How to Start a Movement with Your Work

written by  Ryan Seamons

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A common mistake when starting something new is to try too much, too fast. New ventures try to sell to everyone, new work initiatives try to change the whole company at once.

Sometimes the right unscalable trick is to focus on a deliberately narrow market. It’s like keeping a fire contained at first to get it really hot before adding more logs.

Paul Graham, Do Things That Don’t Scale


Starting is hard. This is true for starting a company, launching a product, initiating a policy, or adopting a habit.

In my work at Sprintwell, we call this concept of a narrow initial focus a small, hot fire. When starting something new, start with a small, hot fire of excited people.

If “change management” is actually a boring comms plan, you’re doing it wrong.

Starting a small, hot fire is the most successful way to handle change management (better talked about as transition). You start with a handful of passionate people who first test, then adopt, then evangelize.

  1. Test

  2. Adopt

  3. Evangelize

Many of the most impactful movements started this way. The United States has the founding fathers. Facebook started with only Harvard students. Jesus Christ chose His 12 apostles.

While a top-down agile transformation could be successful, most aren’t. A better strategy is to start with a focused team, then grow.

Note: This isn’t about a tiger team or someone else thinking about a change. It’s about someone adopting and exampling the change.

Why does starting with a small group help?

  • It’s easier to be successful at something small vs something large

  • It’s faster to work out the kinks

  • Excitement creates a pull effect as others want to know what’s going on

How can you do this with your work?

Start by answering 2 questions:

  • What’s one big change you think would benefit your work (or your product, family, etc.)?

  • How could you get a small group of people excited about that change? If you aren’t yet excited, start with yourself.

Go start a movement.

What have you been learning about? I ask this of my kids every dinner and love to hear a couple quick sentences from other avid learners.


Other interesting ideas I learned about this week:

  • If you haven’t read Paul Graham’s landmark essay Do Things That Don’t Scale, I highly recommend it. It’s one I find myself rereading often.

  • We all think we know How To Read A Book, but it turns out there’s a lot most of us can learn. This article from Farnam Street outlines 4 levels of reading and how to become a demanding reader.

  • 3 Steps to Take NOW if You’re Burned Out. Burnout isn’t just an individual issue. It’s a workplace issue. If you or someone you know is burned out, follow these steps and get help immediately.

About the Author

Ryan Seamons
writes about more human approaches to modern management.

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