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Bonsai Economics: Think Outside the Pot

The Truth About Bonsai Trees

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus explains that the seed of the bonsai tree has the potential to grow into a full-sized tree. But when planted in a tiny pot, its growth is stunted.

A person deprived of education or opportunity is like a bonsai. The constraint isn't the seed. It's the pot.

Our collective mindset about disadvantaged communities, traditional institutions, and capitalism itself, has stunted the growth of millions, and crippled our economy and society as a whole. Our mindset -- and the limitations we place on the way we think about things -- is that tiny pot.

And it's about time we think outside the pot.

The Problem with Mindsets

Mindsets are tricky things. Because we see things the way our minds have instructed our eyes to see.

The most critical shift that changemakers and social entrepreneurs are focused on today is convincing people that the world's toughest problems can, in fact, be solved.

In the United States, for example, public confidence in traditional institutions, including government, religion, medicine, law, banking, education, and journalism has plummeted over the last fifty years. Because as these groups prioritize profit over people, they systematically abort their fiduciary duty to serve the people they are designed to serve.

However, new institutions, individuals, and innovators are creating new possibilities that have the potential to renew hope and optimism at the societal level.

Tiny Pots and Possibilities

Social entrepreneurs also work to shift mindsets about what's possible at a personal level. Everyday changemakers have found ways to unleash the human potential of people who have historically been viewed as incompetent, expendable, or beyond rehabilitation.

We undervalue people when we define them by their perceived deficits. (Because by doing so we are stuffing that seed into a tiny pot, defined by a parameter of deficits.)

Social innovators flip the script. They look for strengths, and build on that strength-based foundation. By doing so, you debunk old myths about the creativity, resilience, and moral agency of people who are poor, illiterate, disabled, addicted, imprisoned, or simply outside the age-range of productive years.

So it's time we think outside the pot, and stop stuffing people into boxes defined by suffocating assumptions we mistake as truths. Because the truth is, individuals and institutions that consistently assume most people are competent and honest consistently outperform those individuals and institutions who expect the worse.

And as you create new solutions, you begin to shift our own understanding of what's possible, and create a new infrastructure that doesn't exist. One person at a time, you create a new field, industry, or profession. You create solutions that scale.


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