I’ve had the blessing to have been able to be at the start of 2 movements in my 22 years of life. I tend to gravitate towards things I love and believe in regardless of what anyone has to say. Consequently, the people I meet are of the same nature–big thinking game-changers. What drives things from a passion amongst a few people to a movement is sharing that passion with others until it starts to grow into something that no one could ever have predicted. Derek Sivers affirms many of the ideas and experiences I’ve had with movement building. In this powerful yet simple TED video, Derek Sivers, talks about how to start a movement. You can watch it below. I’ve laid out the entire talk in the following 6 steps:
1) A leader has to have the guts to stand out and be ridiculed.
2) The first follower shows other people how to follow. The leader embraces the first follower as an equal. It’s important to nurture your first few followers as equals.
3) The first follower is an underestimated form of leadership. The first follower is what translates a lone nut into a leader, which then creates a movement.
4) Movement must be public. New followers imitate the followers, not the leader.
5) As most people join, it’s less risky. Those who were sitting on the fence before have no reason not to. They won’t stand out or be ridiculed. But they will be a part of the in crowd if they hurry.
6) The most important lesson: Leadership is over glorified. Real leadership is showing others how to follow.
In the law of diffusion of innovation, in it’s simplest form, talks about how an idea spreads. What path does an idea follow from conception to critical mass? It points out the types of people that help an idea along the way and their percentage within the population. The first 2.5% of society are innovators, 13.5% are early adopters, early majority and late majority are 34%(the tipping point or when something becomes popular) and laggards are 16%(the ones who resist change until they have to change).
I’ve, like many of my readers, would categorized themselves as innovators and early adopters. We gain pleasure from finding an idea before anyone else does–in fact, we generally avoid jumping on the bandwagon. We prefer to be at the fringes.
In 2008, spoken word was something on the fringes. It was one of the 5 elements of hip hop but didn’t have the visibility and familiarity that others elements, such as DJing or BBoying did. From what I remember, it was just a group of passionate people who had something to say coming together to share our ideas, our struggles and the most poignant things on our mind. At the core of it: we loved it, and there was nothing else to it.
And remember, this was just one city, my home city.Other cities were also growing , creating and sharing but eventually that growth hits a critical mass. Now spoken word is everywhere. It has hit mainstream culture.
Another movement I found myself in was the Occupy Wallstreet movement. The conversations that needed to be had about seriously deconstructing some destructive systems in our society was finally being had–and now in PUBLIC.
It was a fantastic experiment in direct democracy and an expression of people being fed up with their current situation. It demonstrated the power people had when they decided to mobilize and figure out ways to discuss ideas that needed to be changed. The most important thing is that it got people TALKING. But it was also a spectacular failure in many ways. It brought out the many serious issues people face when trying to construct global movements to tackle global problems.
Now, I want to share my top 10 lessons from my time within movements and what you can learn from them and apply to your own movements(or causes your passionate about) so the same mistakes don’t happen. I’m always looking for the next thing to join while in its infancy. Let me know what out there!
Top 10 Lessons in Movement Building
1) Critical mass is hit when your passion is shared and it’s open. It must be public.
2) The first few followers (or the seeds of a movement) must LOVE , TRUST and RESPECT each other. It’s not enough that you are drawn together by a common goal or belief–that is secondary. There needs to be cohesion of personalities and mutual respect between people. Just like you can not achieve profits in a business without building business relationships, you can not achieve the goals of a movements without building strong relationships between the core of movement leaders. In my experience spoken word in Ottawa went viral because the core 10-15 people loved and respected each other. Occupy Wallstreet, or more specifically, Occupy Ottawa, couldn’t sustain long lasting momentum because the core group was brought together through a common goal but no real respect, love or trust because no one knew each other.
3) Structures, and systems are as important as the bigger picture but don’t get caught up in them. Processes and procedures are necessary -they tell people what to do and how to do it. If you focus too much on it and not the real important stuff at hand, it’s the easiest way to create animosity and kill momentum.
4) There is an urgent need for open spaces for debate and discussion. It used to be that in rural settings people would sit around the fire or in urban areas, people would have town hall meetings, but this doesn’t exist as much as it use to. In both movements, I was able to see the dire need for people to want to come together to discuss and debate ideas that were important to them and their communities. Many of these types of spaces are popping up, like The Hub, and even Second Cup(national coffee franchise) are trying to transform their spaces into places where people who have something to say can connect. For this to really take off, it needs to resemble something like 18th Century London Coffeehouses where anyone can step in and have a voice, not just those who are predisposed to being innovators or social entrepreneurs.
Conversations are how problems get solved and creating open space concepts are the next logical step.
