Ten Things A Movement Needs

Through the oppressive heat, and humidity, and driving rain they came.

Traveling in their luxury limos, and the family sedan they came.

Celebrating in their fancy, streamlined motor coaches they came.

Crowded into rickety, old school buses and church vans they came.

In broken down VW buses and specially scheduled trains they came.

From the north, south, east and west

From bustling cities, and quiet, tiny towns. From farms, and ranches, and suburban villages, and seaside resorts, they came.

For days, weeks, and months they made their way.

Full of hope, and fear, and uncertainty they came.

But they came, nonetheless

No one had sent out thousands of invitations to them. There was no website to check the date. No social media to get the word out.

And yet they came. And they kept coming and coming.

All told, a quarter of a million people descended on the nation’s capital all at the same time. All them coming together on the morning of August 28th

But why did they come?

Why were they here?

They came to hear the words they would never forget. Words delivered by the man who would lead a movement that would change America forever.

“I have a dream”

Ever wonder how far that moment or that movement would have gone if Martin Luther King had said, “I have a plan?”

Those who inspire us not only give us a purpose. They connect us. They give us a sense of belonging that has little to do with the selfish benefits we might gain.

They inspire before they plan

For those who are inspired, the motivation to act is deeply personal. So personal that they are willing to endure inconvenience, sacrifices, even personal suffering.

Those who are able to inspire us through a common purpose create a following. A tribe. People who act for the good of the whole. Not because of the plan. Not because they have to. But because they want to.

Because of the purpose.

1. Movements Need A “Why”

We often think of movements as starting with a call to action. But movement research tells us that they actually start with emotion. A sort of diffuse dissatisfaction with the status quo.

This dissatisfaction gives the movement a reason to exist. A why. A purpose. Both of them rooted in changing things.

People share a belief that current ways of doing things will not address the problem.

This brewing discontent turns into a movement when a voice arises. A voice that first provides a positive vision. And then shows a path forward that’s within the power of the crowd.

2. Movements Need First Followers

Movements typically start small.

In fact, they begin with one person who believes. And they grow into a group of passionate enthusiasts who deliver a few modest wins.


Movement makers need the guts to standup, alone. And look ridiculous.

They need to start with the simple. That’s because they need be easy to follow to succeed.

Then along comes the first follower

He or she fills a crucial role. They publicly show everyone how to follow.

A smart movement maker embraces the first follower as an equal. So it’s not about the leader anymore. It’s about both of them together.

It takes guts to be a first follower

You stand out, all by yourself, and brave ridicule.

In fact, being a first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership.

The first follower transforms a lone nut movement maker into a leader.

If you think of the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that makes the fire.

The second follower is also a turning point

Now it’s not about one lone nut. And it’s not about two nuts. It’s about three nuts. Three nuts is a crowd and a crowd is news.

A movement must be public. Outsiders must see more than just the leader.

Everyone needs to see the followers. Because new followers emulate the followers — not the leader.

3. Movements Need A Tribe

As these early movers begin to connect with one another they form a tribe.

That’s important because it’s the tribe that creates the movement. Not the leader.

But tribes are not motivated in the same way we used to try to move audiences or market segments.

Tribes are unique

That’s because tribes are not the same as audiences. Or market segments. Or niches. Or even the same as clients, donors or customers.

For one thing, tribes share a common worldview. They see the world working in a certain way. And they seek to change it from what they believe is wrong to what’s right.

Tribes are emotionally connected

They also share a passion. A common cause. A unifying purpose.

That cause is rooted in the change they seek. And it brings them together and affects their view of the world.

As a matter of fact, tribes are only tribes when they are connected. When people are emotionally connected to one another.

4. Movements Need Connections

Most message strategies are about telling people what to think and what to do.

But there’s a big difference between telling people what to do and inciting a movement.

Movements happen when people are connected.

Movements happen when people talk with one another. When ideas spread within the tribe.

Most of all, movements happen when peer support helps people. Specifically, helps them do what they believe is important and right.

Harnessing networks

Effective movement makers are extremely good at building coalitions. They bridge disparate groups to form a larger and more diverse network. One that shares the tribe’s common purpose.

They know how to activate existing networks for their purposes. That was the case with the leaders of the 1960s civil rights movement. They recruited members through the strong community ties formed in churches.

But recruiting new members to the cause is not the only way they leverage networks. They also use social networks to spread ideas and broadcast their wins.

5. Movements Need A Leader

Leaders connect tribe members by helping them do things for the cause. Specifically, things that the tribe wants or can’t do for themselves. They do that by making things that help. Not by saying things.

