Have been thinking a lot about popular and mass movements this week – not just because of Easter, Mandela, Cyprus or Glastonbury – but because I suspect movements are one of the most powerful ways for a business to grow nowadays.
I also suspect that the art of creating movement within and for business isn’t in any way worked out yet – so here’s an attempt to create some kind of formula. As ever it’s up for debate and above all improvement. Here goes.
“How do we start a movement?” is a question I’ve been asked three times this week by businesses in three totally different sectors.
Turns out they all want to grow – not in a small way, but in a big, bold, goodness me kind of way – and that in order to achieve that kind of growth they need to take an awful lot of people with them – employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers, collaborators, even competitors.
And – in a victory for both creativity and common sense – they’re all convinced that the old school military style approach to “engagement” simply won’t work. Because in each case they can’t control the outcome – they need to inspire people to come with them to create unstoppable momentum.
And in each case the people they need to inspire have little or no obligation – contractual or otherwise – to follow them.
The first needs to build a coalition of other online players from their erstwhile competitors, to put some clear distance between them and one of the web’s behemoths. The second has to deliver a groundbreaking new customer experience, in the teeth of new competition, via loads of people who aren’t their employees and never will be. And the third needs to build a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism – in one of the most risk averse sectors imaginable – in a workforce that has been vigorously and thoroughly drilled into following the rules and the process to the letter.
In each case they have to build not just advocacy but action – to create a cause so powerful that people will want to join it. And for those people to behave differently – to do extraordinary things. And that’s why these businesses need to create a movement.
So how do you create a movement? And how do you do it in a designed way to achieves your goal rather than in a haphazard “oops we’ve just caused a bank run” way?
Here are three very different inspirations of mine from which we might learn some of the answer.
First – Paul von Lettow Vorbeck who broke every rule in the military book to hold down 300,000 British troops for years in East Africa during WW1 with just a handful of soldiers.
Second – the Baltic Chain (above) – 2 million people mobilised, joining hands, to form a line across the Baltics in 1989 to demonstrate for independence from the USSR. And they did it through word of mouth.
Third – letsdoit – a present day civic mass movement to clean up waste, that started in Estonia and is fast going global.
Each of these tells us a little of the emerging recipe for organisations seeking to create mass mobilisation.
Von Lettow Vorbeck inspired loyalty by pulling off big bold moves that foxed his opponents. (And won so much admiration from them that Smuts, chief opponent, paid his pension in later life). I’ve talked before about the organisational benefits of big bold bets rather than small pilots in terms of building a culture of innovation, but now I suspect that doing these big bets is just as effective in getting people to join your cause (even erstwhile enemies).
The Baltic Way movement used peer to peer influence to astonishing effect in a pre-internet age. And letsdoit used technology to spread highly copyable behaviours in a way that meant that 6 people could create a movement of millions.
And of course all three had a big, clear and well defined purpose that went way beyond self interest.
So how do you design and start a movement if you are a business looking to grow? Here’s a first pass at a 5 step recipe:
1. Purpose defintion – what’s the big thing, the big cause that you stand for as a business? What are you trying to do for the world?
2. Collaborator identification – who might share that purpose, or who do you need to get on board? (Could be competitors, could be employees, unions etc.)
3. Big bets – what are the big visible demonstrations of intent that will serve as our beacons to the people we want to join our cause? Let’s make them big, bold and market defining so that nobody has room to doubt us. (A new product, a new service, a new means of engagement).
4. Peers – who are the best networked people that can influence their peers in delivering the change? Think back to Jamie Oliver’s school dinners – nothing happened until Nora the dinner lady got involved because she had a heck of a lot more influence than the governemnt or even St Jamie. Get them together, share your vision, ask for their help.
5. Copyable behaviours – discover what that peer group are doing in terms of defined ways of acting in the pursuit of the cause (e.g. linking hands, mapping rubbish) that – on a mass scale – will underpin the whole effort. And then give them every help you can in getting their peers to copy them.
Imperfect? Certainly. But it’s not command and control. And that’s progress.