How to Create a Movement

Create a movement

In 1999, small groups of business professionals from different experience levels, industries, and types of jobs started getting together periodically to talk about the new economy. These groups of 4-5 people had never met before, worked in organizations and as solo-preneurs.

    Month after month, in many cities in the U.S. and around the world, they got together and invited their friends and colleagues to think together. Soon, the groups counted 42,000 members worldwide. There was no social media, just a listserv and something in common — a desire to share experiences. 

    Small groups became a community, then became a movement. All because of a new conversation ignited by Fast Company magazine. Evangelists of the ideas espoused in the magazine wanted to make those ideas happen in their workplaces and meet to talk about the experience. I was there from the beginning. In August 2000, we got to work. Some of us carried on for several years.

    In our conversations and round tables, we brought to life the topics and themes we had been reading in the magazine. Content is not enough — even when useful — if it doesn't move someone to do something. Plus, we never call something good we experience “content,” we call it a good movie, a play, a game, a concert… you  get the idea.   

    Thew best forms of entertainment, education, and engagement are “let's do this together” kinds of experiences. To understand a little bit more about movements, we break them down into what makes them work.

    Characteristics of a movement:

1. Passion conversation vs. product conversation

    In a business setting, people may not know who to react to a conversation about deep interest in something that is not a product for sale. Collaborative, expansive, and generous mindsets often encounter tremendous resistance. But when they do manage to get across, people light up.

2. Begin with the first conversation

    It's hard for organizations to deal with a movement because they didn't see it coming. These are grassroots initiatives that gain momentum quickly.

3. Have inspirational leadership

    Inspiration is powerful because it connects with intrinsic motivation. While influence is an external level of persuasion. Breathing life into an idea or ideal is more effective.

4. Movements have a barrier to entry

    We call it skin in the game. Rites of passage are a necessary step in joining a community. In many respects, removing them in modern societies has really taken away the ability for people to prove to themselves that they are part of it.

5. Empower people with knowledge

    The famous expression “opening the kimono.” It's such an important step that changes the equation or balance of power and transforms the people on both sides of the exchange. Yet, there is difficulty — we have difficulty — managing that transfer.

6. Shared ownership

    Helping each other with feedback and learning. Engagement is a necessary entry point to share and communicate. Refusing to take this step makes someone the barrier.

7. Powerful identities

    Making something to believe in. Shared experiences provide a sense of belonging, they make us fall in love with the experience. We're social animals. This is also about raising the other by involvement.

8. Live both online and off line

    People are tactile and face to face is still by far the best way to engage. We learn to take cues from our environment early on by reading body language. Sharing a physical space is still the best way to help word of mouth travel.

9. Make advocates feel like rock stars

    Giving people attention goes a long way. We crave and appreciate attention the most. Being heard, counting, being recognized. Ordinary people can and do have extraordinary stories and ideas to share.

10. Get results 

    Fast Company created a movement. Passionate people with a sense of belonging and much to share. The magazine was a conduit, the jumping point from where the conversation took off. It was ahead of its time. The subscriptions practically sold themselves.

    Movements get results. When people realize that what they do matters, it's energizing. This is how fans put out PR crises before an organization has time to react. We were fans who created our own marketing messages and gear to tell everyone about the magazine. The group ion New York City had t-shirts with mission statements.

    Imagine customers and fans coming to the brand's defense, helping it through hard times, co-creating new products. This is what movements do. They move people to action, transform companies, and change lives. 

    The professionals we admire have gone beyond creating a profitable company, they've set out to change the world. Profit was an outcome of that. It takes courage to consider these ten steps and go for it. More and more, we seek purpose and meaning. Movements ignite through the reasons why — being moved is much preferable to being the target of a campaign…

    Fast Company's movement had purpose:

  • on 9/11 we were online coordinating support for stranded travelers
  • at a local level, all the volunteers who helped pull the community together got the collateral effect of finding a new career more aligned with their passion during hard employment times
  • the genuine, collaborative spirit was not building a paid wall for anyone — we were all in it together
  • and so many more examples of off line action because of online connections among peers

    Although we had a listserv, it was literally word of mouth we used to spread the word at the time. We managed to make tremendous strides towards our goals of diversity and inclusiveness. We built alliances with other organizations to invite diversity of thought.

    Alliances are a better way of building business networks based on alignment, value enhancement, shared vision, and finding mutually supportive roles. This is how we grow brands in the digital age.