Creating a Movement

By Rob White

I recently read an article on the Fast Company website by Charlie Brown titled “Be More Like Tesla: How to Turn Your Company Into a Movement.”

The primary point of the article is that great companies do three things: 1) have “a goal that unites” (both internally and externally); 2) create “clear roles for the core and more”; and 3) get the “rewards right.”

For the first point, “a goal that unites,” the author uses a case study about the clothing company Patagonia. Brown states that “It’s not enough to have a mission and vision on your website. You need a highly accessible goal that is inclusive and touches a core belief.”

Brown describes how Patagonia’s goal of conservation, which started with its founding in 1972, was their “unapologetic” passion and “led by a core of passionate climbers.” He goes on to say that “like all movements, Patagonia started at the fringe of societal norms.” Sounds familiar? Hasn’t this been a badge that Davis wears proudly?

Brown then notes that in 1991, Patagonia “nearly went out of business due to its shift to a transactional strategy.” But “then a lifesaving decision was made to re-embrace the movement strategy. From its manufacturing to its marketing, the brand consistently calls on its customers to act toward their shared purpose of preserving the places where their gear is worn. The transcendent goal that equates to loyalty isn’t gear obsession—it is conservation obsession. Using a movement strategy, Patagonia has more than quadrupled its revenues to over $120 million a year.”

To me, this could easily be translated to our community psyche in Davis. Renewing an obsession for our many decades-long tradition of research in agricultural, medicine and engineering would move us back to the creativity and ingenuity that fostered sustainability and adoption of alternative transportation modes.

Brown’s second point is “business leaders spend a lot of effort organizing the inner workings of their companies; they need to spend equal effort organizing potential customers on the outside.”

Here he uses the example of Tesla Motors, which “has the potential to steer a technology movement in a post-Detroit era.” Brown states that “Tesla’s customer, not unlike Patagonia’s, prioritizes shared purpose over the transaction. But Tesla’s savvy consumers need roles; in fact they’ve demanded them.”

Brown credits “positive momentum… when Tesla released its patents for use by anyone, including competitors.” He then notes that “to catalyze a loyal movement, Tesla will need to actively facilitate the relationships that form as innovations occur.”

Again, using this business point to pattern to Davis, we are not that dissimilar to Tesla in that we are taking a universal need (in our case food and agriculture) and building a research capacity that is removed from the normal centers of innovation in places like Silicon Valley, Austin or Boston. Tesla didn’t ask permission to locate outside the halo of Detroit, but it most certainly changed the dynamics of how companies operate when it released its patents for complete open source.

The last point made by Brown is that companies need to get “rewards right.” He states that “getting consumers to take action once is relatively easy–a coupon or a freebie does the trick. But Daniel Pink’s book Drive concludes that implicit rewards outlast financial hooks for long-term dedication. Movement-makers prioritize rewards that offer an exclusive experience or enhance a participant’s reputation, rather than just increasing their bank balance.”

He then uses an example we in Davis can all sink our teeth into (pun intended). Brown notes “the movement toward “Good, clean, and fair food” began with the gastronomical branch of ARCI, a network of Italian communist social clubs. People who appreciated food and wine but didn’t associate with the gastronomic elite began hosting tastings and trainings, which created structure and roles, in addition to generating press.”

“It wasn’t until activist Carlo Petrini created a sort of romance around the identity of both the niche farmer and the heirloom shopper that the Slow Food movement took hold globally. With a clear role and flattering reputation bump for each side of the transaction, and with the food itself as an exclusive experience, the movement took off. The Slow Food movement is now a global force across 150 countries and boasts a network of more than 100,000 members.”

Brown points out that “the rewards of supporting the Slow Food movement are implicit–the slow shopping, preparation and eating. Talking with a farmer at a Saturday market as you wipe juice from a peach picked that morning is an exclusive experience that’s unlikely to happen in your local grocery store. Running into your friends at the farmers market might even burnish your status.”

He also notes that “the Slow Food movement has moved far beyond the small farm heirloom tomato. It’s generated an entire special foods industry of companies including Whole Foods, Newman’s Own, and an enormous ecosystem of small artisanal producers who can charge a premium for their Slow Food cachet while also offering experiential rewards.”

Brown finishes his article with this thought: “The goals of creating lasting change and influencing the social norms around products and services are more than an optimistic indulgence, they are imperative. Companies that adopt this approach will strengthen relationships and create networks of advocates and innovators that their competitors will be unable to rival.”

I realize Brown’s article was written for a business audience, but I am hopeful that with a little broadening of perspective, you too can see how these three points translate to Davis. I encourage each of us to sit back and figure out how we reinvigorate the passion that was a hallmark of the Davis community. Perhaps our next ‘movement’ can be to lead the world in addressing health and hunger issues using our incredible platform of discovery at UC Davis.

I look forward to seeing your thoughts. My email is rwhite@cityofdavis.org if you choose to email me directly or you can follow me on Twitter @mrobertwhite.

About The Author

Rob White is the Chief Innovation Officer for the City of Davis and was selected as a 2012 White House Champion of Change for Local Innovation. He serves as an ex-officio Board Member for techDAVIS (a local tech entrepreneur industry group), as an executive Board Member for the Innovate North State iHub, and as a Board Member for Hacker Lab and the California Network for Manufacturing Innovation. He is a candidate for the Doctorate in Policy, Planning and Development from the University of Southern California and has a Masters from USC in Planning and Development and a Bachelors of Science in Geology from Chico State.

