According to his business card, Dave Meslin is a "community choreographer," due to his work on projects that cut across traditional party lines in grassroots and electoral politics as well as community arts. Some of his work include 2006's City Idol contest, co-editing a book about civic projects in Toronto and Dandyhorse and Spacing magazines. He is also founder of the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT).
In his Ted talk, Meslin highlights barriers that prevent people from engaging in their communities, even if they truly care, debunking the commonly held myth that people are lazy or lack concern.
Watch the video below and read on for three key takeaways from his talk:
“...we live in a world that actively discourages engagement by constantly putting obstacles and barriers in our way."
When information is presented in a confusing manner it discourages people from engaging with the content. Meslin uses the example of a Nike ad compared to a city hall announcement. The Nike ad uses colorful images, clear and concise language and lays out everything you need to know in a straightforward manner whereas the city hall announcement is a full page of single spaced, 10 point font that would take you 30 minutes to figure out the point. "That's not apathy; that's intentional exclusion," says Meslin.
Ensuring clear and concise communication with your employees is critical. Try to make formal company communication as straightforward as possible to ensure there is no gap between what is being said and what is happening on the ground.
"...they're missing the most important characteristic of leadership, which is that it comes from within."
Heroes are not chosen like in the movies, says Meslin. No one is going to come tap you on the shoulder and tell you it is your turn to save the world. He blames this misconception for why people have a hard time identifying themselves as leaders. "A heroic effort is a collective effort, number one. Number two, it's imperfect; it's not very glamorous, and it doesn't suddenly start and suddenly end. It's an ongoing process your whole life. But most importantly, it's voluntary," he explains.
If you are in a position of management these lessons can be taken to heart. Don't wait for "training days" to teach your employees leadership development skills. Take time everyday or every week to sit with your teams and work together to identify what is working well and what isn't. As time goes on, leaders will naturally come out of the woodwork.
"As long as we believe that people, our own neighbors, are selfish, stupid or lazy, then there's no hope."
The first step to getting people engaged in their environment is realizing that people aren't the problem. We need to redefine apathy, says Meslin, and not as "some kind of internal syndrome, but as a complex web of cultural barriers that reinforces disengagement." Once we take the time to identify the obstacles in place, we can work together to remove them.
This is true for any work environment as well. If people aren't engaged in their work, it is probably not because they are lazy or don't care. Take the time to evaluate your own workplace and identify the environmental obstacles to engagement.