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How to start a movement [TED Talk by Derek Sivers]

How to start a movement [TED Talk by Derek Sivers] Blog Feature

January 4th, 2020 min read

In this quick three-minute TED Talk, Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, the largest seller of independent music on the web, manages to break down the sequence of events that lead to starting a successful movement. 

Whether you’re looking to sell more of a product or service, spread the word about a cause, or anything else you’re looking to popularize, understanding how to start a movement around your idea will help you get there faster. 

Referencing a video of a large group of college-aged kids hanging out on the grass, Shivers illustrates his point calling out how a “shirtless guy” gets a dance movement started. 

Allow me to paint the picture. 

“Shirtless guy” starts flailing his arms around and dancing by himself. He looks pretty ridiculous. 

However, not too long later he’s joined by another guy who starts doing the same wild dance. Shirtless guy embraces his new friend and starts dancing with him. 

With two people now doing this nutty dance, a few others start joining in, and eventually crowds of people are running to join the fun.

The movement is a success!

But why?

4 steps to starting a successful movement

Let’s take a look back at the actual steps that happened in this sequence. 

    1. The shirtless guy was fearlessly confident in his idea: He makes the first crucial move by standing out from the crowd with the guts to handle whatever ridicule he might face. A leader in marketing or business must have the same mindset when getting their “great idea” to take off. 
    2. The first follower joined in: Sivers explains that the first person to follow a leader is actually displaying an underrated form of leadership. He goes on to say that “Leadership is over-glorified. It’s really the first follower who transformed the lone nut into a leader.” In business or marketing, these individuals are usually called early-adopters or influencers. 
    3. Followers were treated as equals: This is huge. By embracing the first few followers and treating them as equals, they’ll continue to follow you because they trust you, and others will notice and feel more comfortable joining in. Consider how important this is when building a brand, or what this boosted word-of-mouth can do for your business goals. 
    4. People who aren’t participating now look crazy: By the end, so many people have joined in on the dancing that those who are sitting down look out of place. At this point, they might just join in out of embarrassment or so they don’t miss out on what’s now the “cool thing to do.” Remember how ridiculous Snuggies seemed when they first came out? 30 million units sold and over $500 million in gross sales later, that product was able to go from “cheesy” to “trendy” because it started a movement and caused everyone to want one. 

Turning that dance into a movement took a mere two-minutes to pull off. I must say, shirtless guy, I’m impressed. 

Having the courage to follow

We’re often told that we should all be leaders, however, Derek Sivers points out that having all leaders would be ineffective. 

Without the people who have the courage to follow, and show others how to follow, movements would never get started. 

This process is strangely familiar to me when I think about how IMPACT got started. 

Bob Ruffolo, our Founder and CEO, had the guts to go out on his own and use his skills to start the business. 

Often forgoing a paycheck in the beginning and probably looking “crazy” to most outsiders, Bob kept on believing in what he was doing. 

Eventually, a guy named Tom DiScipio came along. 

After interviewing at Bob’s kitchen table in his condo, Tom left a full-time job with benefits to join Bob on the journey of starting this movement; the first “follower” if you will. 

10 years later, now with 65 employees, working at IMPACT has become a place where thousands of people apply hoping to join the journey. 

Not only did Bob and Tom change their whole lives by teaming up to get IMPACT off the ground, but they changed the lives of every employee who previously or currently works at the company. 

How many great opportunities have you passed up to change your life or someone else’s because you were too nervous to go all-in on something you could have gotten behind? I know I’ll definitely be paying more attention to my choices moving forward. 

As a marketer or anyone in business, not only should you be trying to get in early on movements,  but you should try to create them surrounding your brand or product. 

When your product is a part of a greater experience or community, it becomes more than just another item that gathers dust on someone’s shelf. It takes on a life of its own that may lead to more sales or brand opportunities in the future.

Derek Sivers wraps up his message with some advice that we should all remember as we navigate our own careers, relationships, and lives in general:  

“When you see a lone nut doing something great, have the courage to stand up and join in.”

[For the record, this is me also calling our CEO a “lone nut”.]    :) 

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