How to Be a Change Maker. The Definitive Guide - The Big Bang Partnership

How to Be a Change Maker. The Definitive Guide

Change maker image

In this article, ‘How to Be a Change Maker. The Definitive Guide“, I do a deep dive into what being a change maker means, give examples of change making leadership and projects. I also share some tools, techniques and insights to help you develop your change making skills.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a clearer idea of what is involved in being a successful change maker.

I hope that you’ll also have also learned more about how to develop, communicate and influence, as well as making your great business ideas happen, becoming a successful change maker in your organisation.

How to Be a Change Maker – Contents

How to Be a Change Maker – Part 1

In the first part of the article, I go into detail about what becoming and being a change maker means in practise, including:

  1. What is a change maker?
  2. What is another word for change maker?
  3. What is the role of a change maker?
  4. What is the relationship between change making and innovation?
  5. What are change maker values?
  6. What are the characteristics of a change maker?
  7. What are the skills and mindset of a change maker?
  8. Change maker talent development
  9. Who are some change makers?
  10. Follow LinkedIn’s Change Makers-UK
  11. Ashoka Young’s Change Makers Program

How to Be a Change Maker – Part 2

In part two of the article, I share practical tools, techniques and insights to help you to develop your own change making skills and confidence. Part two includes:

  1. White Square Thinking
  2. What keeps people stuck?
  3. Co-creation and change making
  4. How to make your big idea take off
  5. Behavioral economics for change makers
  6. Next steps
How to Lead and Manage Change – Livestream.

Developing your change making skills and impact

Would you like to develop the change making creativity, confidence and impact of you or your team? If so, please do get in touch. We run awesome Change Maker programs to support emerging and established leaders achieve their purpose-driven leadership mission.

Our programs are customized to your specific needs, wherever you’re located in the world, and whatever your positive change mission. We deliver online or in-person, to suit you.

We are also in the process of developing an affordable, on-demand online self-study Change Making program. if you’d like to know more, please get in touch and I’ll look at inviting you to participate in our beta version, or add you to the waiting list for launch in January 2022.

Change Making. How to Make Great Things Happen.

How to Be a Change Maker – Part 1

1. What is a change maker?

A change maker is someone who spots opportunity that will contribute to the greater good. They creatively set about innovating to fulfil that opportunity. The change maker inspires and influences others to join and support them in their change making journey, persisting until the positive difference is achieved.

The term change maker was popularized by Bill Clinton, who often described his wife, Hillary Clinton, as a change maker. In fact, change maker was the term first used by Bill Drayton (Yale Law) in the 1970s.

Bill Drayton was also responsible for the increased use of the term ‘social entrepreneur.’

2. What is another word for change maker?

Other words for change maker include:

  • Innovator
  • Entrepreneur
  • Intrapreneur
  • Change agent
  • Change leader
  • Reformer
  • Influencer
  • Mover and shaker
  • Activator
  • Agitator
  • Disruptor
  • Spearhead

Sometimes, ‘change maker’ appears as one word: ‘changemaker’; or with a hyphen: ‘change-maker’.

Thought Leadership and Innovation Livestream.

3. What is the role of a change maker?

The role of a change maker is to achieve positive change for the greater good by taking innovative action. It is also to influence and inspire others to join, support and contribute to the change effort until it is achieved.

Change makers work in a variety of contexts. Some examples are: social change, business, education, environment, technology.

4. What is the relationship between change making and innovation?

Innovation is a new method, idea or product that satisfies a need and creates value. Something innovative renews or alters the way something has been done.

Innovation requires the skills of creativity, critical thinking, communication, strategic thinking and problem solving.

Innovation and change making are inextricably linked.

Change making is about making innovation happen. It’s also about spreading great ideas for positive change, and influencing others to actively contribute towards making a positive difference.

Innovation is structural, change is about people. A change maker combines the two to create a lasting, meaningful, positive difference.

5. What are change maker values?

Values are the important beliefs and guiding principles that we see as being non-negotiable in our lives. They are a sort of personal moral compass.

The change maker’s over-riding purpose is to contribute towards making a difference for the greater good.

Values are highly personal, so each change maker’s values are different. That said, change maker values are usually consistent with being responsible and accountable, open and transparent, doing the right thing and working collaboratively. Whatever their values, they do their best to remain true to them at all times.

6. What are the characteristics of a change maker?

Successful change makers share these characteristics:

  • Resilience – the tenacity to persist, and also to withstand criticism
  • Vision – a clear view of the brighter future they are working towards
  • Commitment – a deep conviction, demonstrated by action, that what they are working towards really matters
  • Integrity – they do the right thing, no matter how difficult that might be
  • Connection – they relate to others, create community and galvanize people to join the change mission.

