Hockey Sticks and the Need for Extremists

Ed Miliband, British Secretary of State for Climate Change and Energy (nice title; he’s also the brother of rising Labour party star and climate-savvy politico David Miliband), made a call last week to activists ahead of UN talks on climate change in 2009.  His words (via Edie):

“We need the utopians and we need the agitators,” he said. “We need the people who say that people like me aren’t doing enough.”

Ed’s point: vocal minorities on the fringes push the lumbering herd to action.  As a leader of that herd, he can’t act — even if he wants to — unless the rest of the herd perceives an outside force either threatening or compelling.

In markets faced with disruptive innovations, minorities work in a similar way — passionate niches of early adopters (or at least the perceived potential for such niches to materialize) drive firms large and small to innovate; their vocal and visible adoption of those innovations eventually sways the slower crowds.  Adoption curves are never straight lines; they most often start as sideways hockey sticks.  Trends fester in the minority for months or years or decades until suddenly everyone’s grandmother is a gamer with an iPod.

Two argumentative observations on this:

First: there’s an increasing convergence between both camps.  Many of the hippie-fringe-activist-agitators of Miliband’s call-to-arms are the very same MacBook-toting, ironic-T-shirt-wearing early adopters that fuel tech booms and fantasize about next-gen gadgetry.

Second: green feels like a hockey stick right now, but really it’s a roller coaster.  The mainstream had many of the same conversations in the mid-70s and late 80s that are being rehashed now.

I’ve written before about vocal minorities in meta-brand green getting left behind, but I suppose it’s more accurate to emphasize their change in composition.  The role of the maven has always been and will always be paramount; it’s the casting that evolves.

© Ryan Cunningham 2008

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thoughts at the collision of business, brand and creativity

I'm Ryan Cunningham. I help companies and culture play nice with each other. At CREATURE we call this Brand Strategy, a term that carries a nice halo of reliability and structure. Here, I'm just another guy who thinks about the world and writes it down from time to time.

The result is a pile of knowledge to be used in, and for, the future. Feel free to sift through the heap for useful connections.

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