• Wendy Castleman

Starting a fire

On cold nights like this one, I nearly always think about having a fire in the fireplace. As I was thinking about the steps to starting a fire, I realized that they mirrored the steps to start a change.


Many of us want to see the world change, or some part of our work, home or personal lives. But wanting a change without taking the steps to build that change is like wanting to have a cozy fire in your fireplace without taking the time to build the fire.



How to build a fire:

  • imagine the fire you want to see

  • gather your materials (paper, sticks or kindling, small logs, bigger ones, matches, etc)

  • arrange these materials just so, so there is room for air to circulate and sufficient paper and kindling under a small log or stick (preferably one with lots of splinters).

  • open the flue to allow the smoke to escape

  • light the match to the paper and stand back and wait

  • watch the paper begin to burn, and the sticks start to burn... maybe adjust the log a little

  • wait

  • wait

  • ah... looks like it’s going. Great! Sit back and warm your hands...



How to build a change

  • imagine the change you want to see

  • gather your network (supporters, followers, friends)

  • arrange these people just so, so there is room for ideas to circulate and sufficiently clear communication about why you all want the change and what joint actions might make the difference

  • open the doors to allow the ideas to escape

  • light the metaphorical match to the people and stand back and wait

  • watch the actions begin to happen, and the spread from one person to the next... maybe adjust the structure a little

  • wait

  • wait

  • ah... looks like it’s going. Great! Sit back and warm your hands...



Okay, maybe that’s a bit simplistic. But it occurs to me that the propogation of change (attitude and behavior) occurs most smoothly and quickly when:

  • the change is something that is contagious- spreading from one person to another

  • the people who are involved in the change are touching or in close proximity to each other

  • the change is free to morph and stretch in unexpected ways to adapt to the people and systems it encounters

  • someone needs to watch over it and be able to move things around if needed to ensure that the change continues to spread.




I am in the midst of a massive synthesis project to pull together all of the information I've been learning and using to create and propagate enduring change across organizations or communities. I've been on the lookout for stories and analogies from other industries and fields to inform the direction that I will take in helping people become first dominos.


What's a first domino? Someone who starts the fire, of course! I


'm beginning to see patterns and processes that work over and over again to start and spread change. I'm starting to try to map these into principles and frameworks that can be applied to succeed in different contexts. And, I'm looking for people who are willing to partner with me in this journey, especially if they are trying to propagate a change of their own. Is this you? Let's talk.


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