How many times have you heard the expression, you’re preaching to the choir? As if engaging with people who share your values and relate to your point of view is a limiting or bad thing. The adage implies that we should find other people, not yet indoctrinated, to engage with. It took me a while to figure it out, but the age-old adage is wrong. You should preach to the choir because that’s the only way to mobilize transformational change. If you want to transform anything find people who want to change, connect them with each other in a purposeful choir, and enable them to create an entirely new song. Proselytizing doesn’t work. You can’t make people join the choir if they don’t want to. Focus on people who want to be in the choir and make it easier for them to sing.
I used to believe that proselytizing worked to catalyze transformational change by convincing people who didn’t know they had to change that they needed and wanted to change. Over a thirty-year career spanning industry, consulting, and government I believed in and implemented a proselytizing model to enable change. For years I believed that if I just yakked long and loud enough, if I just put together and presented one more smart consulting deck, and if I adopted what I call my ‘Jewish Aunt” approach to management by nudging I would ultimately wear you down and you would change. It didn’t work. If people don’t want to change they don’t. Sure, there was the occasional convert and a solid track record of enabling incremental change to the way things work today. However, my goal has always been and remains transformational change. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how smart and eloquent I deluded myself into thinking I was, people who didn’t want to change, didn’t change. The 21st century screams for transformation not tweaks. We need a new theory of change worthy of the 21st century.
I have completely changed my approach and theory of change. Ten years ago I founded the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) to put this new theory to work in the real world enabling leaders to design and test new transformational business models in education, health care, and government. Now, instead of proselytizing I believe in a catalyst model of change. Don’t waste time trying to convert those that don’t want to change, find people who want to change and preach to the choir. You will make more progress that way. Allow your choir to grow organically. Trust the choir to create the playlist. Inspire everyone in the choir to be a songwriter. Celebrate and welcome diversity in your choir. The more diversity the better because the gold and best value-creating ideas are in the grey areas between our silos, sectors, and disciplines. The most effective choirs for change welcome voices from every range, weight, and timbre.
Leadership and mobilizing transformational change in the 21st century is about being a catalyst. It’s about getting a reaction started and then getting out of the way.
I remember back in high school and college chemistry learning about catalysts, the reagents used to get chemical reactions started. We need more human catalysts to help us get the transformation we all know we need started. Catalysts know the reaction isn’t about them. They know they’re starting something bigger than themselves. The social system transformation we need is bigger than any one of us. Catalysts have an important role to play but know social change will only happen by getting the choir started and getting out of the way to let the choir’s siren songs work their magic. I also remember from science class that the catalyst doesn’t get used up in the reaction surviving to catalyze another day!
A catalyst model of change is about creating the conditions so people who want to change can connect with others like them to create purposeful choirs. Leadership is no longer about command and control or about moving human capital around the organizational chessboard. Leadership is about inspiring random collisions and connections in purposeful ways to solve real world problems. It’s about creating the conditions to catalyze engaged choirs both within and outside of the organization. A catalyst model of change isn’t about pushing ideas down trying to convert the uninterested masses it’s about pulling ideas up to find their choir. We need to catalyze self-organized choirs around the world enabled to explore and test transformational ideas and approaches at a scale equal to the scope of the social challenges we face. Go ahead and preach to the choir.
This morning, watching the sun rise and drinking my coffee as I absorbed the idea of a new year unfurling, I wondered what song I would pick to mark the occasion — to set the tone for the first hours of an entire new year.
A raft of different jazz and rock and jazz-rock songs came to mind along with a classical tune and one hip-hop piece.
I decided my song for 2015 would be Aja by Steely Dan. But as I listened to the first few seconds of that song I realized that wasn’t what I wanted or needed.
I didn’t want a backward-looking song for 2015 but a forward-looking song. One with fresh words and surprising images that describe the beginning of a new chapter in life. A chapter I haven’t read before about concepts I don’t already think I understand but am excited to attempt to because I am finally ready.
