Sunday, April 24, 2011

To Influence of Not Influence...That is the Question

“Do you want to be a positive influence in the world…remember that your influence begins with you and ripples outward…. “    -John Heider   

When I was younger, my mother would take my sisters and I to the pond, where we would sit and stare at the sun, and enjoy the beautiful water before us. One day, she gave each of us a small rock and told us to take turns throwing them into the water. Julia threw hers…then Dakota, both causing a small change in the water. It was my turn. Running the rough edges of the rock over my fingers, I was ready to throw it. With all my might I raised my arm and tossed the rock, releasing it into the air, and then watched it land in the middle of the pond. I realized the water gave the same effect to me as it did my sisters- one ripple after another; they grew and stretched throughout the pond. This is one of those moments in life that I look back on and know that my mother was trying to teach us a lesson…

Let me introduce you to a subject that is very relative to the ripple effect that we are familiar with:
1. A sudden gathering of force, as of public opinion: a groundswell of antiwar sentiment.
2. A broad deep undulation of the ocean, often caused by a distant storm or an earthquake.

According to geology, groundswell is a ripple within the ocean. It is a force that is usually caused by strong winds over long distances.  However, Josh Bernoff, author of the book "Groundswell", offers a new theory and meaning to something I would like to dub as the “groundswell effect.” In Bernoff’s terms, a groundswell is something that everyone should be talking about. It’s a social trend in which people, you and I, are motivated to use technologies to get the things we need from one another, rather than traditional institutions. This new trend has shifted the balance of power from institutions to consumers: us. Through the ever-changing modes of technology we are able to challenge a business head on and potentially ruin their image. Some recent cases that reveal this shift are the BP oil spill and Kenneth Cole and his chaos with Cairo. Amazingly, however, some businesses aren’t wearing away. They are thriving off of the groundswell. As Bernoff would put it, they have mastered the jujitsu of groundswell. It takes knowledge, experience, and eventually enlightenment to get there. Our author poses a question for readers, initially directed to business owners:

 “Are you more interested in a community for listening to what your customers are saying or for influencing them?”

It is at this point that we see that Bernoff means for people to concentrate on the relationships, not the technologies. If one “masters” the forces of the online world, they will still be lacking in complete success. Like the seasons change, technology is never the same. To master the groundswell, one needs to understand how the bodies move rather than dominate a particular aspect of the big picture. So, I pose the question again, what are you more interested in? Would you like to listen to your customers and work around them, or would you like to influence them?

When I was in the second grade I remember that my teacher had a plaque that said, “Just Do It.” Without hesitation, I somehow knew exactly what it meant. At the time, my mother had never purchased a Nike product for me, nor did I see any commercials for the company. However, I, and the rest of Ms. Bailey’s class knew what the slogan stood for: athletics, performance, wellness, and life. Nike is a powerhouse within the athletic industry. It is clear, from their diversity and reputation, that this company knows how to influence its customers. We see the “ripple effect” in action through Nike. They have the ability to effect and inspire people throughout the world with the company.

The following video, The Nike Courage Commercial, shows the triumphs and defeats of an athlete. The message of the video is that “everything you need is already inside of you…just do it.” Nike’s messages are always inspirational, encouraging people to continue pushing forward.

The groundswell has another side: us. In recognizing that we are not yet business professionals, it is important to highlight our role in the trend. We are the force, the wind, behind the “groundswell effect” that occurs around the world. We have the voice and the ability to be heard and seen globally. The tragedies in Cairo, though unfortunate, are a good example of the power we have behind the technologies we utilize; governments can even fear us. Not having a voice had made the people of Cairo heard throughout the world. We have become their voice in a way. This moment in history shows the ripple effect we have become a part of, due to the country’s government.

The video above is an amazing, and very touching preview of what one country can do for another. Because Egypt cannot speak, Italy decided to be a voice. In one of my previous blog posts I mentioned this quote:

“One voice that becomes a hundred and then a thousand.”

We have all we need in front of us to be an influence and pay it forward. I look at the groundswell in a similar light to voting: every vote counts. Every voice matters and makes an impact. Our voices are like shots heard around the world; powerful and able to affect thousands, or even millions. Wherever you cast your rock into the water is solely up to you. However, if you hold onto it, you will never know where your ripple would have traveled. The world is at your fingertips and you have the ability to make change, a progressive change. Remember, mastering technology is not the answer to the groundswell; know how each part moves and functions. I leave you with this question again: do you wish to simply listen, or influence and make a change?  

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