Tag Archives: movements

Building a True Revolution

Building a True Revolution

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

“Revolution” is a term that gets thrown around a lot. There was an Industrial Revolution powered by steam and then another one powered by oil and electricity. The Green Revolution transformed the way we fed ourselves. Many political revolutions have overthrown powerful regimes and the digital revolution changed the way we work with information.

My friend Srdja Popović, who helped lead the Bulldozer Revolution that overthrew Slobodan Milošević in Serbia, told me that the goal of a revolution should be to become mainstream, to be mundane and ordinary. If you are successful it should be difficult to explain what was won because the previous order seems so unbelievable.

The problem with most would-be revolutionaries is that they seek exactly the opposite. All too often, they seek attention, excitement and crowds of admiring fans. Yet all that noise is likely to create enemies just as fast as it makes friends. True revolutions aren’t won in the streets or on the airwaves, but through smart strategies that transform basic beliefs.

A Shift in Paradigms

The idea of a paradigm shift was first established by Thomas Kuhn in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which explained how scientific breakthroughs come to the fore. It starts with an established model, the kind we learn in school or during initial training for a career. Eventually, those models are shown to be untenable, and a period of instability ensues until a new paradigm can be created and adopted.

While Kuhn developed his theory to describe advancements in science, it has long been clear that it applies more broadly. For example, in my experiences in post-communist countries, the comfort of the broken, but relatively stable, system seemed to many to be preferable to the instability of change.

In the corporate world, models are not only mindsets, but are embedded in systems, processes and practices, which makes them especially pervasive. To bring change about, you need to disrupt basic operations and that comes with costs. Customers, partners and suppliers depend on the stability of how an organization does business.

So, the first step to driving change about is to create a new vision that can credibly replace the existing model without causing so much chaos that the perceived costs outweigh the benefits. As I explain in my book, Cascades, successful revolutionaries are more than just warriors, they are also educators that are able to mobilize others through the power of their vision.

Mobilizing Small Groups, Loosely Connected

We tend to think of revolutions as mass actions, such as protestors storming the streets or excited customers lining up outside an Apple store, yet they don’t start out that way. Revolutions begin with small groups, loosely connected, but united by a shared purpose.

For example, groups like the Cambridge Apostles and the Bloomsbury Group helped launch intellectual revolutions in early 20th century Cambridge. The Homebrew Computer Club helped bring about the digital revolution. Groups like Otpor, Kmara and Pora formed the grassroots of the Color Revolutions in the early 2000s.

What made these groups effective was their ability to connect and bring others in. For example the Homebrew Computer Club would hold convene informal gatherings at a bar after the more formal meetings of the club. In the Serbian revolution that overthrew Slobodan Milošević, Otpor used humor and street pranks to attract people to their cause.

Revolutions are driven by networks and power in networks emanates from the center. You move to the center by connecting out. That’s how you mobilize and gain influence. What you do with that power and influence, however, will determine if your revolution will succeed.

Influencing Institutional Change

Mobilization can be a powerful force but does not in itself create a revolution. To bring change about, you need to be able to influence institutions that have the power to drive change. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t write a single piece of legislation or decide a single court case but was able to influence the legislative and legal systems through his activism.

In his efforts to reform the Pentagon, Colonel John Boyd went outside the chain of command to brief congressional staffers and a small circle of journalists. As he gained support from Congress and the media, he was able to put pressure on the Generals and create a reform movement within the US military.

Now compare that to the Occupy Movement, which mobilized activists in 951 cities across 82 countries. However, they wanted to have nothing to do with institutions and actually refused opportunities to influence them. In fact, when Congressman John Lewis, himself a civil rights leader, showed up at a rally, they turned him away. Is it any wonder they never achieved any tangible change?

Make no mistake. If you truly want to bring change about, you have to mobilize somebody to influence something. Merely sending people out in the streets with signs won’t amount to much.

Preparing for the Counterrevolution

In his 2004 State of the Union Address, President Bush delivered a full-throated condemnation of same-sex marriage. Incensed, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to unilaterally begin performing weddings for gay and lesbian couples at City Hall, in what was termed the Winter of Love. 4,027 couples were married before their nuptials were annulled by the California Supreme Court a month later.

The backlash was fierce and led Proposition 8, an amendment to the California Constitution that prohibited gay marriage, on the ballot. It was passed with a narrow majority of 52% of the electorate and was so harsh that it not only galvanized LGBT activists, but also began to sway public opinion.

The tide began to change when LBGT activists, began to appeal to values they shared with the general public, such as the right to live in committed relationships and raise happy, healthy families. In a Newsweek op-ed, Ted Olson, a conservative Republican lawyer who had previous served as President Bush’s Solicitor General, argued that legalizing same-sex marriage wasn’t strictly a gay issue, but would be “a recognition of basic American principles.”

Today, same sex marriage has become, to paraphrase my friend Srdja, mundane. It has become a part of everyday life that is widely accepted as the normal course of things. That’s when you know a revolution is complete. Not when the fervor of zealots drive people out into the streets, but when those in the mainstream begin to accept it as the normal course of business.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Unsplash

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To Change the World You Must First Learn Something About It

To Change the World You Must First Learn Something About It

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

Anybody who has waited for a traffic light to change, in the middle of the night at an empty intersection, knows the urge to rebel. There is always a tension between order and freedom. While we intuitively understand the need for order to constrain others, we yearn for the freedom to do what we want and to seek out a vision and sense of meaning in our lives.