A song that dances in my head and taps in my toes but also nourishes my soul and can animate my spirit. A song that doesn’t seem to have a beginning, middle or end, but is asynchronous yet flows sensibly in unseen directions. And flows toward something true I do not now know but have been searching for and lays it out before me to pick up or merely listen to again. Something light yet profound. Something curious yet familiar. Something obvious yet invisible.
Something musically that I can escape to whenever I want to that lifts my spirit and makes me feel like I am dancing while standing still. A song that helps me see things that can only be seen with my eyes closed and that has a rythmic melody that reminds me of my better self in better days that have not yet happened. But are about to.
A new song. That hasn’t been written or sung yet by anybody and can maybe only be heard in silence by the lyrical tenor I choose to live my life to in 2015.
And plays as often as I want to hear it on a new Sirius station nobody else can find but me.
I would like to know who the asshole is who bought his true love all the things listed below one Christmas and then put in a song to brag about.
He makes all the rest of us look bad.
And the fact this song gets sung over and over this time each year only rubs it in.
I mean, come on! Even if we guys got all this for our true loves, where would you put it all? And don’t you think by January you would be bored and tired of almost all of them, except maybe the golden rings?
Besides, I am guessing by the 13th day of Christmas, this guy declared bankrupcy, was charged with kidnapping 12 drummers, 11 pipers, 10 lords, 9 ladies and 8 maids, and was institutionalized or sent to prison.
I know having all this stuff sounds good. But do you really want to be with a guy like that?
Just think it through.
12 Drummers Drumming
11 Pipers Piping
10 Lords a Leaping
9 Ladies Dancing
8 Maids a Milking
7 Swans a Swimming
6 Geese a Laying
5 Golden Rings
4 Calling Birds
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
1 Partridge in a Pear Tree
Bill O’Reilly et al. like to paint themselves as victims of a secular conspiracy to destroy the meaning of Christmas. To hear them tell it, our founding fathers based the Constitution on a mashup of the bible (only selected portions, mind you, none of that keeping kosher stuff) and the Burl Ives ‘Frosty The Snowman’ TV special. So any attempt to reflect the diversity of our country around this time of year is not only unAmerican, but it threatens the very existence of the holiday they are thus compelled to defend.
Maybe if they got out of their studio once in a while, they’ll get a sense of just how well Christmas is doing versus any other holiday. Even here in the godlessly liberal/socialist Bay Area, every mall, business, or residential street looks like an elf’s wet dream, festooned with tinsel, red & green baubles, and enough mechanical reindeer & inflated lit-up snowmen to completely confuse my dog every time I walk her. (Not to mention the fact that Christmas has totally taken over Thanksgiving, and is probably going after Halloween and Labor Day next . . . )
Meanwhile, Bob Geldof has trotted out yet another rendition of his classic/monstrosity (depending on your perspective), “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” this time to raise awareness of Ebola, but continuing in the same vein of overblown rock anthem as expressed by patronizing Westerners. (Apparently, just in Nigera there are 3 times as many Christians as in England, so it seems like they don’t need Geldof’s song to enlighten them.) So in that same spirit, here’s my own overblown anthem in an effort to raise awareness of the existence of other holidays.
I’m not a fan of pop music but I am an innovation junkie. My daughter Alyssa, a self- professed Swiftie, has been pestering me to pay attention, if not to Taylor Swift’s music at least to her business model. She wore me down. Turns out, there’s a lot we innovation junkies can learn from Taylor Swift. Whether her music is your thing or not (I have to admit its growing on me!), you can’t help but be impressed with Taylor Swift’s business savvy during a time when the music industry is being disrupted to smithereens. I’m most impressed with her social media presence to catalyze a growing army of Swifties and her aggressive stand against Spotify as the business model war between mp3 sales and streaming services rages on.