7. What are the skills and mindset of a change maker?

Change makers are thought leaders.

Change makers need a growth mindset to succeed. They have high levels of emotional intelligence, especially communication and influencing skills.

Leaders of change think creatively to solve problems, and to set out a compelling vision of the potential future that inspires others to take positive action. They have courage, and dare to be different.

8. Change maker talent development

As a leader, it’s important to not only be a change maker yourself, but also to develop change making talent in others.

Me and my team here at The Big Bang Partnership are super proud to be working with Port of Tyne on their Change Makers talent development programme.

Over two years, new graduates and employees of the Port will undertake the Port’s ‘Change Makers’ programme, a high performance learning and development programme aimed at developing their skills and potential at the Port, and supporting the future of the Port from within. In the first year, the programme will cover 7 modules including managing projects, communication excellence, and implementing change, amongst others identified as key capabilities for future leaders.

As part of the Change Makers programme, the participants will have the opportunity to hear from guest speakers based within the Port and externally, and the option to take advantage of regular one-to-one mentoring sessions with the Port’s leadership team.

The programme will also encourage ‘reverse mentoring’ in which the participants will be encouraged to bring their skills and knowledge, as the next generation, to help the managers, directors and executives understand new thinking and approaches to work, both culturally and professionally.

9. Who are some change makers?

Here are just a few examples of change makers:

  • Matt Beeton, on Leadership. You can see one of Matt’s TedX Talks below. Matt shares the message that leadership is based on people, vision and passion.
  • Amanda Selvaratnam of the University of York. Through her work with Department of International Trade and as a DiT Export Champion much of Amanda’s work involves promoting the UK Higher Education and Corporate Training sector to overseas governments and corporations. She regularly speaks to audiences of UK businesses on export and international business.
  • Traci Shirachi, CEO of The Mark USA Inc. The Mark USA Inc is one of the few women-owned and managed evaluation firms focused on social outcomes, passionate about bringing different or divergent interests together as one to define impact. You can listen to Traci’s podcast here.
Matt Beeton, sharing 20 years’ research into what all great leaders have in common.

10. LinkedIn’s Change Makers

For stories of inspirational change makers, Follow LinkedIn’s Change Makers UK is definitely worth a read. The article features eight people who are making a significant difference in domains such as diversity and inclusion, career development, mental health and sustainability.

11. Ashoka Young Change Makers Program

If you know a young person under the age of 20 who is looking to champion positive change, you might want to introduce them to the Ashoka Young Change Makers Program.

“Ashoka Young Change Makers Program is a carefully selected network of young people who have found their power to create change for the good of all, and who are engaging their peers and the entire society in realizing a world where everyone is a changemaker.”

How to Be a Change Maker – Part 2

In this part of the article, I share practical tools, techniques and insights to help you to develop your own change making skills and confidence.

1. White Square Thinking

So what is white square thinking? Well, there is a great story to illustrate this for you. 

As the story goes, and this may be a true story, or a myth, no one really knows!

One day, a group of veterans was brought into the very grounds they had previously trained on so they could watch the training and visit the very place where they trained in years gone by. 

Before training had begun, one of the veterans walked into the middle of the parade ground and started inspecting it and prodding the ground with his stick. Wondering if he was OK, his friends inquired what he was doing. 

The veteran soldier said, “It used to be my job to paint all the white lines and the markings on the floor of the parade ground. And one day, I spilt some paint and made a real mess. So, I painted the spill into a square to make it look as if it should be there. 

Looking at this now, they’ve still been painting that same square ever since I was a young trainee here in this very place. 

They’ve been painting the same square, even though it has no purpose. 

But it’s nice to see that the square is here.” 

So that is White Square Thinking is. It’s about things that we do just because we’ve always done them. Things that we have or things that we use just because they’re there,  rather than thinking about the purpose they might have and challenging it and doing things differently. 

Sometimes we can be so used to our environment or routine, that we don’t see the possibilities around us!

Change makers see these possibilities, and use their visioning, communication and community-building skills to help others see and pursue those possibilities, too.

2. What keeps people stuck?

So what keeps you stuck? What makes change so difficult? Why do society, businesses and communities need change makers?

When we begin to understand this, we can develop strategies that change makers can use to to help get people ‘unstuck’.

There is good evidence that shows there are a number of things that keep us stuck and unable to change.

First, there is inertia. We actually use a lot of energy keeping things where we are right now. And we have a system as humans called ‘homeostasis‘ or the ‘whole ethos’.

We are designed to stay where we are, to keep our temperature even, to keep us in a routine and security, and to keep everything ticking as it should. 

