Cascades: How to Create a Movement That Drives Transformational Change
April 16, 2019
Greg Satell's new book is "a guide for driving transformation change based on the new science of networks and research into dozens of people and organizations that have created truly historic impact."
We named Greg Satell's previous book, Mapping Innovation, one of The Best Innovation & Creativity Books of 2017. It was, in the author’s words, about the “tangled and bewildering” chain of events that led to the invention of the personal computer. His new book, Cascades: How to Create a Movement That Drives Transformational Change, is in many ways the inverse—about how networks of people, "small groups, loosely connected, and united by a common purpose" often lead to a “tangled and bewildering” chain of events that bring about transformative change. The thing that ties the books together even more closely is their clarity, and their ability to take a series of events that seem so tangled and bewildering and make sense out of them, to show how we can emulate them.
To give you a sneak peak, I reached out to Satell's publisher, McGraw-Hill, for permission to run an excerpt from the book's introduction about…
CREATING TRANSFORMATIVE CHANGE
This is a book about transformative change and the movements that create it. As we have seen, not all movements are successful. Some begin in a blaze of glory, make a lot of noise, and then fizzle out without achieving much at all. But others perpetuate and create a lasting legacy. This isn’t random or by chance. There are reasons that some movements succeed and others fail … and if we want to effect change in this world we need to understand them. As you will learn in the pages ahead, successful movements combine two aspects:
The first aspect, which successful movements often share with unsuccessful ones, is network cascades. Hundreds of consumers standing in line at your local Apple store, thousands of protesters rushing to flood the streets of Cairo, Istanbul, or Washington, D.C. Countless fireflies blinking on and off in complete unison to light up entire forests. As individual entities or even small groups, each is negligible. However, when they connect and synchronize their collective behavior, they become immensely powerful cascades. An industry is remade, a country overthrown, the preceding order is no more, and the world is transformed.
This simple formula: small groups, loosely connected, and united by a common purpose, is one we will see continually throughout the pages ahead. Anytime an idea goes viral and becomes a cascade, we will see those three components. That’s why movements tend to start slowly (sometimes taking years or even decades to gather strength) but grow as the density of connections between small clusters increases, eventually hit a critical mass, and finally explode (or percolate, to use a more technically accurate term) to create the potential for transformational change.
Sometimes, cascades can be spontaneous, like when enthusiastic fans do “the wave” at a stadium, with little or no planning or forethought. As we have already seen, the longtime activists behind the Occupy movement had been organizing protests for years—in some cases, decades—but nothing had caught fire before quite like their takeover of Zuccotti Park. It was an unusual confluence of forces, including the financial crisis, the political environment, and social media, that made theirs the right message at the right time. Successful movements, however, don’t merely wait for lightning to strike, but develop clear strategies to gain support long before circumstances trigger a window of opportunity.
The evidence is clear. In a world pervaded by digital technology, power no longer resides at the top of hierarchies, but at the center of networks. Movements become successful by expanding out, always seeking to widen their appeal. Those that continue to play to a narrow constituency of stakeholders eventually find themselves stuck on the periphery. This principle holds true whether you are seeking change in an organization, an industry, or throughout society as a whole.
In Part One of this book, we will learn how cascades work through understanding the new science of networks. In the late 1990s, researchers began to understand how real-world networks create order from chaos. We will meet some of these pathbreaking scientists and learn how the principles they uncovered can guide us as we seek to create positive change around us.
The second aspect, seemingly antithetical to the first aspect of cascades, is planning, organization, and discipline, without which a cascading movement will spin out of control. It was [the Serbian resistance movement called] Otpor’s superior planning and discipline that empowered it to inspire fellow citizens and topple a dictator. And it was Occupy [Wall Street]’s lack of discipline that turned off many who may have sympathized with its message about economic inequality, but were reluctant to throw in with activists who often seemed extreme, disorganized, and vulgar.
Where Occupy hurled insults at police, Otpor saw every interaction, even arrests, as an opportunity to win converts. Otpor also trained its activists to defend police against violent protesters so that they wouldn’t turn off the people they needed to help them effect change. They had more than passion, but a plan to identify pillars of support, win allies within the mainstream populace, and undermine their foes. It is not the passion and fervor of zealots that creates change, but it is when everyone else joins the cause that a movement gains power. Students and activists can protest, but it is only when everybody else starts taking to the streets that a true revolution can begin to take place.
In a similar vein, Al Qaeda’s brutal tactics were able to make the populace tremble in fear, but its inability to provide even a modicum of governance to meet people’s needs made it possible for [General Stanley] McChrystal’s forces to not only defeat it on the battlefield, but also in the hearts and minds of ordinary Iraqis. It was the “Sunni uprising,” as much as anything else, that led to Al Qaeda’s defeat in Iraq. It was also the Route 128 firms’ inability to see beyond the boundaries of their own organizations that led to their irrelevance. On the other hand, it was the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs’ efforts to build a regional ecosystem that helped create a global phenomenon. The reality of today’s world is that connection wins and isolation loses.
As we will see, these principles do not just apply to the examples discussed above, but were also utilized by successful movements throughout history, such as those led by Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and those who struggled to win LGBT rights. Their salience is not confined to political revolutions, either, but can be applied to transformational change in any context. Corporate revolutionaries, such as Lou Gerstner at IBM and Paul O’Neill at Alcoa, as well as other leaders, like Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church, applied many of the same precepts, as did the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a movement to decrease preventable deaths in hospitals, and 100Kin10, a movement to recruit and train 100,000 STEM teachers in 10 years.
Part Two of this book will explain how to apply the concepts of planning, organization, and discipline to harness the power of network cascades to create your own brand of transformational change. We will see how creating clear purpose and values, devising a plan to win over converts in the populace as well as within institutions, can help you make a positive difference in the world.
If you want to create change—real change, not just make noise—you will find these principles invaluable. They will be your playbook for making a true difference in the things you care deeply about. But before we get into the specifics of how transformational change is created, let’s first take a look inside a true revolution. This is my personal story of how I first came to understand the power of network cascades and the movements they spawn.
It starts in the fall of 2004 in Kyiv, Ukraine, when I woke up one morning to find that my world had completely, unalterably changed.
Excerpted from Cascades: How to Create a Movement That Drives Transformational Change.
Published by McGraw-Hill Professional.
Copyright © by Greg Satell.
All rights reserved
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greg Satell is a writer, speaker, innovation adviser, and one of today's most recognized experts on transformational change. As co-CEO of KP Media, a $100 million enterprise, he managed a portfolio of Ukrainian media brands, including the Kyiv Post and Korrespondent, two news organizations that played pivotal roles in the Orange Revolution.
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