5) You will be questioned, rejected, laughed at, and credibility will be attacked. This is true with both experiences. The Occupy experience is an example that’s global. It’s really hard to find people who are willing to bet their reputation on something they believe in and truly act on what they believe to be true. The complexities of our society has reduced people to a state of passivity because things are so hard to understand these days, it’s easier to not do anything. Our schooling system doesn’t do much in the way of deconstructing society, but rather reinforcing the status quo. People WILL try to sabotage you. Many local authorities in Ottawa made it their duty to try to destroy the credibility of Occupy. Again, that is normal. You need to see every argument from your opponents eyes. This makes total sense to them. In order to preserve themselves, they needed to destroy the movement.
Getting people to truly understand that change is needed is to try to not convince them at all. The best way to convince someone that something is important is to do it yourself and let them see your passion.
That leads me to my next point(if and when you decide to try to convince anybody about your convictions):
6) Speak to people in a language they understand. A wise person said, it’s not what you say that matters but what people hear. In spoken word, no matter how abstract or esoteric your art was, you need to be able to convey your overall message in a clear and effective manner. One thing that was effective about my time in competitive spoken word(slam) was that you needed to learn how to boil your message down to 3 minutes. If you couldn’t say it in 3 minutes, it didn’t matter. This was a cutthroat underground scene at the time. Everyone had to come with their best. Therefore, you really had to use your time effectively.
Ask yourself: What are you trying to say? How can you say it in 1 or 2 sentences? Why are you saying it? Why should anyone care?
Trying to get people to care is an emotional process, not a logical one. You can get someone to logically understand why a genocide should stop, why we must campaign against corruption or why we must focus on creating safe spaces for people to express themselves, but that doesn’t mean they are going to do anything.
This is why being human is important. We really need to bring the human element back to business, arts, politics and economics. This may come off as not being professional or “put together” but that’s the only way to get people to respond and the way to inspire them to do anything worth doing.
7) Ideas change with context. It’s important to re appropriate global issues to fit your context. Occupy was a global movement that then had to figure out how to fit itself into a local and regional context. The mistake a lot of activist made was trying to make global demands in a local city. That doesn’t work out.
What you should do is this: If you have an global idea(economic policy, for example) that you are not happy with, try to find specific examples on a local context and tie that to the bigger context(the economy). If you are building a political movement somewhere in Europe, don’t try to do the exact same thing New York tried to do. Localize the global issues and then people will listen. Be specific.
8) IMAGE AND PR is EVERYTHING. Whether you are creating an arts movement or global political movement, it doesn’t matter. The way people perceive you matters. The way you dress, the way you talk, how you present your cause etc.We are humans, for God’s sake, we will attack anything we don’t like on the most trivial matter. In the Occupy movement, a key element was a camp space. It represented the physical occupation of a space. It was a symbol for the Occupy movement. But that place looked like a ’60s communal space for hippies. Not attractive. It was ugly. And that was a problem. It served a purpose but it could have been done without. Many, many people attacked the movement based on this idea alone, even though we had great people involved and other alternative spaces that worked great. They didn’t see the other stuff, they just saw an ugly headquarters. This type of carelessness for maintaining a flawless image of a movement lead many people to reject the movement all together.
People judge you on what the see first and what you say second. Keep that in mind.
9)Decentralization of power is likely to end up with the centralized power. Everyone likes the idea of decentralization of power–it connotes the idea that “everyone is a leader”. But the truth is, to lead anything, you need a leader. Whether it’s in a company, organization or project, someone needs to take the reins and delegate. I’m no political scientist, but I can probably deconstruct the idea of decentralization to an emotional level. Most people are used to being told what to do all their lives and the chance they get to truly lead themselves to a better outcome, they will run with it.
In my experience, decentralization works so long as there is a commitment to a goal. Just like the idea of democracy, it’s very susceptible to degenerate. Leadership is not a BAD thing. It’s natural that leaders form within a large group of people. Not everyone wants to have to make decisions and figure out the next step. I would argue that centralization of power works when everyone is on the same page and has the same goal. Although both can degenerate into either mob rule or dictatorship, it’s much easier to take control away from 1 person than to take control away from a group of people, who will use any reason to hold on to their power. I think a lot of people turn away from centralization of power because it takes the form of picture (1) at the top rather picture (2) at the bottom.
10) Do what you believe is right. Things will always work out. Movement building hard. Sometimes you don’t know what the hell you are doing. That’s okay. When are doing something you believe and are passionate about, your perseverance will always end up opening doors. Just keep pushing and keep at it. Regardless of which direction things took, I always stayed true to what I loved. And that’s an important point. If you stay close to WHY you are doing it, you need to be detached yourself from HOW you do it. In the long term, variables change and that means you need to pivot. Even in building any type of momentum for a cause, those who can not turn left when the sign says “TURN LEFT” are those who stagnant. Even for the change maker , change can be a difficult thing. Always be prepared to change course .
If the root of what you are passionate about doesn’t change then the means of achieving it shouldn’t matter.
Thanks for reading. If you loved this post, please subscribe! Enter your email on the left hand side!
Follow me @HouseofAvidus for more thoughts
-with love, Hodan