Almost missed an historical event. Fifty years ago today a movement began...
"On the evening of December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for disobeying an Alabama law requiring black passengers to relinquish seats to white passengers when the bus was full. Blacks were also required to sit at the back of the bus. Her arrest sparked a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system and led to the 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation." (via today's New Morning TV Daybook email)
Darnell Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts interviewed for the Boston Globe, says: "Rosa Parks made a statement with her quiet stature and demeanor and sparked a revolution."
Fifty years ago a movement began...at least that's how the story goes. We'd like to think that everything happens in one defining event. Out of the blue. With one iconic figure. It makes for good PR anyway.
The civil rights movement wasn't hatched overnight any more than The Purpose Driven Life was an overnight sensation (Rick Warren built up Saddleback Church and his Purpose Driven Church seminars for two decades; those same seminar attendees were the initial evangelists for his next book). I'd read a lot about Rosa Parks and know December 1st was long coming.
No, everything doesn't shift in an instant, but perhaps everything is contained in one.
The other day I read a magnificent (and that's understated) essay entitled "Beauty Parlors, Barbershops, and Boardrooms" in the Winter 2005 Strategy+Business. (Download pdf). I haven't been able to forget it since. This tiny peek doesn't do the article justice:
Many people think of the civil rights movement as a wave of change sparked by a few charismatic leaders...
All of those things certainly happened, but they don’t add up to anything close to the whole story. The movement was neither accidental nor spontaneous. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, there was already a deliberate effort under way, starting with quiet meetings in homes, barbershops, beauty parlors, and churches throughout the South, to create a dialogue about the changes that were needed...
Something uncanny happens when a large number of people begin to speak about something new in a language that all of them understand. The conversations develop into something larger than the sum of their parts, and this affects people, in the same way that a magnetic field affects the position of iron filings within it. It got to the point where Dr. King and other preachers would start talking and the audience would finish with them, in unison, though they hadn’t heard that particular sermon before. (Later, Dr. King would be accused of plagiarism, but he was simply tapping the same field of conversation as the other speakers.) I remember being in the crowd listening to sermons and feeling the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I’ve learned that others have felt something similar at momentous transitions, from the end of Communism in Eastern Europe to the fall of apartheid in South Africa to the pivotal moment in particularly effective organizational transformations. It feels as if the energy in the arena has been turned up, as if there is something crackling through the people who are present...
But [Dr. King] was the most visible aspect of the field, which had grown so strong that it was impossible to ignore anywhere in the U.S. It was like a living example of the old Hindu saying: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”
As Dr. King became more visible, other preachers heard his messages and repeated them in their own ways. Television carried the signal further, amplifying it into the kind of noosphere, or large-scale network of intention, that Teilhard de Chardin has written about.
Sometimes I can almost touch the buzzing energy of a movement afoot, and there are certainly conversational fields being stimulated and amplified online. One swirls around the culture of participation meme. And I see other conversational fields that are disparate and scattered offline that could be coalesced and further sparked by expanding the field through online social media.
(How does this relate to businsess?) VC Steve Brotman reviews entrepreneur Bo Peabody's book, Lucky or Smart?. The gist, he says: Lucky business things happen to entrepreneurs more often than average who start "fundamentally innovative, morally compelling and philosophically positive companies".
Innovative and compelling means tapping into and aligning with the conversational fields that are already emerging within you and surrounding you. What are your customer's movements?
Or finding a parade and getting in front of it, as Tim O'Reilly puts it - that's the man that coined and promoted the notions of open source software and Web 2.0. (But he didn't invent them; he got behind the wave of ideas surfacing and gave them a boost.)
Or as PR guru Larry Weber says (the keynote I'm most looking forward to at Syndicate): "Build an online community of cancer survivors who spend hours together because it comforts them. No ads, just awareness that a brand makes it possible."
Yada yada, you get the idea...anything more and you'll have to pay my consulting rates ;-)
p.s. But of course the movement I'm most personally interested in is the movement of the self to meet its Self. And can we quicken awakening through conversational fields and open source wisdom? Or is that an illusional question? "Mind is a mighty ocean, a sea which knows no bounds. Words are but scarlet lotus to cure the lesser ills," reminds Ch'an master Huang Po.