I love the virtual universe. In the blink of a mouse you can connect with a wide range of people who share your narrow set of interests. Social media Big Names like Seth Godin call this “finding your tribe.”
Tahrir Squares showed what happens when a tribe becomes a movement.
My friend Leslie Grossman, co-founder with Andrea March of the Women’s Leadership Exchange (I wrote about WLE in No Excuses as an example of power tool #7 CREATE A MOVEMENT), introduced me virtually last week to self-described “social media capitalist” Michelle Price. Michelle, Leslie told me, helped WLE set up their new online program, and I wanted to learn more about the process and technology. I felt little prickles of excitement about this convergence.
On first e-mail, Michelle and I realized we have a tribal kinship. I resonated with her love of the leading edges of technology and she won my heart by saying my book should be sitting on every woman’s desktop. We share a mutual interest in thought leadership.
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So what does one do when you meet someone new these days? Peruse her website of course. I found it full of interesting, fun, and thought provoking stuff.
One post called “Thought Leadership: How to Start a Movement and Get Your First Follower in 3 Minutes” featured the captivating video above. So I replayed it. The second time I watched, I realized I had a completely different take than the filmmaker. Here’s Michelle’s intro to the video:
So what does a 3 minute video on dancing have to do with thought leadership, launching a movement and getting YOUR first follower? Watch this video – it’s a study in human sociology at the least. You’ll see the “light of insight” flip on when you do.
One Video, Two Takes
According to the video’s narrator (with my reactions in italics):
1. A leader–in this case a guy who starts doing a weird dance solo on a grassy lawn with lot of people looking on–has to have the guts to look ridiculous.
(True, people who start movement tend to be boundary breakers.)
2. You must be easy to follow.
(I’m starting to furrow my brow because this misses the point that movements form to accomplish things too difficult for one person to do alone.)
3. The first follower has a crucial role—to publicly show the others how to follow. Calling to his friends to join in “transforms a nut into a leader.” The leader embraces him as an equal so the movement seems like it isn’t about the leader any more.
(OK, that makes sense. I’m rarely the first but am often an early adopter. Something doesn’t feel right though. Trying to “seem like it’s not about the leader” sounds manipulative–a hierarchy without acknowledging it.)
4. The third person to come in validates the first two: “a turning point—now it’s not a lone nut and then two nuts.” Three is a crowd, the voice-over says as the dancing becomes more fevered. A crowd makes it news—a movement must be public. People follow the followers not the leader.
(I notice that the first six people who join the dance are all men who have been invited in, and it isn’t till the seventh dancer that the first woman joins. I don’t want to kneejerk, but this looks more like a bunch of men creating a tribe of people with an emotional affinity than a movement with a shared purpose that systematically builds a coalition to get many diverse people involved to do things they couldn’t accomplish alone.)
5. As more people get up to dance, there comes a tipping point where it’s no longer risky to participate. Those who join the dance “won’t stand out, they won’t be ridiculed.” It actually becomes more risky not to participate because holdouts would be ridiculed for not joining. The moral of the piece is summed up like this: “When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.”
(Yes, yes, have the courage to stand up with the lone nut doing something great—but that’s not the same as creating a movement.)
The End of the Movement? (Or Did It Never Begin?)
By this time in the video, everyone is up, writhing together in one big dancing hive that makes me think of William Golding’s book Lord of the Flies, about schoolboys stranded on an island. They form a primitive culture that turns out none too kindly.
The dance ends, the paroxysm of togetherness is complete, everyone cheers.
And that is the end of this particular movement. Participants had a great experience, but then what? They have formed a tribe of people who share a momentary affinity to be sure. Nothing wrong with that. But that’s a mashup–a mob not a movement.
Now I realize what’s been bugging me about this video as a metaphor for leadership and starting a movement.
Instead of beginning with one person doing a weird thing, I think a movement is created when one person sees an injustice or problem and reaches out to another with the purpose of doing something about it. For example, the Civil Rights movement had many individual aha’s followed by people coalescing together. They had the courage to raise issues they believed needed to be addressed: to organize a sit-in and then to create a Freedom Ride that would eventually build to changing laws and minds. They know they are stronger together—they aren’t just being manipulated to join in the dance. And they all share risks too.
Rosa Parks, for example, wasn’t just any woman who happened to get ticked off at being sent to the back of the bus. She had long been active in the NAACP and knew the ground had been well prepared to parlay her refusal to go to the back of the bus that day into a major bus boycott that would last for over a year. It certainly wasn’t easy for African Americans in the South to find other ways to get to work—that is if their employers didn’t fire them for participating in the boycott.
A movement might grow fast, as the video says, if leaders make it easy for others to join and invite them in as equals. And symbols and emotional connection are important elements. But the dance must have a shared purpose to be a movement. And as the group grows, leadership (which will come from many places) must create systematic ways to achieve its purpose or it will flail arms at the end like tired dancers who have enjoyed a catharsis with their tribe, but accomplished little else.
Tahrir Square would have been just another mob and its energies might quickly have turned destructive without that shared sense of purpose and dispersed leadership.
Then, to sustain itself, a movement has to move, to change when needed, to continue to focus its energy on its purpose in ways that meet people’s needs today and tomorrow.
Which of these two different perspectives one takes away from the nutty dancing guy metaphor in this video has profound implications for movements and for leaders.
I can’t wait to discuss this with my new tribemate Michelle when we have our first phone conversation later this week. Meanwhile, watch the video a couple of times. It’s infinitely fascinating. What are your observations?
GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The Lead. People has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”
As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.