You can choose to have a normal life or you can choose something totally different. I’m here to say that if you’re reading this you might be able to choose to put a dent in the universe. There are an infinite amount options in life, you do not have to follow the beaten path. Be unique & be yourself. That’s the quickest path to making a break through in life. Steve Jobs pointed the way back in 1994:
“When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. But life, that’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually, something will, you know, if you push in, something will pop out the other side, you can change it, you can mould it. That’s maybe the most important thing.”
As Steve said, the moment you realise the world can be influenced by your actions, everything changes. But how does that change get transferred from you to others? Usually the best ideas start as little known ones until a group of really passionate, hardworking believers turn them into a movement. A social movement. And then one day, seemingly overnight it’s everywhere.
How does it become that way? I’ve really been lucky to see it first hand. I’ve met hundreds of entrepreneurs, a lot of them when they were just starting out. A great deal of them are now worth millions And every single one of them started as a movement. It’s a team and a direction, and a thing that helps millions, and possibly billions of people.
Today, we’re going to talk about how a movement is born and what you can do to build that movement.
Let’s get into it.
JUDY IS A PUNK
‘Judy is a punk’ was one of the first songs played by The Ramones at CBGB in New York City in 1974. A lot of people consider them to be one of the best bands in history. This was a historic moment for punk rock.
And the music played in this one music hall in New York City is now a part of our western collective consciousness.
You might not have ever heard that song, but you’ve heard the echoes of it in rocks songs for decades now.
So a musician might create a new sound that becomes an international phenomenon and just like that, startup founders might create a new product that creates new experiences that touch a billion people.
It turns out, punk rock has a lot more to share with startups than you might think but we’ll get back to that at the end.
So you want to start a movement? whether it’s music or startups, or social change or any creative endeavor, it’s the same.
Researcher Jonathan Christiansen said, “Social movements can be thought of as organized yet informal social entities that are engaged in extra-institutional conflict that is oriented towards a goal.”
What is extra-institutional conflict?
Conflict is actually fundamentally born of a particular problem. And the goal is to solve that problem.
Do you ever wonder why we call computers, personal computers? Well at that time, in the 70’s personal computers were a crazy idea.
At the time, only large businesses and universities and governments had access to them. And this was the conflict.
The powers that be didn’t even think normal people would ever want it.
This is how the dawn of the personal computer revolution came about. Here’s a quote from The Machine That Changed The World Episode 3: Paperback Computer.
Narrator: “Clubs of enthusiasts grew up all over America.Like the Home Brewed Computer Club in San Francisco where members showed off what their home brewed computers could do. From these modest beginnings came a series of startup companies selling parts for the Altair, and soon, whole computers. By 1976, there were enough of them to hold a convention in Atlantic City. Off in a corner of the convention hall were a group of raggedy looking guys selling circuit boards. Two of them would be come synonymous with the personal computer. Steve Jobs, and Stephen Wozniak. As teenagers growing up in Silicon Valley, Jobs and Wozniak had developed reputations as high-tech pranksters, all too eager to snub their noses at authority.”
Steve Jobs: “Woz and I had known each other since I was about 12 or 13 years old. And our first project together was we built these little blue boxes to make free telephone calls. So when it came to building a computer together, Woz was the brilliant hardware engineer, and focused on the core design of the computer. And I was worrying about which parts we ought to use and how we were going to build these things and how sort of, somebody that wasn’t a Woz was going to manage to buy all the extra parts you still needed to buy, and plug this thing together.”
Steve Wozniak: So I was not designing a computer with any idea we’d ever start a company, ever have a product, ever be successful. It was just to go down to the club and show off, and to own and use. Steve saw the interest, and he started coming up with ideas right away how this thing could be turned into product. How it could be marketed.”
And that movement ended up turning into computers on every desk, in every home and yes, now the one in your hand, and in your pocket that you’re using to read this right now. And that’s how it all starts. First, as a fringe movement almost 50 years ago, now society has changed completely. And that’s the lesson. Sometimes if you really believe in something,you’ve got to do it yourself. The first stage to any movement is this exactly. Emergence, or social ferment.
What do you want that nobody else cares about yet?
What problem do you see first? Try to solve it for yourself.
You might find that a lot of other people need it too.
If you find that a lot of other people need what you’re creating, that’s when you’ll find people start following you. Author Derek Sivers actually talks about this in his TED Talk: How to Start A Movement. That is what it takes to create a movement from scratch. Leadership isn’t enough.It’s about the followers too.
