02/14/2011 05:13 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Workarounds: How One Man's Courage Changed Egypt Forever

Wael Ghonim, a marketing manager for Google Inc., is widely credited as the administrator of a Facebook page that helped spark what he called "the revolution of the youth of the Internet." Whether or not we can trace the remarkable turn of events in Egypt solely to Wael is in many ways immaterial. What matters is that he took a step toward a preferred future rather than sit back and complain or place blame. "This is the revolution of the youth of the Internet and now the revolution of all Egyptians," he said.

It should be abundantly clear that he and virtually all Egyptian citizens had much to complain about and no shortage of villains to blame. However, no amount of backroom complaining and finger-pointing could have ignited this most dramatic of social changes witnessed around the world through the connective tissue of the internet and social media. As Wael said to the Associated Press in response to Egyptian security forces who labeled him a traitor, "If I was a traitor, I would have stayed in my villa in the Emirates and made good money and said like others, 'Let this country go to hell.' But we are not traitors."

Rather than sit back and complain, Wael Ghonim personifies the kind of individual call to action that I have been championing in these weekly columns. Clearly, I had nothing to do with these remarkable events. However, we can extract incredibly powerful lessons for our own lives by noting the impact of individual action that we have been allowed to witness these past few weeks.

In my new book, "Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work," I advocate that when you find yourself in virtually any situation in which you could imagine a better outcome, there's always something you can do all on your own that requires no one's permission other than your own. While the book focuses on getting things done at work, the real power and underlying message is one of personal transformation and self-empowerment.

Before you go off the deep end and start ranting about empowerment, allow me to underscore that I am not talking about the nonsensical empowerment theme commonly tossed wherein the boss "empowers" you to think or take action. Instead, I am championing a deeper, more meaningful level of self-empowerment, the kind of connection between your own thoughts, beliefs and capabilities that allow you to transform positive thought into positive action.

Indeed, Wael Ghonim and other largely nameless Egyptian citizens have demonstrated the transformational and self-empowering potential of the "workaround." A "workaround" is a kind of temporary or initial fix that gets something moving that is stalled or broken, a form of taking whatever action you have available to yourself to get things moving in a different direction. Fashioning some kind of temporary mast is the sailing world's version of a workaround for a broken mast, often called a jury rig or jerry rig. It isn't perfect, but it gets you moving again and sure as heck beats being tossed around in the sea.

In these remarkable events in Egypt, we have been allowed to witness something more substantial than a temporary mast, a social transformation that perhaps started with something even more fragile.

After decades of repression, Wael and thousands of other Egyptians initiated a series of small but impactful workarounds that clearly have worked. No one person in Egypt had the power to bring about this kind of revolution all on his or her own; however, with each person doing what he or she could, a collective force for change grew that could not be denied. It's as though each involved citizen assembled his or her own version of a temporary mast that somehow became connected and transformed into a kind of "warp drive" that accelerated the entire nation into a new social context.

Ghonim's "We are all Khaled Said" Facebook campaign was one of the main tools for organizing the demonstration that started the movement Jan. 25.

It kind of brings a whole new meaning to "friends," doesn't it? I have no idea if Mark Zuckerberg could have possible imagined this kind of impact from his first foray into social connections, which he called "Facemash," while still at Harvard. However, his tool has certainly allowed for a new kind of expression and, perhaps surprisingly, a new form of empowerment.

Interview after interview with protesters at Cairo's Tahrir Square have underscored that this movement has fact no single leader, and yet it started somewhere, with someone taking what action he or she could. Wael Ghonim's Facebook page is as good a starting point as any; the simple action of one person inspired others to take their own small steps.

Workarounds come in all kinds of flavors, each with their own attendant risks. Ghonim allowed us all to witness that indeed the stakes can be high, and yet the reward can transcend simple measurements.


If you want more information on how you can apply the workaround phenomenon to your own life, how you can take simple steps that may wind up transforming your own life, please download a free chapter from Russell's new book, "Workarounds That Work." You'll be glad you did.

You can buy "Workarounds That Work" here.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about his work by visiting his website at You can contact him by e-mail at