Impact in 5 seconds!

I’m not a big fan of the use of the word “impact” to describe how we want to influence or change things. “We want to have a big impact in society!” “How can we impact the world?” “What impact will this have on our business plan?”

Impact has quite an violent or harsh physical overtone. Hitting, kicking, punching etc. Which fits in well with the western / violent / masculine language dominant in our current culture – but it’s not a metaphor that reflects the kind of long term beauty and change we want to see.

Recently I heard “impact” described as a positive thing – in that it was how musical notes were created. As in a bell, cymbals, drums, but also guitars, woodwind instruments…

Except – that’s not how woodwind instruments work. Nor guitars.

You don’t “hit” the strings on a guitar, and the note on a woodwind instrument doesn’t change by the air “hitting” the holes that you cover.

A guitar works by introducing tension, and then releasing it.

A flute works by the air being split by the block, and creating a column of air inside the body of the flute, which you then change the length of by opening and shutting holes.

A clarinet works by setting up a vibration in the reed by pushing air past it and tensioning it in exactly the right way, and then by changing the length of the tube (with the keys), it changes the speed the vibration can happen at.

The big insight to me here is that it’s not just an external force “impacting” the instrument, but an interaction of multiple forces. Interaction and engagement, not just slap and walk away.

And that’s kind of important to me… the idea that to make real change, and make things of beauty that last (like a sustained note, not just a crash of cymbal), it requires giving of breath (life), and constant engagement with the system that you’re changing. When you play clarinet, you don’t give a constant air pressure and tension in your mouth all the time – you modulate that depending on the result you’re getting. You need the feedback loop.

I believe that’s how we can make real change.