How Movements Spread

Once there was a little girl who loved yo-yos.

Nancy loved the way they twirled.

She loved the tricks they did.

She loved the way she could control them with just a flick of her wrist.

One Monday morning

Another kid brought his yo-yo to school. To him it was just another toy.

It was nothing special. So nothing much happened.

He was the wrong kid on the wrong day.

A few weeks later

Nancy, our passionate fifth-grader, brought in her yo-yo.

She was pretty good at tricks, but not so good that she was intimidating.

So she announced that she was starting the Yo-yo Union: an exclusive club that’s open to all.

To get things started

She brought three more yo-yos with her. One for each of her best friends.

Pretty soon, the four of them were out on the playground, walking dogs, and sleeping, and all sorts of other yo-yo magic.

Nancy chose her yo-yo friends wisely. Each of these first followers and early adopters was a leader in her own right.

A week later

There were thirty kids with yo-yos on the playground.

A week after that, it seemed like the whole school was yo-yoing.

The same goes for movements

It’s interesting that most of us only seem to notice the ideas that cross a perception chasm.

But the first followers (early adopters) are always experimenting around the edges.

The combination of adoption and network effects creates tension. When they create enough for a movement to cross the perception chasm, that’s when we notice it.

Crossing the chasm

Blockchain, game theory, Wounded Warrior Project, charity.water, TOMS. They’re all ideas that you may be aware of. Or not.

Maybe you engaged with one. Or not.

Maybe you’re a passionate tribe member of one. Or not.

If you are, it’s because you’ve gone down a path that looks something like this.

Let me talk you through it:

  1. Unaware.  I’m clueless.
  2. Aware. Oh, now I’m aware of who you are. At this point, I only recognize your name
  3. Categorize. I’ll put you in a category in my mind. Where do you fit? In importance. In comparison with other things I can do. In comparison with other ideas like yours.
  4. Uninformed opinion.Then I’ll form a quick, uneducated opinion about you. It might be true or it might not. Whichever, it’s good enough for now.
  5. Experience. I’ll try an experience to get to better know your tribe and movement. To test my opinion.
  6. Informed opinion. Based my experience, I’ll rethink my original, uneducated opinion and form a new one. It’s at this stage that awareness turns into knowledge.
  7. Connect / share stories. If we connect, I’ll share my experience and knowledge with others. At this stage, I’m willing to lock myself into the cause. To be part of the tribe. To emotionally connect with other tribe members. To contribute time, effort and money to the movement.

1. Unaware

It’s pretty clear that most of the world is unaware of you and your work.

2. Aware

Once someone becomes aware, they’ll probably leave it at that.

After all, they’re busy. And chances are they’re afraid of the new. It challenges them to change their minds, which is frightening and difficult.

But sometimes, the culture or your work gives them no choice but to engage.

3. Categorize

They begin by putting this new thing into a category. So they know what to do with it.

That way they can store the concept, the cause, and the movement’s reason for being.

People categorize everything. It’s a way to simplify their lives. Categorizing makes it easy to compare things .So they can decide what’s more important. It makes decisions easier

4. An Uniformed Opinion

Often, that’s immediately followed by forming an opinion.

At this stage, it’s an uniformed opinion. Basically, a perception. So it’s as likely to be an untrue perception about your movement as it is to be a true one.

The problem is that in a person’s mind perception is reality.

Working with perceptions

So your job is move people to want to experience your tribe. And your movement.

But it’s a huge leap to go from, “Yuck, they make protein bars out of crickets,” to, “I’m going to try one.”

The most powerful way to make that leap is through storytelling. Stories that connect with a person’s worldview make them want to know more.

5. Experience

That’s why experiences are so important in spreading movements.

They make the idea of your movement real.

They emotionally connect people.

They drive people to action.

They build tribes.

And the stories that they generate are monumentally more powerful than messages.

How experiences work

People come together around a common belief. A shared passion about something that needs to be changed in the world. (A shared worldview.)

Their reaction to that change emotionally connects them to a purpose. A cause that connects them together as a tribe.

