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  • Dave Caperton

Start A Joyful Movement

We’ve all worked with joy-killers (if you can’t think of any, it might be that the people who have worked with you can). You know the person who always says things like, “No good deed goes unpunished,” or meets good news with “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” and invokes Murphy’s Law as if it were really a thing. They are also the chronic complainers who take it as their personal mission to shoot holes in every new idea and deride any flash of enthusiasm as naïve.


You might think that people like this are annoying but mostly harmless. In isolation, they are, but they are often pretty good at evangelizing and winning converts. In workplaces where a joy-killer is influential, an entire culture can become infected with negativity. To be fair, that infection spreads faster in a workplace where questionable decision-making, arrogant leadership and poor communication has already undermined trust, but even otherwise healthy work environments aren’t immune.


In an excellent Ted Talk video, Derek Sivers, the founder of “CD Baby” (an online CD service for independent musicians) discusses what it takes to start a movement. To illustrate his point, he shows a video of an outdoor gathering of people with one lone shirtless figure dancing in a style that looks less like dancing and more like someone being attacked by bees. For a while, the figure remains alone and draws amused stares from the people nearby. Suddenly, a second figure jumps in beside him and starts the same flailing and twisting. This first convert is crucial, he explains, because he is the one who transforms what was a lone nut into a leader. And the convert also shows others how to follow. When a third dancer joins in he lowers the risks to others and within seconds a tipping point is reached and people literally run to join in. Now, he says—as dozens of people flock from all direction and begin the goofy gyrations—it’s a movement. What the video demonstrates is both counterintuitive and profound in its implications: few people really follow leaders, but most people will follow other followers.


To stop negativism from spreading into a movement requires more than insight, but some strategies. It’s easy to say get rid of the sources of negativity, and it would be handy to purge all purveyors of bad attitudes in your organization, but that’s not always possible. A more effective focus is not on the stopping something, but in starting something better. People need to belong and in a vacuum, any group is better than no group. So it’s important to be proactive. If you want joy and positivity in your workplace, create a movement. You’ll need leaders, but more importantly, you’ll need followers who will show others how to follow, then publicize the movement and win converts. Don’t be afraid to be audacious. Whatever starts has to be distinctive enough to draw some attention. Here’s a quick start guide to creating a joyful movement starting now:


  1. Really define what your dance will be (fanatical customer focus, radical recognition, a huge health and wellness initiative, an engaged and joyful workplace). This is laser focus time. This is a mission and without knowing what you’re trying to start and what it will look like, you risk bungling an attempt at change which can make the naysayers look insightful. Disaster!

  2. Draft leaders with passion who don’t mind being the lone nut dancing

  3. Recruit the first two or three followers. These are people who get what you’re trying to create and can model the specific behaviors you want others to follow. Remember, people follow other followers.

  4. Publicize! Use social media, public events, graphics and phrases that make your movement visible and understandable.

  5. Create status. More than money or any other compensation element, we want to feel part of something. Why not make it something positive where people gain acceptance and status for doing something good? Make it unique, good-humored and emblematic of insider status. Don’t be bland. It might be an article of clothing, a patch, a trophy, a hall of fame wall, but whatever it is, be bold. No plaques, no mugs, no ugly tee shirts. The thing isn’t as important as what it symbolizes and if you want to create joyfulness and enthusiasm, come up with symbols that say you’re having fun.

  6. Go with it. Now that you’ve got something started, no stalling out. It’s a movement, not a destination. The fun of a movement is getting aboard and seeing where it can take you.

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