Sivers: “First, of course you know a leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed. But what he’s doing is so easy to follow. So here’s his first follower with a crucial role. He’s going to share everyone else how to follow. Now notice that the leader embraces him as an equal. So now it’s not about the leader anymore,it’s about them, plural. Now there he is calling to his friends. Now if you notice that the first follower is actually an underestimated form of leadership in itself. It takes guts to stand out like that. The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader. And here comes the second follower. Now it’s not a lone nut, it’s not two nuts, three is a crowd, and a crowd is news. So a movement must be public. It’s important to show not just the leader, but the followers. Because you find that new follower emulate the followers, not the leader. Now here come two more people and immediately after, three more people. Now we’ve got momentum, this is the tipping point. Now we’ve got a movement. So notice that as more people join in, it’s less risky. So those that were sitting on the fence before now have no reason not to.”
You could be the first leader, or the first follower. But either way, you’ve got to have intrinsic motivation. Really wanting it from the bottom of your heart, not because someone else told you to. You’re going to need to be able to champion your idea or your company, not someone else. If Steve Jobs looked to Hewlett-Packard for a playbook, he never would’ve started Apple. If Brian Armstrong looked to big finance for approval, he never would’ve started Coinbase. If The Velvet Underground just copied whatever was mainstream at the time the rock and roll greats like The Ramones and Nirvana would never have emerged. To be first, you have to really want it. You can’t ask for permission.
DO IT YOURSELF
And this is where we’ve got to return to punk rock.
We’ve got to talk about DIY, Do It Yourself. It’s a way of doing things that doesn’t require any permission from anyone else. Some people who don’t like punk like to say “Eh, it sucks, it’s too simple.” But to me, the detractors miss the point. This is real, this is authentic And most importantly, it’s unapologetic. It’s not trying to be something other than what it already is. And to truly embody DIY, you don’t wait for someone to give you something. You don’t wait for someone to teach you how to play. You don’t wait for a record deal. Nobody has to come and bless you with anything. You just pick up a guitar, and you do it. You pick up a keyboard and you start writing code.
When Henry Rollins was interviewed about how he got into Punk Rock, here is what he had to say:
“Nothing against Led Zeppelin, I have all those records.But there’s nothing on the record that makes me really connect with anyone in the band because they live on another planet. You’re never going to connect with Robert Plant.He’s never, you’re never going to walk into the venue and walk up and, “Hey excuse me, Bob?” But at a punk rock show, you could watch the band load in, say, “You need some help?”And all of a sudden, you’re a Bad Brains roadie. This could happen to me”.
The realness about that is really what makes it connect. And when you’re early, and alone that’s more important than anything else. Coinbase founder Brian Armstrong said that’s exactly what he did when he was building the first versions of that website. He begged, borrowed, and stole the skills necessary to get a website up. He didn’t look for a designer, he used the free, open source Twitter Bootstrap library, and it worked great. You don’t need the absolute best things, you don’t have to wait for perfect conditions.
Here’s what Kurt Cobain said about this kind of DIY bottom up pragmatism. And why it’s actually the best.
“We appreciate all different kinds of music as long as it’s good. Doesn’t matter if it’s on a major label, doesn’t matter if it’s a tape that someone made on their home boombox or a recorder like this, doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t even matter even if someone hasn’t even recorded something, to even have it distributed to anyone. If it’s good, it’s good. We just like it. So you know, we usually just play really cheap equipment and a lot of times, before a show we’re scrambling for guitar parts and gluing things together just to have a guitar for that night. We’d be just as happy playing in a basement, you know? ‘Cause sometimes that’s the most, that’s the most appreciative time we have with music is just being together, ’cause we’re good friends and we play music.
You don’t need perfect stuff. You just need to do it and do it with whatever you have, even if you’re piecing together whatever guitar parts, or whatever open source, whatever you’ve got. Many of Nirvana’s songs only had three chords. But they became one of the most influential musical groups in history. Later, they did end up getting all that money, all the distribution. But when the started, it was just the purity of the music that got them there. You’ve got everything you need right now. I can’t tell you how often it is that people waiting for perfect conditions is what actually prevents them from starting in the first place. If you’re stuck there, you’ll never get started.
You don’t need permission. Do it yourself. If you remember only one thing from this whole article, it’s this, do it yourself.
Humans have a visceral reaction to experiencing authenticity. Even at the cost of perfection. Everyone is so focused on being perfect these days and to that, I say fuck perfection. Do it yourself, and if you do it that way you might be able to create a movement. A movement that touches a billion people. That’s maybe the most important thing is to shake off this, this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just going to live in it. Versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.
So that’s it for this week. I really wanted to take a moment to think about what it would take for you to make a real dent in the universe. And that’s what I think you need. Keep in mind, whatever you do a punk rock DIY aesthetic, which means you don’t try to create perfection or wait for perfect conditions.
That’s one of the beginning conditions, I think for starting a true social movement. It’s crazy, it’s hard to do. But if you could get to that second follower than you can get a hundred, a thousand, a million or a billion. And if you do that, you leave a mark on the world.
Go for it. Good luck!