In 2010, Derek Sivers delivered this brief but brilliant TED talk on how to start a movement.
An approximate transcript of Sivers’ talk:
Let’s watch a movement happen start to finish in under three minutes and dissect some lessons from it.
First, of course you know a leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed. But what he’s doing is so easy to follow. So here’s his first follower, with a crucial role. He’s going to show everyone else how to follow.
Notice that the leader embraces him as an equal. So now it’s not about the leader anymore, it’s about them, plural. Now there he is calling to his friends. The first follower is actually an underestimated form of leadership. It takes guts to stand out like that. The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader.
And here comes a second follower. Now it’s not a lone nut, it’s not two nuts. Three is a crowd, and a crowd is news.
So a movement must be public. It’s important to show not just the leader, but the followers, because you find that new followers emulate the followers, not the leader.
Now here come two more people, and immediately after, three more people. Now we’ve got momentum. This is the tipping point. Now we’ve got a movement. Notice that as more people join in, it’s less risky. So those that were sitting on the fence before now have no reason not to (join). They won’t stand out, they won’t be ridiculed, but they will be part of the in-crowd if they hurry.
Over the next minute you’ll see all of those that prefer to stick with the crowd, because eventually they would be ridiculed for not joining in.
And that’s how you make a movement.
Let’s recap some lessons from this.
First: If you are the type, like the shirtless dancing guy, that is standing alone, remember the importance of nurturing your first few followers as equals, so it’s clearly about the movement, not you.
But the biggest lesson is that leadership is over-glorified. Yes, the shirtless guy was first, and he’ll get all the credit. But it was really the first follower that transformed the lone nut into a leader. So as we’re told that we should all be leaders, that would be really ineffective. If you really care about starting a movement, have the courage to follow and show others how to follow. And when you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to stand up and join in.