2. Is there a way to break up the space into categories and subcategories that help me understand things better?
  3. What are the main items inside each category? What are the less important items?
  4. What’s missing? Has my own perspective or bias prevented me from seeing whole areas of the space that I’m leaving out?
  5. Is there a MECE division of this space that I want to try to create? (In other words, can I create non-overlapping categories that cover the whole space?)
  6. What kinds of quadrants could I create to help me get an understanding of the space?
  7. Am I analyzing the most important aspects of things? Are my axes and my “distance” the most relevant for what I’m trying to accomplish?
  8. Who else thinks about or works on this particular issue? Is there anything they do or know that’s missing here?
  9. Can I reach out to anyone to ask questions or talk more about this?

Appendix #3: Organization Acronyms

  • ACE: Animal Charity Evaluators
  • AE: Animal Equality
  • ALDF: Animal Legal Defense Fund
  • AV: Anonymous for the Voiceless
  • CIWF: Compassion in World Farming
  • DxE: Direct Action Everywhere
  • HSUS: Humane Society of the United States
  • MFA: Mercy For Animals
  • NhRP: Nonhuman Rights Project
  • PETA: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
  • SAVE: The Save Movement
  • THL: The Humane League
  • VO: Vegan Outreach

The Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.

Learn From Others

As activists, we tend to want to solve things.

Sometimes, we take this a little too far and think “I must solve everything myself.”

This is true of programmers, compassion workers, and other kinds of “fixers” as well. If there’s a problem, we often think “Hmm…how can I solve this using my own ingenuity and tools and nothing else?”

Although this can be fun, and although this kind of self-reliance is probably an asset in many situations, there’s a big problem with this approach…

Trying to do everything yourself ignores all that humans have learned that could help you out.

Imagine Isaac Newton coming up with calculus without first learning any of the basics of algebra that others had developed.

Imagine Ethan Brown trying to form the Beyond Burger without learning anything about cooking or business (both very deep fields with lots of preexisting knowledge), or Memphis Meats trying to create clean meat without hiring cell scientists.

Imagine HappyCow trying to build its product without learning about the internet or how “rate and review” apps work.

It’s a fairly simple idea, but it often gets forgotten during exactly the times when we should be using it.

If you have a problem you’re trying to solve, or you have something you might want to build… See what’s out there that can help. Learn what’s already been discovered, and soak up as much knowledge as possible.

Here are some example questions you could ask (even just by Googling them) to start learning from the rich knowledge base others have already built for you. Maybe one of these resonates with something you’re currently working on, or maybe you want to come up with your own starting questions:

  • “How do I make vegan burgers from scratch?”
  • “How can I build an app without coding?”
  • “How can I get a company or restaurant to commit to something, like a higher percentage of vegan dishes or products or a 20% animal product reduction?”
  • “What animal rights groups are there in China?”
  • “What are psychologically sound ways to get someone to change their behavior?”
  • “How do I create a website with an events page and an email sign-up?”
  • “How did the civil rights movement work?”
  • “How do I conduct a survey?”
  • “How do I get more views and likes on Instagram?”
  • “How do ballot initiatives work?”

No matter what you’re trying to do, there’s probably a good amount of knowledge already out there that can help you. Some of it is stored in books, or on the internet—but some of it might just be stored in the heads of others. Sometimes you need to ask people who are doing the things that you want to be doing.

But wait!

Before you embark on a five-month research quest for one of your projects, I want to clarify—I’m definitely not saying to “focus exclusively on learning and wait until you know absolutely everything before trying anything.” In fact, that approach is what I see a lot of people doing these days: spending forever in “learning” mode without ever actually trying their idea; and then, honestly, usually never getting to the “trying” phase.

Do you know those people who are always talking about things, researching and reading and planning, but who never seem to actually make it to the doing phase?

Don’t be one of those people.

But, if you’ve found your way to AMP, you might be more of a natural doer. If you are, ask yourself if you’ve underdeveloped your “learning from others” skills recently.

In fact, both learning and trying are essential. I call the loop between them the “try-learn-repeat” feedback loop. (Catchy name, I know.)

You can’t make progress by only learning.

You also can’t make progress by trying things in a vacuum.

Learn from others.

Add your own new pieces and thoughts.

Try things out.

Then repeat.


So—

What are currently working on? Have you looked for the work and knowledge that already exists, that others have built through the years? Are you integrating their learnings into your work so that you can have more of an impact?

If not, can you start today?

Here are some resources that might help get you started:

  • Wikipedia. Glorious, glorious Wikipedia.
  • Quora. A good general purpose Q&A site. Quora seems like an especially good place for people who are currently doing something (like running a nonprofit) to give advice to folks who ask questions about wanting to do something.
  • StackOverflow. Got a question about programming or computer science? This is your place. Stack Overflow is the Q&A space for coders. (Also, check out StackExchange for many other Q&A sites similar to StackOverflow on a variety of topics, most of which are technical.)
  • The Good Food Institute. Want to know something about plant-based or clean meat? This is a great starting point.
  • Animal Charity Evaluators. A good place for information about animal advocacy organizations. Also good for learning a bit about the intersection of effective altruism and the animal movement.
  • For recent news, stats, and research:
  • The Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy from Pythagoras to PETA, by Norm Phelps. If you want a good history of the movement for animals, I’d highly recommend this book. (It’s a great read.)
  • Your friends, your online vegan network, and any other people you can find online or that your current network can connect you to.
    • When you boil everything in society down, you’ll find humans and their relationships at the core. If you want to learn about something, find someone to ask. If they don’t know, ask them if they know who would. Keep asking, and you’ll not only learn a ton, but you’ll build great relationships along the way.

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Which of these two better describes you? 1. I jump straight into trying things without spending too much time learning about it first. 2. I spend a good deal of time learning before trying anything. Trying and learning are both incredibly important—but they have to be balanced out by the other. Too much trying without learning is like the person trying to build a rocket or start a business without ever consulting anyone or opening a book on the subject. Too much learning without trying is like the person who’s always planning and thinking and learning, but never seems to make it to the doing phase. You need both. This week, there’s a new article out about titled “Learn From Others”: animalmovementproject.com/learn-from-others The basic idea is this. Humans have a rich history of trying things and learning from their experiments. Others have come before you and built the foundations of whatever it is that you want to do, whether it’s start a nonprofit or influence someone to go vegan or get a new law passed in your city. You can learn from others and make your attempt even better. We can’t do it on our own. Have a great week. 🙂 -Steven #amp #animalmovementproject #animalmovement #socialmovement #vegan #veganism #govegan #veganlife #effectiveanimaladvocacy #vegansofig #animalrights #animalliberation #animalrightsactivist #animalrightsactivism #animalrightsadvocate #animalrightsofig

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The Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.