A Response to “The Anatomy of a Movement”

Before I jump in to this post, I’d like to point out that I’ve met David Armano on several occasions and while we are not best buds, I do consider him a friend. Yes, we work at competing companies, but we have always been civil and friendly to one another.

But I digress.

Recently brother Armano wrote an article entitled “The Anatomy of a Movement,” and after reading it, I’d like to politely disagree with some his points and tell you why. Now just because I am co-author of a book that is all about actually igniting movements in the non-profit and for-profit world doesn’t means I know everything about movements. I only have my own experience to speak from.

1. I think what someone might consider a “movement” is subjective in-and-of-itself. We can all agree that the push for equal rights was a movement. But while the Boy Scouts of America is based on values, I wouldn’t consider it a movement (and, of course, others will disagree). The Tea Party? The Coffee Party? Are these movements? Again, that’s subjective.

2. Armano talks about “Ripple Effects,” where movements start “with a single piece of communication, an e-mail or blog post, which is sent to one group of people and shared with hundreds, then thousands, then millions of others.”

Actually, movements start with one person and an idea. A mission. Wanting to right a wrong – an injustice. The form of communication is secondary. It’s the idea that spreads and draws people together. And just because that idea is shared doesn’t mean that it’s viral. Just because something is viral doesn’t mean that it’s a success. It just means a bunch of people have heard about it or asked someone else to look at it. True action is key in a movement (and true action isn’t clicking on a link). Because movements aren’t passive. And when an idea is passed from person-to-person, it won’t be done the same way twice. Because when someone joins a cause, they use their own passions and voice to make that movement their own. So they share ideas through their own talents – art, public speaking, organizing protests, music, etc.

3. David also talks about how “At some point, movements become unstoppable.” I would argue that something becomes a movement ONLY when it becomes unstoppable, which is another way of saying that it’s sustainable. “Dell Hell” wasn’t a movement. And Dell’s response to it to change their image isn’t a movement.

4. Continuing on with the article, “So can you create one either within or outside of your organization? Of course you can, but like any movement they sometimes start underground and they always need a spark to ignite them.

First of all, you can’t “create” a movement. It’s not an ad campaign. You unearth movements. You foster and grow them, because you foster and grow people’s passions. You unearth the injustice that needs to be righted. And not every company or organization can do it. Some just aren’t wired for it. Others refuse to make it about their customers and want to make it all about their own product/service. And then there are others that refuse to give up control of their message (or the illusion of control).

Secondly, some movements do start underground, but not all of them. Some start in broad daylight. But make sure that you know it’s not something you try and build on your own without your customers. That’s a sure recipe for failure. It’s very much a “we” thing. Movements bring people together.

As I said before, there’s much more that makes up a movement than the things in the HBR article. But I do know that learning from doing is where it all begins. Getting your hands dirty and actually participating in building a movement is the quickest way to learn about the heavy lifting that has to happen and what works and what doesn’t.

Lastly, all movements are not the same. Sure, there are blanket statements that can be made, but movements are made up of people. Not technology, or products, or services. People. Different movements attract different groups. Different belief systems. Different cultures.  And that’s what you have to keep in mind if you’re lucky enough to be a part of one in the early stages. You’re dealing with people’s lives. So set the social media do-dads aside and focus on people first. If you do your job right, the technology piece of it will follow easily behind.


  • November 10, 2010

    Vincent Ammirato

    A bit chicken and egg, huh Spike?

    Sure a movement is going to start with a single idea but…where do these ideas come from. Who/how are those ideas propagated? I would argue that it doesn’t become a movement until someone *outside* of the originators circle decides that, they too, share the same passion.

    Jim Mitchem riffed on serendipity a few days back…I really think that is key. Yes, you need someone who is ready, who is passionate, who has an idea worth spreading but you also need an outside stimulus. It could be inspiration or indignation…it has to touch a nerve…provide activation energy.

    Very rarely does one person start a movement…people get together, share a passion, stoke each others’ enthusiasm, and things get accomplished. Singular people who start movements are archetypes (and often assassinated).

    My wife’s little start-up biz is a good example. She’s been extremely passionate about recycled fashion…deconstructing old throw-away clothing and making something new and desirable. She’s been doing it for years with little outside rewards or stimulation.

    But then a few outside people said, “DAMN, That is COOL!”. They took it upon themselves to promote my wife’s work…even staging “Vintage Fresh Parties” in different cities and inviting her into their homes.

    So, who started my wife’s “mini-movement” her or Nikki in Memphis who took it upon herself to be my wife’s patron and evangelist?

  • November 10, 2010

    Traylor Lovvorn

    Very well said!

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by David Armano, Melissa Clouthier, Spike Jones, Russell Tripp, rick champ and others. rick champ said: RT @armano: A response to “the anatomy of a movement” http://bit.ly/dmTnRz Via @spikejones […]

  • November 11, 2010

    Jake McKee

    @vincent – who started it? You just told a story about how your wife, clearly, without question “started it”. Nikki was the a catalyst for growth, so to speak, but she was reacting to something your wife had established.

    Spike, great stuff. Still processing, and have some thoughts I need to blog on my own. But great stuff.

  • November 11, 2010

    Vincent Ammirato

    @jake Absolutely, I would never take any credit away from my wife…but honestly, she was happy working for arts-sake. She was happy making costumes for our kiddo and skirts for friends with no ambition past that. Now we’ve got *clients* (national ones). And it really is because Nikki (a middle school friend my wife hadn’t seen in 20 years) became her advocate.

    It took someone outside of my wife’s normal sphere to convince her that she could take her idea to the next level.

    Nikki was indeed a catalyst…but it was much, much more. Up to that point, my wife was only looking at her endeavor from ground level.

    To use Stielstra’s model from Pyro Marketing….my wife provided the spark but it didn’t turn into a movement until Nikki provided the tinder and fanned the flames.

    For someone…some ONE person to be able to put that all together themselves….they would be near superhuman…an archetype.

  • November 11, 2010

    Vincent Ammirato

    I mean, isn’t that why people like Spike exist? To help make sure that all these complicated moving parts have a better chance of aligning/igniting and starting an actual movement?

  • November 12, 2010

    Ted Wright

    Like Levi Strauss himself I am not going to take sides as all are worthy but I will be selling “Team Spike” and “Team Armano” shirts at the WOMMA meeting next week. Of course, Fizz will be taking the proceeds of the t-shirt sales and using it as seed money to produce the Jones v. Armano cage match scheduled as the prime time keynote at the School of WOM event this spring. I mean we haven’t had a fight with this much potential since the much ballyhooed Keller v. Watts Texas Bullwhip Match of 2007. See you all in the squared circle.

Leave a Reply