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.
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.
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.
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.