In this context, experiences help the tribe to act. They bring people together to make the change they seek.

Going beyond ourselves

The most powerful tribe experiences allow us to do things together that we can’t do as well individually.

They also enable tribe members to reach out to others. Others who share their worldview and passion.

They do that as tribe members tell stories about their experience.

The principles of powerful experiences

Experiences are not about rules. Or about platforms. Or best practices. They come in many different shapes, sizes and forms.

But there is something that unites the most powerful experiences.

They are driven by principles. Principles that give them the power to make a difference in the world.

  • Great experiences are driven by a shared purpose.
  • Great experiences are empathetic.
  • Great experiences help the tribe make the change they seek.
  • Great experiences move people to share them with others.
  • Great experiences encourage and propel stories.
  • Shared stories propel experiences.
  • The best experiences become memories.

6. An Informed Opinion

After an experience, it’s possible for a new opinion to form.

An opinion that’s now based on personal experience.

An opinion that is closer to reality.

However, there’s a catch

Most people like to be right all the time. They don’t like change. So changing their mind is hard for them to do. As a result, their first opinion often sticks around.

So how do you overcome sticky, untrue perceptions? You’ll have to develop experiences that emotionally connect with people.

You’ll also have to connect them with other members of the tribe. People who share their worldview.

It’s not for everyone

It’s important to remember that not everyone will change his or her original opinion. But those who connect with your cause and your worldview will.

Movements spread through a few highly committed tribe members. Not through huge uncommitted audiences.

Personal experiences and human connections make these people reexamine their opinions. And when they do, they want to share what they discovered with others.

7. Connect / Share Stories

And finally, in step seven, it’s possible that the word will spread.

That their informed opinion will be shared.

That they’ll tell someone else.

Ideas and movements travel horizontally now

They move from person to person, not from organization to audiences.

So you should begin with the smallest possible core group (a tribe) and give them an experience.

Give them something to talk about. And a reason to do so.

That’s where stories come in

Stories are the language of sharing.

And stories are the easiest, most effective way for people to share their experience. Especially if a sharing mechanism is built into the experience.

But none the less, something about the experience needs to make it remarkable. That is, people talk about it. They remark about it.

It’s worth noting that whether an experience is remarkable isn’t up to you, the creator.

Remarkable shares

You can do your best, but the final decision is up to the participant, not you.

If they remark on it, then it’s remarkable.

If they remark on it, the word spreads.

If these conversations move your cause forward, then others will join you. And the process continues.

Easier said than done

You must be remarkable with intent. Building it deep into everything you do with the tribe.

That means that you’re in charge of the experiences that your tribe members have.

If the change you seek to make can’t be talked about, perhaps you should find a different change worth making.

Stories and experiences work together

Every story that has the power to move people to action makes a strong value statement. A moral.

Part of that moral is a call to action. Implied or explicit.

The most powerful calls to action drive people to a tribe experience.

Helping not hyping

Most often these are interactive platforms that help the tribe do something they want to do.

When your story moves people and then directs them to such a helping platform it begins an action loop. A loop that works like an engine to drive the movement forward.

It goes something like this:

  • The story connects existing and potential tribe members to each other. And to their shared purpose.
  • Their purpose is reflected in the moral of the story.
  • The moral drives them to a platform that helps them do something related to their purpose.
  • The platform gives them a unique, emotional experience that they want to share.
  • Tribe members share their experience by telling stories about it.
  • Those stories reflect their shared purpose.

For example

Here’s an experience for a tribe united in their struggle with color blindness.


What really propelled Valspar’s colorblind experience were thousands of homemade stories like this.

Each one was shared on YouTube by people touched in some way by color blindness.

So what?

So we benefit when we understand how our movement will work its way through all seven stages.

To do that we need to think through each step of how our movement will spread.

The process will work differently depending on the tribe. And the culture. And the people we’re engaging with.

But never the less, we need to plan for each step.

So whatever we do, we do on purpose.

But that’s just my opinion. What’s your take?