How To Start A Work Revolution
A couple weekends ago, a group of leading entrepreneurs, startup investors, futurists, organizational designers, thought leaders, and technology experts converged in New York City for a social experiment called the Work Revolution Summit. The Summit was created as a launching point for The Work Revolution project—an advocacy group that aims to fundamentally reinvent the way we work.
As I reflected on the event, it occurred to me that there are many more revolutions that need to take place in our society—and that YOU are just the person to make them happen. To that end, here are the five most important things I’ve learned about how to start a revolution:
Find the right people to help organize/curate/lead
If you want to start a revolution, finding the right people to help organize the movement with you is by far the most important thing. It’s been suggested that at least three kinds of specialist are required for a revolution to work; I’m relatively convinced that multiple people might be able to share these roles (i.e. maybe a few people could together form a genius in today’s collaborative world?). In any case, as Jim Collins said long ago, if you have the right “who,” the “what” becomes much less worrisome.
Finding the right people to help organize the movement with you is by far the most important thing.
With the right WHO, it just works. I can’t really emphasize this point enough; please spend extra time/care finding the right people at the beginning. Here’s a few tips for how you’ll know you’ve found your kindred spirit revolution-starters:
- With the right people, it won’t feel like pulling teeth trying to find a time to meet.
- With the right people, the best idea will always win.
- With the right people, there won’t be too many blind spots (i.e. bad surprises).
- With the right people, you will make decisions quickly.
- With the right people, it won’t feel like work.
Everyone wants (and deserves) freedom to participate and contribute, but they may not want to lead—and that’s OK
In designing the Summit, we wanted it to be as “flat” as possible. We removed all designations of “speaker” or “attendee,” and everyone became a “participant” instead. We asked everyone to pay the same minimal fee—including the people we ended up asking to speak—($116 if you’re curious; here’s why the strange amount) to help us cover the cost of the venue and food. During the event, however, it quickly became very clear that not everyone wanted to “lead” in the traditional sense—out of 100 participants, fewer than 10 pitched work projects, for example. This “natural leader phenomenon” is something that should be expected and welcomed. Each person approaches a project through the lens of their own strengths—some are motivated by taking charge and speaking up, some want to sit back and process, some are extroverts, some are introverts, etc. What is key is that everyone (especially those who end up “leading” discussions) remember that each person has something vitally important to contribute to the project. Some people will stand up and facilitate the discussion, and others won’t—and this is fine.
Each person has something vitally important to contribute
As an organizer, it’s crucial to create an atmosphere that reinforces a radically open dialogue where everyone feels not just welcome to talk, but that their voice is needed. (This is why the “flattening” setup was crucial, as well).
Make the “WHY” very, very big
Admittedly, the “complete reinvention of the way we work” is a ridiculously large goal. But that’s exactly why it works as a rallying cry. The hyper-intelligent and hyper-busy people you need to get behind and participate in your movement won’t be captivated by anything small. It’s not worth their time. Furthermore, the brainpower these kinds of people have is worthy of an objective that they could never accomplish alone—revolutions are a community affair, after all. Build a “moon shot” kind of mission that can unify a currently disparate community.
Revolutions are a community affair
Space really matters
The idea of a “revolution” is pretty conceptual. But actual revolutions are about as earth-bound, primal, and visceral as anything can be. This means that the space you choose to corporeal-ize your movement in is really, really important. For us, the Centre for Social Innovation was an ideal venue to launch the “work revolution” idea. To help this über idea-ish idea gain traction in the real world, we knew it was essential to create a tangible, physical event that was grounded in time and space where “revolutionaries” could collide with each other. We also knew the space where they met could/should reinforce the “vibe” of the movement. Edgy, interesting, fun, energetic, progressive, messy, controlled chaos, bright, open, collaborative, curious — all words that could describe either the movement or the space where we met for the first time. All very intentional.
The space you choose to corporeal-ize your movement in is really, really important
Care about the artistry of it all
By definition, a revolution is BIG. It’s sweeping. It’s vast in scope and impact. This is mandatory (remember #3). But human beings don’t live inside some kind of abstract theory; we exist in a world with hard ground, boxes, barriers, and cubicles. This is why it’s vital to include artists in your revolution. By their very nature, the artistically-minded among us take the nebulous and abstract and devise ways to communicate that other-worldliness to the parts of us that aren’t left-brained. A few artistic details we included in our gathering: a cellist who played both days while people arrived; a chalk artist who sketched all the participants’ faces on an enormous black wall; a graphic recorder who visually captured big points from our speakers; a documentarian who captured the two days on film; a gourmet s’more-maker who provided afternoon snacks (complete with tiny blow-torch). In these examples (and so many more), the divinity lies in the details, and in the artistry of it all. The mystery of what it means to be a full human being materializes in a powerful way through creative expression. At the end of the day, a revolution is a supremely human thing. That’s exactly what makes it happen. And it’s exactly why you can do it.
Photo Courtesy of Brent Burdick