The most successful businesses today are movements more than companies. Movements don’t market. Movements inspire and engage. They create an emotional connection through storytelling. Not stories to be enjoyed passively but stories we see ourselves in, stories we can actively participate in. What Taylor Swift realizes, that most businesses haven’t figured out, is that “social” isn’t an extension to an existing business model, it is an entirely new business model. Social isn’t a bolt on, its central to how movements start and grow.
Over the last two years the bottom has fallen out of the U.S. album market with sales plummeting 20%. Taylor Swift’s new album 1989 defies gravity with amazing launch week sales of 1.28 million copies exceeding all expectations according to Nielsen SoundScan. Swifties everywhere mobilized to make it so. My daughter, the fangirl, drove this innovation lesson home for me. Alyssa maintains a tumblr site dedicated to all things Taylor Swift. I didn’t pay attention until the day she called home proclaiming that the pop star had followed her and had actually responded to her question about all important lipstick choices. My daughter was so excited you would think it was a national holiday! That’s what I call fan engagement.
As if that wasn’t enough to lock in a fan for life, my daughter’s next post was a video of her 3 year-old twin nieces (our granddaughters) dancing to Shake It Off. Cute, aren’t they? When Taylor Swift tweeted out the video to her 46 million followers, our granddaughters went viral. Now everyone in our family is a Swiftie!
Multiply the ripple effect from this example of personal engagement thousands and thousands of times and you begin to see how social isn’t about pushing a message out to potential customers, its about pulling people into a movement. Talk about force multipliers. Social business is redundant. All business is social.
There is also an important innovation lesson in the way Taylor Swift has staked out her position in the music industry business model wars. Album sales are declining rapidly because consumers are flocking to free streaming services like Spotify with over 40 million active users. Only about 25% of those active users pay for a premium service without ads, the rest stream for free. 40 million streamers can put a serious dent in album sales. Spotify pays per stream royalties of between $0.006 and $0.0084 which is significantly less than an artist can make through mp3 sales.
Not many artists have Taylor Swift’s market clout but when she announced she was pulling her music off of Spotify it sent a clear message to the market. Content matters and should be paid for. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed and in a Yahoo interview she makes her point of view clear.
“Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for”.
“I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music”.
In a world where content can be digitized and the marginal cost of global distribution is virtually zero consumers have been conditioned to get content for free. It’s a business model free for all. Content producers have been squeezed mercilessly. Journalists, authors, and musicians are being decimated. Newspaper and magazine journalists have been let go in droves left to scramble to make ends meet as free agents. Authors bear the brunt of collateral damage from the battle between Hachette and Amazon. Fewer and fewer musicians can make a living pursuing their passion.
A dangerous narrative has emerged in which content creators are supposed to just accept that their content will be free. Authors are expected to write articles and books for free so they can make money giving speeches and doing consulting work. Musicians are expected to release music for peanuts so they can make money on the road doing concerts.
I have personally fallen into this trap as a steady content producer including tweets, blogs, articles, and even a book. How many of us keep pumping out content for free or very little money in the hopes that it will translate into value in other ways? Taylor Swift is taking an impressive stand. Yes it is in her best interest to do so but it is also in the interest of content creators everywhere.
Many new business models will emerge in the digital era. It will be messy while the market sorts out and balances consumer, platform, and content creator interests. Business models that don’t recognize the power of customer engagement and fully value the contribution of content creators are unsustainable. This new Swiftie is rooting for Taylor Swift’s continued success.
I used to think the professional life span of a rock and roll group was about the same as an NFL lineman. 4 or 5 years on average. In a few exceptional cases maybe a little longer. But never more than the culturally transofrmative Beatles who survived together for a stunning 10 consecutive years. Longevity was never a concept that seemed applicable to rock and roll.
At least that is what I believed as a boy who was born in 1963 and watched rock legends and one hit wonders whizz by me like cars passing through a busy intersection. Whatever flashy car caught my attention was soon gone and replaced with a new flashy car –and so it went.
But there was one exception even tben. The Rolling Stones were formed in 1962 and several years after the Beatles disbanded, I read an artcile in Rolling Stone about how remarkable it was that the Stones were still standing the test of time — rocking into their 12 consecutive year. Nearly unthinkable in 1974.
