Monthly insights on disruption and innovation

Disruptive Conversation Press

Ep. 37: Stop driving with your emergency brakes on. A Disruptive Conversation with Jeff Leitner


In the same way that some people might dismantle a washing machine, Jeff dismantles social systems. He describes himself has having a pathology for dismantling social systems. Jeff argues that social norms, the unwritten rules of how people behave, are at the root of addressing complex challenges. We have a rich discussion about how we change social systems by using a scales metaphor. For Jeff and his colleagues, social norms

For Jeff and his colleagues, the key to the scale is social norms. They break the scale down into six notes:

  • Actors – people related to the problem. People who have a first or second-degree relationship to the problem.
  • History – all the stories people tell about the problem
  • Limits – formal rules related to a problem.
  • Future – our presumptions about how the problem will unfold.
  • Configuration – how the elements of the problem are arranged
  • Parthood – every problem is part of larger more complex problems.

Jeff and his colleagues argue that through these six notes, you can play any song in norms. In their approach, they identify and infuse deviance into systems rather than trying to reduce problems into identifiable projects. Jeff and is team are trying to disrupt how we address a complex problem.

He and his team, really struggle with getting people away from inspiration and into the zone of problem-solving. For them, we have an inspiration crisis. They hold the view that most people are stopping short, at Design Thinking and inspiration. He acknowledges that people are doing the best they can with the tools they have been given. He and his team are working to change the story or tell a better story.

Jeff has found that often in his work, he is often pushing people to think well beyond where they think they can. He argues that the best thinking happens when you move four dials.

  • Passion – turn it down to low.
  • Focus – turn it low and look for patterns versus details.
  • Presumption – turn it down. Presumption refers to all the assumptions you bring into the work.
  • Agency – you need to believe that you are the only person in the world that can solve this problem.

Links relative to the podcast: 

The Greenhouse Model:

SDG’s in ranked order:

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