In 2009, at UNC Chaple Hill, some crazy dude started a dance party. More on that later...
When we discuss leadership, we so often discuss being out in front. We think of leaders as original starters - people who are setting a new pace and a new direction. True leaders, we often assume, must be truly innovative. These assumptions are often true, but to insinuate that this is the only way to lead is a disservice to many.
To insinuate that innovation is the only way to lead is a disservice to many.
Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Marissa Mayer, Rajashree Nambiar, and Jack Welch are great examples of leaders who have been truly out in front. These are people doing new things, setting the pace, and pushing industries or thought forward. But consider some other leaders more closely to see a different style. Steve Jobs and Jony Ive are famous for taking something that already exists, re-thinking it, and making it better. Apple was not the first to make a mp3 player, a cell phone, a tablet computer, a laptop, or a watch. Yet they are always considered one of the most innovative companies. Howard Schultz sure didn't invent coffee. That was a deep part of worldwide culture long before Starbucks, as was the concept of a coffee shop. You see, great leaders and innovative companies aren't always first. Sometimes the best leaders are those that see the trend and lead us to it. Often the greatest leaders are the first followers and great executers.
There is a wonderful Ted Talk from Derek Sivers on this subject in which he breaks down viral movements and identifies that it is not the leader who is most important, it's often the first follower. The first person to follow is what gives the movement credibility. It turns something "crazy" into something "visionary". In fact I would argue that, though crazy innovators are critical, the majority of success is found by those who are first followers.
Earlier this month a new app called Meertkat was making waves at SXSW as a live streaming social network for your phone. Just this week Twitter announced the launch of their own app, Periscope, which will do the same thing (with different features, of course). It was actually about 6 years ago that Qik made a push to develop this live streaming market. Qik was a similar app, was purchased by Skype, and then subsequently killed off. Six years ago, Qik was still crazy. Meerkat isn't first. Twitter's Periscope isn't first either. Success isn't always found in being first.
Success isn't always found in being first.
In 2009 at UNC Chapel Hill, some crazy dude started a dance party. The video itself is far from "viral". That's not the point. The point is what actually happens in the video. The social dynamics of the event showcases our discussion quite well. When the crazy dude is dancing we all look it and think, "oh that's funny", or, "ha, what a crazy dude." But when the first couple of people join him, things change. It becomes a thing to do. These people validate the crazy and it becomes exciting and something in which we everyone wants to be involved. These masses aren't following the crazy dancing dude, they're following those first few who jumped in to validate the idea.
This is one of the most important ways many of us can lead. We don't always need something completely new and different. Sometimes we need to lead as the first follower, validate something, execute well, and start a movement.