But that was 40 years ago. And now as the Stones rock into their 52nd year (longer than my entire life) — they are still the gold standard for all rock bands — and they have helped make the concept of longevity in the context of rock and roll wholly compatible. Thankfully.
I often struggle to reconcile my progressive values with my love of shopping. I don’t want to patronize companies whose policies are at odds with the environment, LGBTQ rights, fair treatment of workers, and so on, but I also love a good bargain. (My ultra-liberal husband gets weekly updates on which businesses we should avoid based on a wide variety of criteria, making it almost impossible to find an acceptable retailer or gas station!)
But fortunately, it turns out that there is a retailer which is ‘good and good for you,’ where we don’t need to sacrifice our own needs for those of the community – and it even manages to make great profits while espousing progressive values. In any head-to-head comparison with Walmart, and Costco comes up on top regarding employee benefits & wages, ratio of executive to average worker pay, overall customer satisfaction, AND profit. Meanwhile, there are all the stories lately about Walmart forcing employees to work on Thanksgiving, spending a fortune on lobbyists while paying employees poorly, and making taxpayers pay to compensate for those lousy wages and huge executive bonuses, not to mention the pitifully small fraction of a percent the Walmart heirs contribute to any kind of charity, and the Scrooge-like requests for employees to donate canned food to their equally underpaid colleagues.
Isn’t it great to be able to feel morally superior while getting a great deal on everything from toilet paper to tires?
One of the best scenes in Blazing Saddles is when the railroad workers negotiate with Rock Ridge to help build the ‘false front’ town that will fool Hedley Lamarr’s evil army. The racially mixed workers want to be repaid with land in town, and at first the townspeople object to including various ethnic groups. Eventually they agree to accept the Chinese and African Americans but “we don’t want the Irish.” However, when Sheriff Bart insists, the group’s leader finally says, “Oh, prairie sh*t, everyone!” and a happy ending ensues.
Apparently, not much has changed in 40 years (I know, those of us who remember when that movie first came out are OLD), as far as some people’s reactions to President Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration reform. Right-wing stalwarts like Michele Bachmann and Steve King project a ruined country overtaken by illiterate criminals, and even saner politicians are accusing Obama of acting like a tyrant, emperor, king, or dictator, when multiple Republican presidents (including ‘Saint Reagan’) did basically the same thing without any protest.
Meanwhile, there are very few of us in the country today whose anceestors weren’t immigrants at one time, so to help everyone chill out a bit, here’s a relaxing musical tribute to immigration . . .
I have some idea now what it feels like to cancel a concert tour.
The past week I have been listening to Pearl Jam every morning.
It has become too exhausting for me to tap into my inner Eddie Vedder every morning for an entire week.
This morning I decided I needed to take a break from listening to Pearl Jam due to exhaustion.
I am going to listen to Paul Simon instead. Who is smaller and has a much softer persona to tap into than Eddie Vedder. I am not cancelling the entire Pearl Jam tour, so to speak. I just need a few days of Paul Simon to rest and recuperate.
I may be ready to listen to Pearl Jam again as early as next week — especially if I focus on listening to Simon’s later works, which are akin to eating chicken soup. And may help restore my voice which has become a little scratchy from the Pearl Jam singing this past week.
While I have the utmost respect for this site’s bipartisanship, readers know my views skew quite left. However, I like to think that humor and music have bipartisan appeal – I grew up in Orange County (the red state in the middle of California . . . . cue rim shot), and even my most rabidly rightwing classmates will tell me they enjoy my videos, even if they know I’m totally wrong about everything.
So in that spirit, this week’s song, while still partisan, is an effort to please everyone. Republicans can gloat over the political mistakes by Democrats I cite, Democrats can appreciate the strategic advice going forward, apolitical types can enjoy the bouncy catchy tune, and everyone can laugh at this middle-aged suburban Jewish mother imitating an adorabale pop star who is only 20.