02/21/2011 08:57 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Workarounds: What the Middle East Protests Can Teach Us About Inspiring Change

Last week's article focused on how Wael Ghonim, a marketing manager for Google Inc., used a Facebook page to help ignite the social and political revolution in Egypt. This week, I'd like to build on this powerful demonstration of personal choice by looking both large and small at the implications of individual willingness to assume "response-ability" for change.

On the small but significant side, The Daily News Egypt shines the spotlight of television on the power of personal involvement. Watch as ordinary Egyptian citizens restore Tahrir Square and, in fact, elevate the square to new heights:

Personal Commitment and Meaningful Change

Arianna's most recent book, "Third World America," could well serve as a social and political primer for those who truly wish to create change rather than sit on the sidelines and complain about what others have or have not done. It's almost as though she saw the change coming in the Middle East and called us all forward, both here at home and wherever people of good conscience might live. As she writes on page 236:

Clearly, we all have a lot of work to do -- both on ourselves and on our country. The good news: Real change, fundamental change, is possible, but only if we recognize that democracy is not a spectator sport -- and get busy.

In many ways, my new book, "Workarounds That Work," can serve as a "how-to" guide for getting busy, for moving from the sidelines of your life to direct engagement. Although I had no idea Arianna was writing her call to personal response-ability, we share many of the same principles and calls to action. One we both share can be summed in one simple statement: It all starts with you.

What Can You Do to Become More Fully Engaged?

For 35 years, I have been working with individuals, teams, organizations and NGOs to bring about meaningful and transformative change. My experience working with people in 34 countries has taught me that we all share the same potential for change along with a thirst for improving the quality and experience of day-to-day life.

However, you and I share not only the potential for change; we also share the same fundamental tools to bring about meaningful improvement. Some of us, like Arianna, are more practiced and already know how to inspire change on larger scales than you or I. The rest of us may need to learn to take micro steps before tackling issues on a grander scale.

Then again, Wael Ghonim took a seemingly small step to create a condition for change and look what he helped bring about. The key to creating change at any level you might wish is to start by looking in the mirror and asking yourself one simple question: "What can I do to make a difference that requires no one's permission other than my own?"

"Workarounds That Work" makes the case that by asking what you can do all on your own, you will begin to make a difference. The difference might be small initially, but those micro steps have a way of building impact. As you continue to exercise the power of your own personal response-ability, you will also find that you are building a base of influence that can encourage others to join in the process of change.

Anthony Shadid, New York Times Bureau Chief, wrote the following Feb. 11, 2011:

The months and years ahead will determine whether the fervor and community of Tahrir Square can translate into a new notion of citizenship ... [and] deliver a better life in an Arab world that is becoming ever younger. "It's not the end," said Nadia Magdy, a protester in the square. "It's the beginning."

The beginning was as stunning a moment as the Arab world has witnessed, written in the smallest acts of citizenship and the grandest gestures of defiance. From the first day, Tahrir Square represented a model of people seizing the initiative from a hapless government, be it cleaning the streets or running their own security. The very acts seemed an antidote to decades of autocracy, stagnation and festering resentment over their own powerlessness. "We've discovered ourselves," said one of the organizers, Wael Khalil.

(Watch this short video clip of Anthony reporting on the small yet impactful side of individual engagement.)

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

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