How do you build a movement? Patiently

A moment of humour to begin. I came up with the title of this post inspired by an old joke :

Q : How do hedgehogs make love?

A : Very, very carefully

So, how do you build a movement for systemic change? I believe that the answer remains, even in this fast-changing world…..very, very patiently.


This picture is of a Jaeger Le Coultre watch. This company has created over a thousand different calibres, or another type of “movement” for their watches over more than a century. Luxury timepieces like this will never go out of style as they represent patience and quality.

So, back to the subject. why do I believe transformational movements require great patience?

From my own experience, an area I have grown to specialise in is supporting leaders with transformational change. What have I found to be the secret to success? Several and one of them is absolutely to have patience. If you want to truly enrol people in such a level of change, it must become a self-sustaining movement, and that takes time. So, whether a change in a large and complex organisation, or a movement to transform society, patience is key.

Thanks first today to Chip Conley, who I witness building a movement around #ModernElder with real vision allied with patience. Chip recently shared an article in the NYT, “When Does a Moment Turn Into a ‘Movement’?” by Beverly Gage, Professor of American Political History at Yale. The article finishes :

“..we’re already living in a golden age of citizen activism when even high school students have the tools to organize a nationwide protest in five weeks flat.

Whether that protest or any other will finally be deemed a “movement” no doubt depends on what it ultimately accomplishes. One open secret of social activism is that nobody can ever really predict when, where, how or why any given issue will change from a lost cause to a cause célèbre. As my Yale colleague and gay rights pioneer Evan Wolfson often reminds students, ambitious goals have usually seemed “impossible” until they were achieved, at which point they suddenly became “inevitable,” a matter of simple justice and common sense. The movement is what happens in between.

A core discussion in the article leading up to the concluding part is over how seemingly easy it is to create a “movement” via social media channels. Whether it be #MeToo or #Marchforourlives or others, new ideas seem to spring forth incredibly quickly. The article begins :

“Five or six decades ago, a big crowd meant something big. When 250,000 people gathered for the 1963 March on Washington, or nearly a million showed up for the 1982 anti-nukes rally in Central Park, it symbolized a certain power and legitimacy, a collective coming-of-age. A major protest presented a huge organizational challenge, and pulling one off delivered a potent message: Here was a force to be reckoned with.

Today, the mass protest is often seen as a beginning, not an end — a moment of “bursting onto the scene, but only the first stage in a potentially long journey,” as the sociologist Zeynep Tufekci writes in her 2017 book, “Twitter and Tear Gas.” Getting people onto the streets remains difficult and time-consuming, but in the era of social media, it’s far easier than it once was. Now the real challenge comes after the grand event: Will the passion of the crowd translate into a “movement” capable of being sustained over the long term?”

I have no idea what will happen in the future, but I do believe that patience is key for any movement. Let us focus on gun control for now, and I will also reflect on the words of a master of understanding turning ideas into movements, Seth Godin.

Only just over three months ago, I witnessed an extraordinary “Moment” as Emma Gonzalez gave a speech right after her friends were massacred in a school shooting. I was inspired to write “Unthinkable, unforeseeable leadership” around the idea that the response of the young people in Parkland, Florida could be a catalyst for not only gun control, but also profound constitutional change in the USA. I then wrote “Emma, the world is changed by your example..” five weeks later when she spoke at the massive #Marchforourlives march in Washington.

Is there a genuine movement yet towards gun control? If it is measured by social media hits and airtime on CNN, perhaps one could be led to believe that things have dissipated in the last two months, yet perhaps not, perhaps in the background, things are being built patiently.

Now, to Seth Godin. Thank you to Alison Macondray (one half of the amazing double act that is AliMat , awesome “genius alchemists”)  for recommending the opening episode of Seth’s new podcast, Akimbo. Seth has recently started this podcast, but fans of Seth will know he has been writing daily posts for a while now (!). When I began my commitment to posting daily back in October 2017, I wrote “Make Music“, noting the inspiration I took from Seth, who has written daily.. for over..twenty.. years!

In this opening podcast, Seth riffs on some recurring themes of his, including taking the leap to get started, and then goes into how we seem to need the “big launch” for anything these days. Great podcast, and concise (only 19″) as he delves into why society has changed (and it well pre-dates social media).

What landed most for me in the podcast was that Seth said Kickstarter should really be called “Kick Finisher”.. as almost all the resoundingly successful Kickstarter campaigns are the result of building a loyal tribe, a movement, not of a “big launch”. Seth himself showed this back in 2012 with his Kickstarter for “The Icarus Deception” to self-publish. Seth could have had any publisher in the world publish his next book, but he chose Kickstarter to show what happens when you convert a patiently built tribe and movement, and his own “Kick Finisher” was massively successful.

Will Emma Gonzalez and her compadres build a movement that will see true gun control and even constitutional change? I believe so, and it will take patience.

Will Chip Conley and his compadres build a movement that will see both amazing opportunities for Modern Elders to make a huge difference in the workplace and them (my crystal ball) catalyse massive positive changes in how society views work, life and purpose at all ages and life stages?  I believe so, and it will take patience.

Who else? I give you one more. What difference in the world will come next for the force of nature that is Rosie von Lila. I don’t yet know, but I sense it will be big, and she is being patient. What comes next? On May 24th, in two days time from the date this post comes out, her first live event of a new direction starts. The title? “What comes now“. Follow Rosie on @rosievonlila on twitter to be in from the beginning of something big. This woman will help change the world.