Change means that we’ve got to rethink things, to reimagine and work out different ways of doing things. 

Our brain is such a large energy consumer in our body and it uses a lot of glucose, so we’d rather not expend energy where we don’t have to!

So sometimes it’s easier to stay where we are. 

And sometimes because we know our environment, we know our routine, it can be more challenging to change. 

Another reason it’s challenging for people to change is that the more embedded our thought patterns and habits are, the stronger the neural pathways in the brain. 

We have trillions of neurons, more than there are stars in the Milky Way, and they’re always connecting, sharing information, connecting our thoughts, our ideas, our processes.

The brain has as many neurons as there are stars in the Milky Way, each connected to other neurons by billions of spines.

Leading female neuroscientist — Nancy Coover Andreasen
Stars in the Milky Way.

So the more we have a repeated way of doing things, the more we think the same way, the more strongly connected those neural pathways become.

It’s like having a path, and the more you go up and down that path, the more worn that path is going to become. 

So when we say that we’re in a bit of a rut, we really are, from a neural point of view!

The good news is that our brains have neuroplasticity, so they have the ability to develop in different areas and strengthen other connections. 

Our habits can all be overcome. It might take a bit of work and some persistence, but we can indeed overcome, develop or even just enhance them with other types of thinking. 

And, of course, there’s a paradox. We need both certainty AND uncertainty!

And this is really interesting, because as changemakers ourselves, sometimes we can experience tension when we want to do something.  We really want to try, but we talk ourselves out of it or hold ourselves back. 

Change makers can see how and why people or society might be ‘stuck’ in a suboptimal way of thinking. They aren’t afraid to challenge this, point out the flaws, inadequacies and inequalities, and share a vision for a brighter, better future.

3. Co-creation and change making

Another reason we sometimes get stuck where we are is referred to as the IKEA effect

The Ikea Effect is the idea that we always prefer something that we have contributed towards building or that we’ve built ourselves. 

If we have a part in the change, we’re more likely to want to see that change through and make sure it happens. 

Whereas, if the change is done without our involvement or when we perceive that somebody else is subjecting us to the change, then we tend to resist that change and it doesn’t feel as comfortable or as positive for us. 

Co-creation means collaborating to shape the change together.

Change makers use co-creation to get people engaged in the change as early as possible, let them know that their opinions count, that they have influence, and that they can be part of designing the change.

4. How to make your big idea take off

Making your big idea take off begins with thinking about why you’re doing it in the first place. Not the rational reason, but what is motivating you to make this change. 

Watch the Start With Why video from Simon Sinek. You can also read his book, Start with Why.

To summarize, Simon Sinek says that organizations and people often start with what they want to do, and then think about how they’re going to do it, instead of actually starting with why. 

Simon uses the example of Apple and how they want to think differently. What we get from Apple is usually distinctive and successful, because they start with why. 

Successful change makers start with ‘why’. 

They also need belief and skill to make their big idea for change take off:

  • Belief in their ‘why’; their vision – that it can be done; in themselves – self-efficacy.
  • Skill with influencing, creativity, problem-solving, and more.

Change makers also need to be able to adapt as their change develops.

5. Behavioral economics for change makers

Behavioral economics is is the study of psychology as it relates to the economic decision-making processes of individuals and institutions (source: Investopedia).

Having a working understanding of how people make decisions is important for successful change making.

Understand the subconscious nature of decision-making

Change makers understand that 95% of the decisions that people make are subconscious.

Professor Zaltman of Harvard performed research on decision-making and found that 95% of the decisions that people make are subconscious. 

His research found that many consumers report comparing multiple competing brands and price points when shopping, but that not actually being the case.

When making decisions, people actually shortcut them based on the other judgments that they make. 

What this means is that change makers need to focus on the non-conscious decision-making processes. They should also be focusing on behavior rather than simply making people aware of things or thinking about having a change in attitude. 

The change makers who drive true transformation and change drive changes in behavior.

Frame the change challenge well

Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner, conducted an experiment where he asked people to pick which doctor they would prefer. 

Imagine you have a health problem and the doctor suggests an operation. You would like to understand whether the Doctor could be relied upon for the surgery.

 You receive the following framed answers.

1. Out of 100 patients who had this operation, ninety are still alive, even after five years.

 This gives a positive view of the doctor and many were comfortable to choose this doctor.

 2. Out of 100 patients who had this operation, ten were dead before the end of five years.

 Not many were willing to choose this doctor.

You can see that the information is actually the same, but how it was framed drove the ultimate answer for the patients choosing a doctor. 

Change makers might use either positive or negative framing when they’re looking to influence a change, depending on the outcome that they’re aiming to drive. 

