Rebels and Heretics

How to spark a movement in an organization

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or SPCA is a bit of a misnomer. Though they have done great work as a non-profit to improve the general welfare for animals, there has been a darker story behind their public brand. The problem is that they also kill animals.

There are many reasons given for killing animals from population control to illness. Then in 1994, Rich Avanzino and Nathan Winograd led San Francisco in becoming the first no-kill animal shelter. Despite vehement opposition, including from other SPCA’s, they stuck to their vision and the no-kill movement later spread to other parts of the country.

On Twitter last week someone asked about books or essays that have changed your views on a topic you care about. I offered two texts that radically alerted my views in recent years:

· 1000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly

· The Radical Leap by Steve Farber

Both books have been instrumental on the topic of creating value for others and in building engaged communities. There was a third piece of writing that I neglected to mention though, one that was just as critical and is the glue that ties the ideas behind 1000 True Fans and The Radical Leap together.

Seth Godin has been someone that I have followed for nearly two decades when he first wrote on the state of marketing with his excellent book Purple Cow. A few years later he released the book Tribes, where he introduces the story of the SPCA no-kill movement and how leaders lead against all odds by building tribes around a vision.

Sparking a movement in an organization sometimes means being the rebel
Sparking a movement in an organization sometimes means being the rebel

It has taken me many years to formulate my thoughts into the impact of communities and how the dynamics of community drive change. I saw this firsthand in bringing together the Enterprise Sales Forum to gather sales professionals around a vision for the future of sales. I experienced this again when I launched DEVBIZOPS to bring people together around topics of digital transformation and engineering culture.

If I envision what leadership looks like in the future, it is not driven by the power of production or the reach of broadcast. As Seth Godin states, those are the tools of past influence when the ability to create factories and control the airwaves created captive audiences. The Internet has completely upended the power dynamic and given that freedom to all of us.

The new leaders instead look like rebels and heretics. It is because they come from nowhere and do not follow the traditional paths of power and influence. They come from the outside shaking up hierarchies and bureaucracies.

I shared this thought in a talk a couple of years back:

“The leaders of the future will be community builders first.”

If we look at the history of great political movements, we know this to be true. From Gandhi to Mandela, movements gravitates around a personality at first. This is to be expected. Over time though, the movement becomes greater than its leader, fueled by a powerful and inspirational vision.

Alone, these rebels and heretics would be easily dismissed and pushed aside. That is what often happens to the “change agents” that are organizational outsiders that are hired in to drive transformation or bring innovation inside companies. Alliances form and the bureaucracy quickly comes in like a fog to confuse and obscures all paths to progress. Then the insurrection happens and the heretic is swiftly removed, bringing order and status quo back to the organization.

Movements are not so easily dismissed. The community builders tap into the inner frustrations and indignities in others to motivate a desire for change. With enough people motivated, the ideas coalesce into a bigger vision that eventually becomes a flywheel drawing others to the cause and expanding the movement into a force not so easily dismissed.

The more effective leaders in today’s world will need to understand and navigate community dynamics. Whether launching a startup or being a tiny part of a global enterprise, the greatest lever in enabling wide-scale change is in the ability to build and lead a community.

What are some communities that have succeeding in your company? How have those communities been a catalyst for enabling change in your organization?

We help IT leaders in enterprises solve the cultural challenges involved in digital transformation and move towards a community based culture that delivers innovation and customer value faster. Learn more about our work here.

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Thoughts on developers, digital transformation, enterprise agility, community building & software engineering culture. Author 👉 https://twitter.com/marksbirch

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