Leadership is over glorified. It’s really the first follower that transforms the lone nut into a leader. If you really care about starting a movement have the courage to follow and show others how to follow. When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first one to stand up, and join in.
This lesson comes to me via Derek Sivers‘ 3 minute TED Talk in 2010. As a subscriber to the TED Podcast I get to glimpse into the highlights of these talks, and hopefully one day, I’ll get a chance to go. Though the reference he uses to illustrate his point is silly, it makes a very interesting discussion point.
What makes this point fascinating is that there is an incredible amount of emphasis in original thinking in the Creative realms. The old vanguard relies heavily on original, innovative thinking. Even outside Creative Advertising/Marketing and the Arts, we as a society have coined dozens of idioms to emphasize ‘individuality’. Things like:
- Be Yourself
- March to the beat of your own drum’
- Go against the grain
- Look out for number 1
- ‘Weird is different, and different is good.’
Even taking a look around the internet, you can find dozens, if not hundreds of quotes from historical and famous figures all touting the perks of individuality. On paper, our society thrives on people doing their own thing, being who they want to be. In fact, some of our most heralded people are so because they went against the grain and did something different. Change is engendered by people who fly out from the mainstream and tackle the new world. There is much we wouldn’t have if it weren’t for people like Christopher Columbus, Richard Branson, Rosa Parks or Stephen Hawking – people who shirk convention and fight for or explore their own beliefs.
So it seems counterintuitive to suggest that there is some kind of benefit to being a follower. But you have to think beyond Christopher Columbus, think behind Hawking. Where would they be if no one said “Hey, that’s just so crazy, it might work!”?
There were three ships that sailed to the Americas, and it was sanctioned by Isabella I of Castile. That’s a lot of people who (pardon the pun) had to get on board for Columbus to raise anchor and sail off into the unknown. That may not seem like a big deal until you consider that it was common belief that beyond the horizon the world just dropped off into nothing. It was crazy talk to think of doing something like that.
The people that watch, listen and join are just as important as the leaders. Those that take a moment to consider what that otherwise crazy nutjob is saying or doing, compare it against the convention and decide that the new course of action is better are the people that make the change. Those that start the movement are really the early adopters – those few that glom on quickly, and drive the idea outward.
It’s an interesting perspective when you consider things like brand loyalty, fandom and activism.
This kind of thinking is something to consider when creating communication work – advertising, marketing, fine art or otherwise: Are you creating something that people can follow? Are you leading them somewhere they might want to go? Are you offering the audience something they can adopt in their own way and carry it forward? Are you using components to your work that can be understood or interpreted?
There’s a lot of people out there who want to lead the charge into something. The question is, will you follow? Or who will follow you?