Through their connecting power, leaders inspire and empower movements by creating experiences. And by telling stories. Not through messaging or marketing campaigns.

The real role of leader

Leaders build movements by empowering a connected tribe to do things through experiences. Then they help them share their experiences with others through stories.

They create platforms that people can use to make connections. Both inside and outside the tribe.

Modern movements are digitally connected. Online hubs and social media make it easy for advocates to take part and spread the movement.

So leaders engage influencers to join the cause. These well connected people bring their large networks of followers with them.  As a result, they create new and true believers.

Building momentum

Fast moving movements assemble tight-knit tribes.

Instead of big numbers, effective movements seek highly committed tribe members.

They’re not on the hunt for more and more sets of eyeballs. Instead, they see that the real win comes from turning a casual fan into a true advocate.

Keeping the focus

Leaders of strong movements focus their efforts on tightening the tribe.

A tight tribe is one that makes connections with speed, fervor, and emotion.

A tight tribe is more likely to hear its leader. It’s more likely to coordinate action and ideas across the community.

6. Movements Need A Frame

Successful leaders are masters of framing situations in terms that stir emotion. But also incite action.

As movements grow and tribes coalesce, they use a manifesto to do that. A manifesto is a well-defined statement of the tribe’s reason to exist. It’s “why.”

What’s your why?

A manifesto needs to connect with the tribe’s worldview, experiences, and stories. To do that it should contain three elements:

  • A description of the imperfect world as it is.
  • A vision of what the world can be.
  • An explanation of the change that the tribe and movement are dedicated to make. Such change will move the world from what it is to what it should be.

Framing can also be used to apply social pressure to conform. For example, “Secondhand smoking kills. So shame on you for smoking around others.”

Explaining doesn’t cut it

Simply explaining the need for change, however, isn’t enough. Creating a sense of urgency is helpful, but can be short-lived.

Want to truly harness people’s full, lasting commitment?

Then people must feel a deep desire, and even responsibility, to change.

A leader can do this by framing change within the tribe’s worldview — the “why we exist” question.

A call for greatness

An effective manifesto calls for the pursuit of greatness in service of others.

It asks people to be driven by more than personal gain.

It gives meaning to the work.

It conjures individual emotion.

And it incites collective action.

7. Movements Need Quick Wins

Every collective action, every win, no matter how small is powerful.

Chiefly, because they show the efficacy of the tribe’s connections. They help the movement gain steam.

Movements really gather force and scale when tribe members connect with existing networks. And influencers.

So movement makers are very good at recognizing the power of celebrating small wins. Because they prove the usefulness of the movement.

Demonstrating efficacy is important

It brings in people who are sympathetic but not yet ready to join.

Leaders too often fall into the trap of talking about things they hope to see. Instead, they need to spotlight examples of actions they hope to see more of within the tribe.

That’s where stories come in. They remind everyone that, “people like us do things like this.”

Sometimes, these examples already exist within the culture, but at a limited scale. Other times, they need to be created.

That’s where experiences come in. They form the platforms for actions the tribe wants to take. And the leader wants to see happen.

8. Movements Need Influencers

Calvin Lee is a 40 something, unmarried geek who lives in the basement of his parents’ home.

More important, Calvin is an influencer.

His pronouncements, comments and bitly links drive the opinions of 80,000 disciples. That’s 80,000 people who follow his exploits every day. And each one of those 80,000 is connected to thousands of other online sneezers.

Calvin’s big aaachoo

When Calvin sneezes out information, lots of people catch his cold.

Calvin is like a supercollider. He propels other people’s ideas faster and farther than Wernher von Braun.

That’s why people like Calvin are important to movement makers.

Moves through networks

They know that tribe experiences and stories are going to have to move through networks. Networks of passionate “tribe influencers.”

That kind of motion is necessary if the movement is to spur action. Change thoughts. And most important, disrupt the status quo.

Influential subject matter experts, like Calvin, exist in every tribe

Influencers connect

These influencers can connect your tribe to people who can become loyal fans all at once.

The old, slow, traditional way of doing that was called networking.

It was more about quantity than quality. It was more about using people than being generous.

That doesn’t work today.

The secret formula

To harness the power of influencers for a movement, there’s a simple formula.

Don’t worry about how many eyeballs you reach. Focus on making emotional connections.

“Successful networkers look out for others first,” says Elliot Bisnow, founder of Summit Series. “They listen, they care, they want to help, they want to engage.”

9. Movements Need Experiences

Movement makers are experts at creating or identifying safe havens. These are places where tribe members can connect. Where they can tell each other stories. And where they can experience the movement.