Yet as we have seen over the past decade, attempts to overturn the existing order usually fail. The Tea Party erupted in 2009, but had mostly sputtered out by 2014. #Occupy protests and Black Lives Matter sent people into the streets, but achieved little, if anything. Silicon Valley “unicorns” like WeWork routinely go up in flames.

Not all revolutions flop, though. In fact, some succeed marvelously. What has struck me after researching transformational change over nearly two decades is how similar successful efforts are. They all experience failures along the way. What makes the difference is their ability to learn, adapt and change along the way. That’s what allows them to prevail.

Five Kids Meet In A Cafe

One day in 1998, a group of five friends met in a cafe in Belgrade. Although still in their 20s, they were already experienced activists and most of what they experienced was failure. They had taken part in student protests against the war in Bosnia in 1992, as well in the larger uprisings in response to election fraud in 1996. Neither had achieved much.

Having had time to reflect on their successes and failures, they hatched a new plan. They knew from their earlier efforts that they could mobilize people and get them to the polls for the presidential election in 2000. They also knew that Slobodan Milošević, who ruled the country with an iron hand, would try and steal the election, just as he did in 2006.

So that’s what they planned for.

The next day, six friends joined the five from the previous day and, together, they formed the original 11 members of Otpor, the movement that would topple the Milošević regime. They began slowly at first, performing pranks and street theater. But within two years it grew to over 70,000 members, with chapters all over Serbia. Milošević was ousted in the Bulldozer revolution in 2000. He would die in his prison cell at The Hague in 2006.

What Otpor came to understand is that it takes small groups, loosely connected, but united by a shared purpose to drive transformational change. The organization was almost totally decentralized, with just a basic “network meeting” to share best practices every two weeks. Nevertheless, by empowering those smaller groups and giving them a shared sense of mission, they were able to prevail over seemingly impossible odds.

Three Mid-Level executives See A Problem That Needs Fixing

In 2017, John Gadsby and two colleagues in Procter & Gamble’s research organization saw that there was a problem. Although cutting-edge products were being developed all around them, the processes at the 180 year-old firm were often antiquated, making it sometimes difficult to get even simple things done.

So they decided to do something about it. They chose a single process, which involved setting up experiments to test new product technologies. It usually took weeks and was generally considered a bottleneck. Utilizing digital tools, however, they were able to hone it down to just a few hours. It was a serious accomplishment and the three were recognized with a “Pathfinder” award by the company CTO.

Every change starts out with a grievance, such as the annoyance of being bogged down by inefficient processes. The first step forward is to come up with a vision for how you would like things to be different. However, you can never get there in a single step, which is why you need to identify a single keystone change to show others that change is really possible.

That’s exactly what the team at P&G did. Once they showed that one process could be dramatically improved, they were able to get the resources to start improving others. Today, more than 2,500 of their colleagues have joined their movement for process improvement, called PxG, and more than 10,000 have used their applications platform.

As PxG has grown it has also been able to effectively partner with other likeminded initiatives within the company, reinforcing not only its own vision, but those of others that share its values as well.

The One Engineer Who Simply Refused To Take “No” For An Answer

In the late 1960’s, Gary Starkweather was in trouble with his boss. As an engineer in Xerox’s long-range xerography unit, he saw that laser printing could be a huge business opportunity. Unfortunately, his manager at the company’s research facility in upstate New York was focused on improving the current product line, not looking to start a new one.

The argument got so heated that Starkweather’s job came to be in jeopardy. Fortunately, his rabble-rousing caught the attention of another division within the company, the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), which was less interested in operational efficiency than inventing an entirely new future. They eagerly welcomed Starkweather into their ranks with open arms.

Unlike his old lab, PARC’s entire mission was to create the future. One of the technologies it had developed, bitmapping, would revolutionize computer graphics, but there was no way to print the images out. Starkweather’s work was exactly what they were looking for and, with the Xerox’s copier business in decline, would eventually save the company.

The truth is that good ideas fail all the time and it often has little to do with the quality of the idea, the passion of those who hold it or its potential impact, but rather who you choose to start with. In the New York lab, few people bought into Starkweather’s idea, but in Palo Alto, almost everyone did. In that fertile ground, it was able to grow, mature and triumph.

When trying to get traction for an idea, you always want to be in the majority, even if it is only a local majority comprising a handful of people. You can always expand a small majority out, but once you are in the minority you will get immediate pushback and will need to retrench.

The Secret to Subversion

Through my work, I’ve gotten to know truly revolutionary people. My friend Srdja Popović was one of the original founders of Otpor and has gone on to train activists in more than 50 countries. Jim Allison won a Nobel Prize for discovering Cancer Immunotherapy. Yassmin Abdel-Magied has become an important voice for diversity, equity and inclusion. Many others I profiled in my books, Mapping Innovation and Cascades.

What has always struck me is how different real revolutionaries are from the mercurial, ego-driven stereotypes Hollywood loves to sell us. The truth is that all of those mentioned above are warm, friendly and genuinely nice people who are a pleasure to be around (or were, Gary Starkweather recently passed).

What I’ve found over the years is that sense of openness helped them succeed where others failed. In fact, evidence suggests that generosity is often a competitive advantage for very practical reasons. People who are friendly and generous tend to build up strong networks of collaborators, who provide crucial support for getting an idea off the ground.

But most of all it was that sense of openness that allowed them to learn, adapt and identify a path to victory. Changing the world is hard, often frustrating work. Nobody comes to the game with all the answers. In the final analysis, it’s what you learn along the way—and your ability to change yourself in response to what you learn—that makes the difference between triumph and bitter, agonizing failure.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Pixabay

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