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Interpreting Derek Silvers Ted talk: How to Start a Movement

This short TED talk is a simple metaphor on leadership and follow ship using a man dancing wildly at an outdoor music festival as the example of someone doing something different and on their own, that then sparks a whole dancing group to participate.

As Derek Silvers points out the original dancing guy is the initiator of the movement but it’s the first follower who is pivotal. That follower moves the “lone nut” to a leader. The first follower gets a few friends to join. 1 becomes 2, becomes 5. % people draw in 5 more and you suddenly have momentum and things move fast from there.

While less obvious, this is exactly what happens in companies and it’s a lesson to all leaders.

  • Lesson 1. If you want to do something different in your business, that takes courage. You have to stand out from the crowd and risk being ridiculed by the status quo.
  • Lesson 2. You have to pick your moment. Doing something different has to resonate with at least a few other people. This issue you pick has to be “ripe” forv action. Plenty of initiatives or attempts to lead fail because no one else sees the need to address an issue. In effect there is no silent population thinking of feeling like you do.
  • Lesson 3. You really need to embrace your first followers and do so publicly. Rather like the idea that you only need one friend in the playground at school, a leader, initially at least, may only need one follower.
  • Lesson 4. All movements start slowly and build. The leader’s role is to build those followers. In organizations, this will probably be one person at a time. If you are part of an Executive team, it’s about influencing each person on the board to join the movement. Organizations are actually democratic. If you have the numbers, you get things done. If you don’t, then your initiate fails. We may blame politics but the truth is that your opponents had more people following them than you. They were a stronger leader/influencer, combined with the probability that the issue you picked wasn’t “ripe” for enough people.

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