Use present bias

People have a tendency to prefer benefits that they’re going to get in the short term to benefits that they’re going to get in the longer term. 

This is one of the reasons why some global financial services companies are finding it challenging to sell pension plans to people in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s. The focus on retirement seems such a long way away!

People like quick wins. When they are aiming transformational change, change makers make sure there are some quick wins for the people involved, as well as the long term vision and benefits.

Loss aversion

People prefer to prevent loss over achieving gain. Avoiding loss is sometimes a bigger motivator than attaining something that we don’t have.

Once we’ve had something and experienced something, we miss it more and we regret that we’ve lost it. 

There have been studies that show that we feel more disappointed when we lose £10 pounds of money than if we were to get £10 that we weren’t expecting.

To combat loss aversion, change makers ask people to make a public commitment to the change.

People who sign up are more likely to follow through on their promises to themselves, because they’re committing and pledging publicly. 

Confirmation bias

There is a cartoon by that has one person saying, “Did you read my paper on confirmation bias?”  The other person responds with “Yes, but it only proved what I already knew.”


And that’s a brilliant summary of what confirmation bias is all about. 

People subconsciously look for things that corroborate or validate the point of view that they already have. 

And this is where social media works so brilliantly as a concept, because the algorithms are working out what we like, what our beliefs are, and our paradigm of the world, and then presenting us with things that are consistent with that. Social media algorithms understand confirmation bias!

Change makers understand confirmation bias, and aren’t afraid of going against the grain. They appreciate that the greater the diversity of opinion, points of view and lifestyles that we’re all exposed to, the more tolerant we become of each other, the more understanding we have and the wider our perspective becomes. 

Change makers stay front of mind

I like the illustration that you can find on James Clear’s website.

Imagine a big circle that says “What actually happens in the world” and then in that huge circle there’s a tiny little circle, or a dot that says, “Covered in the news”. 

Source: James Clear

This illustrates the ‘availability heuristic’. We focus on what’s covered in the news because that’s the stuff we’re hearing about all the time. It’s accessible to us and we’re hearing it repeatedly.

However,  just because the information is readily available doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a true priority for us. 

When change makers have got a change coming, they start to prepare the audience by talking about it early. This helps to warm people to the idea by frequency of conversation. It means that when change makers are ready to share their ideas more fully, the ground has been laid and people will be more receptive.

Change makers also use the principle of the availability heuristic to help their cause stay front of mind in the minds of others.


Change makers intuitively appreciate that people are influenced by norms, and two types of norms in particular: 

  1. What we see other people doing, leading us to ask ourselves if we, too, should be doing the same thing; and
  2. What we think others think we should do – what we believe the expectations of others might be.

Change makers create a movement, community or sea change of support to use these norms for the greater good.

Competition heuristic

The competition heuristic happens when people measure what they are doing and how they are performing against others. And let’s be honest, many of us want to do as well as others on things that matter to us. 

Change makers share information about how other people are doing, because that helps motivate others make the changes. 

A good example of this comes out of Cape Town where water shortages are particularly severe. The local water supply company shows maps with water usage by each house. 

When water is short, you don’t want to be on the map as being the house that’s using too much water!

So of course, that’s something that drives positive change. 

Similarily, in the United States, multiple studies have found that giving customers feedback on how their water consumption compares to their neighbors also drove reductions in consumption as well. 

Change makers let people know in a responsible way how they’re doing to drive progress towards positive change. 

Change makers use social proof

Examples of using social proof to drive change include the merge used by HMRC, which is the tax office in the United Kingdom.

They published a campaign that said, “Nine out of 10 people in the UK pay their tax on time.”

In using that message, they received £210 million additional in tax payments, above and beyond what had already been paid.

Similarly, hotels place notices about towel usage, such as “Nearly 3/4 of hotel guests choose to reuse their towels each day.” This messaging cuts the number of replaced towels by 17%!

These are things that have been studied, tracked, and researched, and they really do work. 

As a side note the more personally relevant or local the message is, the better. So use your local town, community, organization, team, or business.

Next steps for developing your change making skills and impact

Would you like to develop the change making creativity, confidence and impact of you or your team? If so, please do get in touch. We run awesome Change Maker programs to support emerging and established leaders achieve their purpose-driven leadership mission.

Our programs are customized to your specific needs, wherever you’re located in the world, and whatever your positive change mission. We deliver online or in-person, to suit you.

We are also in the process of developing an affordable, on-demand online self-study Change Making program. if you’d like to know more, please get in touch and I’ll look at inviting you to participate in our beta version, or add you to the waiting list for launch in January 2022.

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