Right now, the entire world is paying attention to a 16-year-old girl from Sweden who has taken it upon herself to represent a movement of young people united by a single cause. Greta Thunberg's passionate speech before the United Nations' Climate Action Summit has drawn both praise and criticism as it went viral this week, but no can argue that people aren't paying attention.
Regardless of what you think of Thunberg or her cause, stick with me for a minute. This isn't a column about climate change. No one is interested in my thoughts on that subject, which is good because no matter what I would write, half of you would be deeply angry or decide I have no idea what I'm talking about.
I'm fine with that because I actually think there's something else worth considering. As an entrepreneur, your cause is probably less dramatic than taking on a politically divisive issue like climate change, but I think there are four things you can learn from the movement Thunberg has ignited.
Thunberg wants people to take action--in her case to reverse the effect of climate change. Her strategy is to focus all of her effort on raising awareness and emotions around that single idea. She isn't shying away from the fight, but she's also not getting sidetracked by other issues. She's about one thing and one thing only.
Whether you agree with her or not, you know what she stands for, and how she feels about it. No one can argue that her cause is diluted by extraneous issues. Would people say the same about you?
It can be easy to let the pressure of reaching an audience push you away from your original purpose. It's easy to get distracted by the next shiny thing--but influence is a finite resource. How you use it is everything when building a movement, or a community, or a business.
Thunberg isn't proposing specific policies but rather serves as the voice rallying attention. This is actually a brilliant strategy because it makes it harder to detract from her message, which--at its simplest--is "please do something before it's too late."
The people who have ideas about how to solve the problem are flocking to attach themselves to her movement, which actually leverages the best strengths of each. She has the platform that others can build on. The same is true for you. Your job is to attract the people who know how to do whatever it is you want to do and empower them to succeed.
There are plenty of people who disagree with Thunberg and everything she stands for. Some of them are passionate about their disagreement. That's just reality. Whether you think it's fair to pick on a 16-year-old or not, when you sign up to be the face of a movement, that's what happens.
Instead of shying away from critics, or fighting on their terms, Thunberg has used every opportunity to reinforce her message. That message is that the people who have the ability to make a change should do that instead of fighting about it on Twitter. Her responses are pointed yet on-message. They aren't personal.
That's an important distinction because keeping on-message is often the difference between having credibility or not. You obviously care about whatever it is you're building, or you wouldn't devote your life to it. It makes sense you'd want to engage with everyone in a way that increases the chance they might care as much as you.
Finally, maybe the most impressive aspect of Thunberg's movement is that she has focused on things that easily scale. Last week, 4 million people protested around the world on the same day. You didn't have to do anything except show up to be a part of a movement. If climate change is something you care about, Thunberg made it easy to get involved at a large scale.
By the way, making things easy to be a part of is not only impressive, its often the difference between success and failure. There is no shortage of good ideas that never took off because they required far too much work for anyone else to want to get on board. That's even true about your business. The easier you make it for your customers and fans to be a part of what you're doing, the greater the chance they'll stick around and support you.
After all, a movement--whether it's advocating for a social cause, or building a community around your brand, is all about creating a sense that people belong. The fewer barriers you put between where people are now and where you want them to be, the more likely they are to want to come along with you. When that happens, you might just find yourself with something bigger than you imagined when it was still just an idea in your mind.
You might even change the world.