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The Tree of Impact

How do measure your impact on society? 

We often hear about millennials that are not satisfied with their jobs because they are feeling they are not impacting the world the way they would like to. But when I ask them: “How would you like to impact the world?”, the answer is often vague, as if it were a question they rarely accurately reflect on. But what is our definition of “impact”? Let’s begin by substituting it with the word “effect”. Together we will find a way to visualize the “effects” that our “outputs” have on the world. I will spend the next few lines (and your next 5 minutes) to walk together with you through the effects of your work, with the goal of starting a process in your brain to get a broader and clearer picture of what we are actually spending our time, health, talent and, eventually, happiness on.

For a matter of focus and simplicity, we are not going to discuss about interesting and really relevant effects such as personal growth and learning. We might just include a bit of serendipity in the process, but it will stay rather dry.

We can visualize the effects of our daily work as a tree. The trunk is the main direct effect of our job. We can have a tree for each of the roles, or projects we are working on. People working for the same organization will have trees from the same species. Normally I am a big fan of examples, but using the metaphor of the tree is enough for now.

The direct effects of our outputs and our work are obviously ending up on the branches (the first branches connected to the trunk of our tree). It is quite beautiful, isn’t it? These are the direct effects we have on people, machines or nature that are going to take the outputs we generated, and that will treat them as their new inputs. To keep the categorization easier I would focus on two types of outputs: functional and emotional (we may argue that emotional outputs have functional consequences, so feel free to add as much complexity to the piece of nature you are creating).

Now it is a matter of continuing with the consequential series of branches, from input to output, where sometimes a branch will branch off in turn into a single, smaller branch, sometimes into two or three or ten.

This process goes on until you reach the leaves. The leaves are your effect on individuals in the wider world. From the last, tiniest branches, and the connection to the leaves, stays the general purpose, or the general “outputs”, of your organization (forget profit for a while). The crown represents the general output of your company, or project, or business unit. How complex to make it and to focus, this is up to you, since we often talk about multi-products, multi-purpose, multi-service companies.

It is possible to zoom in the leaves and look at the veins that are still branching off into smaller ones. This helps us to visualize the consequential chain of events once the effects of our outputs reach society. What are the inputs and outputs of every branch and every vein of our tree?

When do we start losing track of our company consequential effects on society? This happens when a leaf falls off and slowly and softly it lies down on the ground. At this point they start coming together with the leaves from other trees making the effect of the various outputs difficult to distinguish. What was the tree of origin? The leaves will become then soil and will start nurturing the roots of your very own tree. The roots that represent the consequential chain of input and outputs that brought where you are now, that brought you to your trunk.

We are finished with the beta version of our tree. There are variations of course. What if your organization is trading business to business? Our tree might have no leaves and branch off directly to the tree of someone else (a different species of tree, therefore a different business), until we finally reach a tree with leaves. It is not that hard to imagine, you can just visualize the image of a jungle where a leafless tree has lianas which connect to other super green trees.

What about other professions, jobs, roles that do not involve being part of a corporation?

A PhD student might work for many years without seeing any leaves result from their work. On the other hand, many others will directly branch off into leaves, as we can imagine in a cactus (with cactus thorns or flowers).

What about an elementary school teacher? It might be the greenest of all the plants!

Which plant or tree should a doctor or a lawyer be?

Are NGOs (the good ones) looking like a pine or a giant sequoia?

This was just to offer some inspiration, it does not have to be rigorous. Maybe it might help you to understand what is the type of impact that you want to have on the world and the type of impact you are having right now. If they match, well done! It would be great if you could find creative ways that apply to your specific situation and it would be interesting to hear your thought about this. What does your tree look like?