When you think of the word activist, what image pops into your head? Do you think of a person who takes immense physical and emotional risks in defense of a noble cause? Or do you think of a person who combines eloquent speech with vitriolic enthusiasm and extreme tactics? These descriptions reflect our society’s ingrained thoughts about activists. Like our thinking about leaders, they are seen as the people out front and in your face. Activist movements are understood to a great extent through the lens of the people who are leading them. But in reality, activism — like leadership — is about the collective.
Unfortunately, many activists themselves buy into this myth that only the contributions of activists who are the most visible, and most vocal, are truly legitimate and valuable. This leaves a lot of people, and their talent, in the margins of activist movements. It also makes for too much posturing, hypocrisy, and abuse of power.
We need to move toward more inclusive movements where all people have the opportunity to participate according to their ability and will without fear of judgment and exclusion.
If you care about our world, you don’t need to wait for an invitation to get involved. While there are some people who take up a lot of space in the acti- verse, there are a lot of opportunities for you to make a difference.
When making the claim, I am an activist, you are stating that your intellect and emotion has been activated in response to an injustice (or multiple injustices). ‘Activist’ is not a title merely for the elusive and exclusive few. At the same time, the title of activist should not be used lightly. With it comes the responsibility to make a meaningful and significant contribution to the best of our ability.
The pathways through which we are able to express our activated response and take aligned action can be very narrow and, at times, nebulous. The purpose of this essay is to create new pathways so that activists of all flavors can visualize and actualize possibilities for participation. To do this, I will describe some archetypes of activism. You may see yourself in one or several of these types. By identifying your type or types, you can deepen and expand your contributions to progressive activist work.
The Visionary: You see a better world that others cannot yet comprehend or think is out of reach. You inspire people with your ability to conceptualize and describe possibilities, even if you don’t quite know how to make it all happen.
The Mastermind: You are a master planner who knows how all of the moving parts fit together. Your understanding of how people and systems interact fuels your ability to develop strategy.
The Evangelist: You like to spread the word. A social media aficionado, you have the ability to engage people through posts, likes, shares, and forwards. This passion for sharing ideas and information may also carry over into the ‘real world’ through phone calls and conversations.
The Artist: You have a deep appreciation for aesthetics and you use these values to challenge perceptions of reality. You are able to share new ways of understanding the world through creative movement and visualization.
The Mobilizer: You like to make new friends and build your network. Your action orientation compels you to connect people to each other and to ideals and activities that result in significant experiences.
The Harmonizer: You just want everyone to get along peacefully. Because you are always seeking new ways to integrate ideas and to be more inclusive, you ensure that activist work reflects its own ideals.
The Catalyst: You question why everything is done the way it is done and are always seeking to change both the process and outcome. You spark change through both ideas and actions.
All of these archetypes are important in progressive social movements — and there are others as well. Regardless of your skills and personality, you can be an activist and make a difference. Today. Right Now.
If you have any background in marketing at all, you have probably heard of the product life cycle. This theory is unfortunately not really applicable for those of us who live in the world of ideas.
Great ideas come into the world through a variety of means including divine inspiration, observation, and conversation. Regardless of their origin, ideas follow a path from the time they are born, their genesis, until they are ultimately either accepted by the general public or just fade away due to lack of acceptance.
The timing of the idea life cycle is nebulous; each phase takes an indeterminate amount of time relative to the uniqueness of the idea and the receptivity of others beyond the person or people who introduce the idea. In addition, this cycle is not necessarily linear. Ideas can go from one phase to another without any logical explanation. It is difficult if not impossible to predict how an idea will flow through this cycle.
Nonetheless, understanding how the idea life cycle works can help those of us who thrive on innovation determine the trajectory of new ideas that we generate and share with others.
There are four phases in the idea life cycle: emergence; vetting; legitimacy; and, finally, either assimilation or psychic death.
Emergence: The idea is shared beyond its originators. The idea may spread quickly, at a snail’s pace, or at the speed of frozen molasses pouring out of a jar.
Vetting: Other people are starting to notice the idea and gauge its validity in alignment with their pre-existing ideas about the world. People react to the idea in a variety of ways from curiosity to animosity and everything in-between. There may be a few aha moments.
Legitimacy: The idea is tested as people start to integrate it with their existing perceptions and worldviews. These testers encounter reactions to this integration and decide whether to adopt or reject the idea based on both the ease with which they can integrate the idea into their lives and the reactions of their peers.
Assimilation or Psychic Death: The idea becomes adopted by a mass of people, and therefore it likely also becomes tainted in multiple ways by the people who feel close to this idea; or, it dies because people so vehemently reject it that there is no way it can survive. Ideas that live on or die can enter any phase of the idea life cycle as people, and their views, continue to evolve
Submissiveness and leadership may seem like an oxymoron. Effective leadership requires a strong vision, decisiveness, determination, and tenacity — and I certainly can’t argue with that. But at the same time, leaders need to allow themselves the opportunity to listen to others as well as environmental cues so that we can strategically — and creatively — respond to the world in which we live — and make that world a better place.
Collaborative creative leadership is the process of gathering, integrating, cultivating, and cyclically enhancing the ideas and dreams of others, resulting in possibilities that we alone could not imagine or realize. Ideas can be gathered both formally and informally, through dialogue and multilogue, intentionally and haphazardly, as well as verbally and nonverbally. Ideas are everywhere — in words spoken and unspoken, cloud formations, passive sighs, and the distinctive colors of each evening’s sunset. Intuitive leaders are always paying attention, and are continually analyzing and making sense of their observations.
The ideas that emerge can be woven together, creating a unique tapestry of possibility — one where the colors and textures become more deep, complex, and alive with every passing moment. Each careful, delicate stitch expands and enhances the leader’s vision for provocation and transformation. As that vision is enacted and becomes experience, new threads are spun and woven into the cloth. The tapestry is not just a spectacle for followers to gawk at, it is a living thing to which they can contribute. It reflects something inside of them and something that inspires them; yet, it is much more beautiful and expansive than what they originally intended. The cloth was created by the leader, yet the image it projects was derived from a much broader source.
Being submissive isn’t about being soft, it is about being confident enough in ourselves and our strengths to listen, respond, and create. Submission in leadership is not an all-or-nothing proposition; it is a moment-to-moment process from which we can exit at any moment. It is also not about obedience and conformity; leaning into our submissive side as leaders actually challenges and provokes the world as it exists. Leaders are expected to be in the front, to be the point of light that everyone else seeks out and follows. When that leader instead ignites the light within each person in the crowd, the ambient but energizing glow of new possibilities ensues. Being submissive doesn’t require us to give up anything in ourselves, it provides an opportunity to receive and employ the individual and collective wisdom of others.
Fear keeps leaders from allowing ourselves to be submissive – fear of losing control, appearing incompetent, having someone else get ahead, or being perceived as unleader-like. By letting go of fear in leadership, we can creatively collaborate to not only reimagine our world, but to make tangible and sustainable changes.