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John Foster

This is a great example of a change in action. I want to underscore what I think is key in Bob's comments:

That the team of "agents" is acting at an interpersonal level, meeting with people and knocking on doors. Scale on the internet, and expert advocacy do much to legitimize a movement, but interpersonal relationships are where the real action occurs.

In social networking theory this is called the spread of a contagion. Simple contagions (like germs or fads) spread when only one person has to decide to act. Complex contagions require one or more people to reinforce your decision to act. This is when the strength of your relationships with others really matters. Check Damon Centola's work at MIT for more on complex contagions here:

It goes something like, "I spoke with Joe and he's interested. You should check with him." When you check with Joe and he confirms, a more complex contagion (like getting a pedestrian mall to happen) start to snowball into reality.

Whether it is in a family, a team, a company, or society at large, change comes from individuals. That is, system level change is preceded by individual change.

There are many quotes and phrases you can lean on to remind yourself of this, like the famous Gandhi statement, "Be the change you are trying to create." But you not only have to "be the change" you have to advocate at a personal level if you really want it to come to life.


" as a Professor who has spent his life standing in front of a class and pretending to be in charge -- the lack of control is disconcerting at times".

Sorry Bob, are you describing in particular, or just academia in general ;)


You should study Marienplatz in Munich, Germany. A really nice place. There is no lack in commerce there.

Bob Sutton


This team really is impressive in terms of "getting" the different stakeholders. They have talked to various people in the city (including two ex-mayors and also full-time staff) and they are doing presentation about their proposal to the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. Given that their idea is still less than two weeks old, it is quite impressive how seriously it is being taken, and how they are trying to leave something that will continue after class is over -- next Thursday. Your point about Facebook alone, or a petition alone, not being enough is dead on.


Hi Professor Sutton,

Congrats to your class and to this team! It seems like the nature of this class reflects in your emotions - because real exercises in creativity, design, innovation usually don't have a time pace, so its easy for the mind to be frustrated until the sudden point of inspiration appears.

One perspective I would offer the team is to be thoughtful about recruiting stakeholders - sometimes, as we often see in politics, its too easy to appeal to your base. Its just too easy for this team to say, "we polled a bunch of residents on Facebook and 100,000 support the idea. Its those evil people in the Palo Alto city administration that suck." This idea can't be deemed successful if it only appeals to one stakeholder - getting the city admins over the hump is part of the measurement of success.

As much as I support the idea, I sorta understand the city's perspective too. #1, where does the displaced traffic go? Palo Alto totally sucks for traffic flow and cutting off one street can do quite a lot of harm for congestion on other streets. #2, what other projects is the city working on? Sometimes good ideas sit on the backburner only because a higher priority idea is standing in line ahead of it.

But kudos to the team for their creativity and kudos to the class for inspiring infectious action!

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