The Secret of the Fulcrum Principle

Yesterday, I posted something on Facebook about reaching a real, and sympathetic, human being on the White House Comment Line. Since the US election last November, I’ve called my elected officials a lot more than in the past. Someone wrote back, saying I was “like the Energizer Bunny” with my consistent activism.

My reply revealed the secret:

Actually, [his name], it’s less Energizer Bunny and more a matter of what I call “the fulcrum principle”: doing not all that much but doing in ways that leverage and multiply the impact…I use my time strategically so the 10 to 15 hours or so I spend on activism per week has a big ripple. Of course I never know when a meeting or demonstration is going to be worthwhile and when it will be a waste of time. I have guessed wrong on a few meetings lately—but then I go to one that’s so energizing and activating and inspiring that it actually recharges me. I went to one like that Saturday and hope the ones I plan to attend Wednesday and Thursday (and the socially responsible business conference next week where I’m MCing two sessions) will be just as awesome.

A fulcrum is the bump underneath a lever that allows that lever to magnify its force—to quite literally create leverage. This concept inspired Archimedes to say, more than 2200 years ago, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”

Three men on river structures with ladders and levers. Retrieved from

Three men on river structures with ladders and levers ” New York Public Library Digital Collection.

I’ve played with this metaphor for a long time. I was able to find rejection letters I received for my original The Fulcrum Principle: Practical Tools for Social Change, Community Building, and Restructuring Society book proposal as far back as 1992—and a printout of the proposal itself, though not the electronic file.

Looking at this proposal 25 years later, it would have been a big, ambitious, world-changing book. And other than

  1. Adding in recent developments such as the Arab Spring, Climate Change activism, Black Lives Matter, and of course the massive resistance to the new US president, and
  2. Technology shifts including the Internet and social media, smartphones, 3D printing, and the amazing breakthroughs in green design,

The proposal is still remarkably relevant. Let me share a few highlights:

  • The Fulcrum Principle lets us “achieve the greatest result with the least amount of effort,” including finding others to do some of the work
  • Change happens as fast as possible, but as slow as necessary
  • Why we need both “shock troops” and “put-it-back-togethers”
  • We build momentum for change by presenting the possibility (and manageability) of positive change, finding points of agreement with our opponents—and then expanding those points, changing enemies into allies
  • This momentum can change the world—and it has, many times
  • It’s accomplished more easily when you remember to have fun
  • Grassroots organizers can learn a lot from business (and with 25 years of hindsight, I’d add that business can learn a lot from grassroots organizers); similarly, Left and Right activists have lessons to share with each other
  • Economic and environmental goals can work in tandem (did I really understand that all the way back in 1992? I’ve gone on to write five books that explore this idea)
  • Organizers have quietly developed lots of tools we can harness to make this journey easier: new approaches to everything from how to facilitate productive meetings to how to get the most information in the least time by dividing up a book among different readers who report their insights

The proposal also touched on a raft of social issues, among them:

  • Nonviolent alternatives to the military
  • The role of multinational corporations
  • True democracy going far beyond elections
  • Does it even make sense for change organizations to chase after funding?
  • New ways of looking at drugs and crime, housing, healthcare, transportation, parenting, world distribution of resources, and even sexuality

Interestingly, without revisiting this proposal, I essentially put it into practice when I founded the movement that saved our local mountain in 1999-2000. And I think that’s a lot of why we won in 13 months flat. The “experts” thought we couldn’t win at all. I felt sure that we would succeed, but even I thought it would take five years. I didn’t realize at the time that I had already created the roadmap years earlier.

Perhaps I should dust off this proposal, update, and resubmit.

Green/social change business profitability expert Shel Horowitz shows businesses how to turn poverty into sufficiency, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance--??while making a good profit. An international speaker and bestselling, award-winning author, his 10th book is Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World.

Posted in Activism, Business-general, Corporate Social Responsibility, Democracy, Energy & Sustainability, Environment, General Commentary, Innovation, People Helping People, Politics, Shel's Personal Life, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

In Archive