In the past, such spaces included beauty shops in the South during the civil rights movement. Or Quaker work camps in the 1960s and 1970s. The Seneca Women’s Encampment of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Today, they are most often digital places. They usually include apps, interactive platforms and social media sharing.

What makes a haven safe?

More over, these are spaces where the rules of engagement and behaviors are different. Different from those of “the world as it is.

Instead, they’re microcosms of what the movement hopes will become the future. They’re places to go to see “the world as it can be.”

If you want people to act differently, it helps to change their surroundings. A place that’s more supportive of the new behaviors. Especially when they’re directly opposite to the world as it is.

Experiences create a space where it’s easier for people to embrace new beliefs. And to perform new behaviors.

Experiences are powerful

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

Whether online or physical, they’re places where people can come together. And act on 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.

Experiences also enable tribe members to reach out to others. Others who might share their worldview and passion. They do that as they tell stories to themselves and others 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.

When you add a person’s passion to a tribe’s shared worldview you can create an experience that connects with them. That’s because it leverages people’s biases instead of fighting them.

This gives those who lead tribes a huge opportunity. An opportunity that’s bigger than messaging ever was.

Opportunity knocks

That opportunity is to help people. To create experiences around their passion. Experiences that help them connect to others and together fulfill their common cause. And the change they seek.

This is accomplished by enabling the tribe to act. Through experiences. Not by telling them what they should believe or what they should do.

10. Movements Need Stories

Movement makers are experts at creating and using symbols and stories. They create a feeling of solidarity. They mark who the tribe is and what it stands for to the outside world.

Symbols of solidarity help define the boundary between “us” and “them” for movements.

They can be as simple as a T-shirt, a bumper sticker, or button supporting a general cause. Some are as elaborate as the giant puppets used in protest events.

Beyond symbols: stories

Great stories include symbolism. But they go far beyond that.

In fact, stories often start global movements. The number one reason is that they inspire people.

After all, a movement is a group of people who all believe something similar. As a result, they form a tribe around this idea or belief.

Movements are made up of people

And people are moved by other people. But in order for people to move people there has to be some human element that moves them into action.

Action requires people to feel differently than they did before. And the best way to do that is through a story. If you look deep enough, you’ll discover that every movement was started by someone who shared a story.

Stories inspire people

Stories have the power to inspire people because they are relatable. They have something that people can grab hold of.

People latch onto a story by recalling a story in their own life. One that connects emotionally with the story being told. One they actively relate to.

But, when you try to influence people with facts, chunks of data, and content, the opposite happens. They start to feel like they’re part of a boring PowerPoint presentation. They need an emotional connection..

It’s the story that provides the emotional lever they needed to be inspired.

Stories direct people

Why do you think people ask their friends about a product or experience? It’s because they are more inclined to listen to a story about it from someone they trust.

Stories are powerful because they are personal.

But to share a personal story requires some degree of vulnerability.

Not everyone wants to share a personal story. They’re worried what others might think about them after reading it.

But, movements are about being real

And that requires putting yourself on the line. It means you can’t be afraid. You can’t be blocked by fear.

The more vulnerable you are telling your story, the more likely you are to have people join your movement.

So stop being afraid.

And don’t just share your stories, make them vulnerable and personal.

The Challenge To Leadership

In a movements-based approach to change, friction is going to happen.

A complete absence of friction probably means that little is actually changing.

Find the friction

So look for the places where the movement faces resistance and friction. They’re often the places where the tribe, organization, and culture need to evolve.

That culture change only happens when people take action.

So start there

Tackle those friction issues after you’ve shown people the change you want to see.

Here are some questions that might help.

  • Have we created an emotional connection with people in our community?
  • Have we published some kind of manifesto? One that points to the change we want to make in the world (written or otherwise)?
  • How are we enabling communication within the community?
  • Have we identified and engaged influencers who can spread our cause?
  • Do we challenge the tribe?
  • Do we give them projects to work on together? (People long to be a vital part of something bigger than themselves.)
  • Do we lead the conversations where we want them to go?
  • Do we make it easy for everyone to take part, and then reward those who do the most?
  • Do we let tribe members recommend our stuff in their conversations? Or are we fixated on promoting it ourselves?
  • Are we focused on serving our true fans and helping them bring others into the tribe?
  • Are we acting authentically?
  • Do we really care about our tribe members?

Funny thing about tribe members

They know if you care about them.

They know if you care about what happens to them.

And what inspires them, what affects them, what improves their lives, and what brings them joy.

If you want to lead a movement, you can’t fake it.

But that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?