The Real Definition of Influence | Part 2

by: CJ Casciotta

cover image by @dirka

I have a few friends who started a non-profit called Invisible Children that hit an all-time global involvement record when it released a video online called Kony 2012. Millions and millions of people watched the film, campaigned for the non-profit, and mobilized around the cause.

Whenever one of these friends speaks at a conference he inevitably gets the same question from some well-meaning person who leads his own non-profit: “How can I get my video to go viral?”

One of the downfalls of living in a data-driven marketplace is that it seems some people truly believe (or maybe just want to) that there is some algorithm, some statistically proven instruction manual that, if simply followed to the tee, will result in virality, influence, and massive popularity.

What most people don’t know about Invisible Children’s journey is all of the blood, sweat, tears, risk, and rejection combined with an incredible ability to reimagine the way people could be mobilized toward a cause that transpired for 10 long years before Kony 2012 came out. Our culture’s tendency is to think, “It doesn’t exist until I hear about it.” But in reality, Invisible Children made tiny, risky, incremental moves forward over the course of a decade before releasing Kony, which, in their minds, was simply another one of these incremental moves. The success surprised everyone, including them - the result of many little moves.

The problem with measuring the influence of our movements linearly through data like views, follows, and even revenue is that metrics like those have an ever-evaporating lifespan. They’re here one day, and while that one day may be oh so sweet and get us our 15 minutes of fame, they’re gone tomorrow, and we’re left wondering what to do in the wake.

Movements care more about “the wake” than those occasional, few and far between moments. It’s why the most enduring movements are, in fact, the smallest — the most influential, the quietest — and the most extraordinary, the ones piloted by ordinary people like you and me.

Recently, I came across a popular website that said something to the tune of "if you want to influence people, you've got to live a clear and meaningful life.” While that makes forcompelling marketing copy, it’s not true. The truth is, sometimes life is really clear, and sometimes it isn’t. I’ve spoken to hundreds of movement makers and they’ll all tell you their journey has at times been cloudy, uneven, and mundane. The wake is always longer than the moment. Control is an illusion. Chaos always finds a way to smudge our blueprints.

And that’s ok. In fact, it’s music to my ears. My 2 year old doesn't live a clear life. She doesn’t care about likes, follows, or if her cup of coffee looks perfect with that filter. She doesn’t have a meaningful message to share with the world. But she influences it with every breath of air she takes in and pushes out. She makes others stop, smile, think, and reflect on what matters. With every awkward stumble and curious discovery she’s becoming a movement, composing her own unique melody and rhythm.

I hope that in the midst of all this talk of meaning, clarity, and influence around you, the message you really hear is that you're ok. That you influence all of us just by being here (though we might not always tell you). Don't wait for the confusion to be over or the insecurity to pass. Don't try and tame the storm as instinctive as it may be.

Pick up your bow. Play the notes (even if some come out wrong).

Be remarkably ordinary. Be a movement.

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CJ Casciotta is a writer, journalist, and storyteller who helps people spark powerful movements. To learn more about movement making from CJ and create your own manifesto, visit createamanifesto.com.