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Stir the Pot

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There are many conflicting definitions of “stir the pot.” Most of the definitions I found were overwhelmingly negative. One who stirs the pot is “causing unrest or dissent,” or perhaps even “agitat[ing]a situation to cause a reaction or trouble.” Uh oh, I guess we’d better put the spoon down.
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But there’s an informal definition I found that’s more accurate, and I’d like to expand on it a little. Here is the user-created definition from Phrase Finder:

Deliberately provocative, yes, but not necessarily maliciously. Picture a pot of soup. A lot of ingredients have settled to the bottom, out of sight, until stirred. Metaphorically, a lot of issues/resentments/obligations can drop out of sight when nobody mentions them. One can “stir the pot” to bring issues to the surface, sometimes with malice, but sometimes merely to create awareness and [a]ffect change.

Stirring the pot, I want to argue, is a good thing. It’s what we need to do when we feel stuck or held back. This is similar to what people in AA (or other 12-step groups) call “doing the next right thing,” which means when you’re down in the dumps, don’t focus on the big, scary, world-sized big picture (e.g. for alcoholics staying sober in every situation for the rest of your life). Instead you worry about the next moment and doing the next right thing, without worrying about the big picture. I don’t think we need to be in a 12-step program to appreciate this sentiment.

There are some basic laws that govern “stirring the pot” and they are best represented by these two Newtonian laws of physics:

#1 “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion… unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

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#2 “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

What this means is that by doing something, anything, no matter how slight, that could elicit even only a slightly positive direction shift, we are stirring the pot.

We did this at Impact Hub when we launched our crowdfunding campaign. We didn’t raise a lot of money after accounting for our expenses, but we definitely stirred the pot. That campaign alone accounted for thousands of new social media followers, some great PR, and several dozen membership pre-sales, all in one month.

I’ve personally stirred the pot countless times by volunteering for organizations or providing free services to non-profits. No, I wasn’t getting paid and probably never would by those organizations, but each time it built my reputation and led to other opportunities.

Some ways for you to stir the pot:

Contrary to previous advice, lease a space. At the very least it will light a fire under your ass.

Throw the biggest event your city has ever seen.

Do something important for somebody important for free.

Send a bunch of emails to prospects and invite them into your community (for free for a long period of time) because you value them and their work. These are called anchor tenants.

Put a funky billboard or mural that evokes a strong reaction in a prominent place in your town.

Partner with somebody who can benefit from you and who brings a new audience.

Volunteer with community groups and organizations. Have a voice. Get involved in touchy issues.

Commit to learning a new skill, then teach that skill to your team and your community.


There’s a theme here, if you noticed, which is that stirring the pot almost always revolves around generosity on your part.



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  3. Commercial real estate and coworking is going to a “stir the pot” kind of an experience now. While COVID has dampened the rise of coworking temporarily, I feel that this is only going to accelerate the adoption in 2021 and beyond.

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