21 April, 2011

What Doesn't Work In Network Marketing Doesn't Work In Activism

One of my Linkedin group members asked a good discussion question. I'll paraphrase it. She asked "Are you actually doing anything or do you just join stuff?

I've long been bothered by this question or variants of it. Nancy Lublin failed to convince me when she wrote about the virtues and value of "slacktivism" for Fast Company. Wear a button. Sign a petition. "Like" this or that on Facebook. Nothing wrong with any of that - and I especially respect people who are willing to be visibly linked to something unpopular like being a liberal or a Pitt fan in West Virginia but I think that this sort of wholesale distribution approach to activism doesn't work for changing your community or your world any more than it works for network marketing. They use different terms but too many of the well-intentioned people I know are spending way too much time sucking up to their "uplines" and trying to acquire a "downline" and not enough time selling some soap or some vitamins or some whatever to actual, retail consumers, too much time trying to become known as leaders without ever noticing that nobody's following.

if you've ever been in or knew anybody who was into network marketing you know that the guys at the top of the pyramid - the only ones who ever make any money from the scheme - lure people into their "downlines" with promises of a lot of money for very little work. At every level of the pyramid, there's a guy with a "downline" of distributors who assumes the guys below him will actually sell the skin cream or the soap or the nutritional supplements but, of course, everybody was lured into the scheme with unspoken dreams of just sitting back and getting rich off the work of others.

Trouble is, most of the people in your downline and most of the people in their downlines are spending more time trying to get a downline than they're spending actually selling something. Sooner or later, somebody has to sell some soap but almost nobody wants to do that. It looks too much like work.

And it doesn't make the person doing the work feel like a big deal.

Activism is that way. Many of the people in my world have fancy titles in orgs that don't actually do what they purport to do or hold poorly-attended meetings of the usual suspects at the Roosevelt Center or sponsor speakers that only the Already Converted want to hear. The expression "preaching to the choir" applies.

You don't change your community or your world by preaching to the converted.

Speaking of choirs, sometimes real leadership means telling the choir not to come to practice. I know a Georgetown, KY preacher who built his church by telling choir members to skip choir and do something else instead. Yes, really. Here's what happened: Georgetown became a boom town when the Toyota assembly plant opened and suddenly thousands of new people were moving into Georgetown. My preacher friend tried to visit them all and invite them all to church but there were so many of them he couldn't keep up. Every day he drove around looking for moving vans and "sold" signs and making his list of newcomers but his list got longer because he simply couldn't visit them all.

Every week my preacher friend asked for help with visitation and every week he found himself all alone on visitation night.

Then it hit him: most of the people he hoped would help him visit new residents were already at the church several nights each week for choir practice and Wednesday evening Bible study and so on so he decided to ask some people to quit choir.

"You sing off-key anyway" he told one man, "so I want you to give me Tuesday night instead of Thursday night choir practice." So, each Tuesday night, the preacher and the sour singer met at McDonalds, divided up the list and went off to sell soap, er, invite people to church.

The church started getting new visitors on Sunday morning.

Pretty soon, other members of the choir asked the preacher if he would make them the same offer he made the first guy. Before long several of the choir's worst singers were visiting Georgetown's newest residents on Tuesday nights instead of making the choir director cry on Thursday nights - and church attendance exploded.

Those of us who are politically active expend too much effort lobbying to the upline (elected officials) and not enough time actually making converts to our political views. At election time we set up phone banks to "get out the base" but we do almost nothing to actually expand the base.

I've known a lot of people in network marketing but I never knew anybody who actually made any money at it because I never knew anybody who actually sold some soap. Everybody assumed the next guy would sell some soap and that guy was looking for somebody in his downline who would sell some soap.

Just as network marketing only works if somebody sells some soap, do-gooderism only works if somebody gets their hands dirty selling the soap.

I recently joined an org whose stated mission I agree with. I looked on their website and they listed local chapters all across the nation and there was a button I could click if I wanted to start a local chapter so I clicked it. To say that my interest in forming a local chapter of their org was met with a total lack of support would be an understatement. When I looked further into the org I found that most of the "chapters" listed at the org's website don't exist. I sent emails to all of them and most of those email addresses were duds. Even do-gooders can be guilty of false advertising, fundraising by deception, and a failure to actually sell some soap and get their hands dirty at the local level.
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Higginbotham At Large is not affiliated with the website Dan Cain doesn't want you to see (refer to my April 10 post) or with any other anonymous website - even if that anonymous website quotes my blog or links to my blog.
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