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9 Comments

  1. Davis Progressive

    interesting thoughts.  so how does tesla as a movement translate to davis as a movement and what is davis’ movement – world renowned innovation parks?

  2. Anon

    I watched an interesting forum yesterday taking place in West Sacramento on innovation.  Three panelists were present, the mayor of Patterson (just got an Amazon store in their small city), the mayor of West Sac (was able to get IKEA to locate in their city) and someone from San Diego County (has developed an innovative health related program for its citizens).  Some of the advice was as follows:

    1.  Concentrate on the goal, don’t get hung up on the intermediary steps. (This addresses Rob White’s point  – have a goal that unites.)

    2.  Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

    3.  Build important relationships with business leaders and with the community.  (This goes to Rob White’s second point – “create clear roles for the core and more”; “need to spend equal effort organizing potential customers on the outside”)

    4.  Don’t assume it cannot be done; find ways to achieve success.

    5.  Local gov’t must be flexible to accommodate new ideas, new ways of thinking, new ways to accommodate diverse cultures that will form.  (This goes to Rob White’s third point – get the rewards right.)

  3. Dave Hart

    Is there a precedent anywhere in the world for implementing such fundamental business practices as goal setting and developing core principles to a community?  I’m not aware of it, but the possibility of doing this would be quite revolutionary.  What you are really suggesting is a city sponsored Occupy Davis where a significant percentage of the community becomes actively engaged in these three areas of strategic thinking and planning.  Doing so would affect every single thing the city does and would also affect surround communities and county government.  If successful, Davis would become a center of gravity for regional policy.  You are thinking and proposing very large here.  Love it.

  4. Tia Will

    Companies that adopt this approach will strengthen relationships and create networks of advocates and innovators that their competitors will be unable to rival.

    And it is in this sentence that I see the problem. I do not believe that the goal of Davis, or any other community should be to create networks that “their competitors will be unable to rival”. So who are our “competitors” as a city? Woodland ? West Sac ? Vacaville ? Sacramento ? How is our growth at the expense of any of these communities “out of the box thinking “. It looks to me like this might be fine if our sole goal were to improve the economic situation of Davis. This goal might be appropriate for an individual company selling a better car, or widget. I do not believe it is either innovative or good to place ourselves in direct competition with the neighboring communities.

    Would it perhaps not be a better plan to think in broader terms. We currently have an asset that these other communities do not have namely immediate proximity to the university.  Would the entire region not be better served if we were to work in conjunction with other communities to try to improve the economic status of all  ?  I can envision developing a regional economy in which Davis thrives by providing the spaces for many, many more startups from the university while the surrounding communities provide spaces for companies who have “outgrown” the space limitations of Davis.  To me, thinking outside the box and true innovation would include regional cooperation rather than city against city competition. Or maybe I am wrong and there have been areas of regional cooperation rather than each city for itself ?  Rob or anyone ? Any examples of regional collaborations ?

     

    1. Anon

      The reality is that we are in competition with other communities, but I agree with you there is also a regional element of cooperation that needs to be considered as well.  The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

      1. Matt Williams

        The reality is that we are in competition with other communities

        Anon, none of the other communities have Davis’ proximity to the research engine at UC Davis. A substantial number of companies will want that “walk and talk” proximity. They will value the ability to actively collaborate with their UC Davis research counterparts. They will see themselves as the “applied research” arm of the “ivory tower research” (some call it “pure research”) going on in the University.

        It may be a competition with those other communities, but in many, many cases it will be a competition with the other communities’ arms tied behind their backs.

    2. Frankly

      Tia my friend, did you ever participate in team sports?

      You seem to view competition very narrowly and binary.  You need to dig a little deeper in understanding the dynamism and value chains that develop from local and regional economic growth and the competition it demands.  Sure there will be winners and losers, but the competition itself creates value for the whole.  Winning in competition between parties/cities requires that one perform greater than the other.  But the strive for performance lifts all boats.  And in economic development it isn’t just the city or the region that benefits from winning.

      Take for example my business.  I cover all of California.   I have 20 employees, 15 in Davis, that are all well-compensated with benefits.  When any California area wins the economic development competition with other states, it provides new business that allows me to keep people employed and to pay their good salaries and benefits.  And about half of my employees live in Davis and pay local taxes.

      You bring up virtual companies.  Today there are a percentage of workers that don’t reside where the company headquarters exists.  In some jobs/roles location and face time matters.  In others it does not.  And it is likely that some of the new innovation park employees will work remotely… thereby adding value for other communities.

      Davis has already conceded much of our retail to other communities in order to protect the down town.  Davis has the value of shopping in these other communities, but it does not help our tax inflows.  So, with respect to retail, we already support a giving regional approach as millions of our sales tax dollars leak from Davis to these communities.  These other communities also have more jobs to support their greater retail.

      So now we can focus on our local economic development and rest assured that other surrounding communities, the state, the nation and even the world will benefit from it.

      1. Tia Will

        Frankly

        I did not play team sports. And I do not subscribe to the theory that a rising tide raises all boats. This is only true if some are not anchored tightly to the bottom, or have not had holes poked in them to the benefit of those in the yachts. However, my lack of team sport activity does not mean that I have not achieved an appreciation of the value of teams.

        I was in ballet until my late teens. Those on stage serve as a team whose members must work in strict cooperation in order to succeed. I have been and am a member of medical and surgical teams. In each case we have succeeded, not be being in competition with each other but rather by working together collaboratively to get the best outcome for the patient.

        I understand that our life experiences have led us to very different understandings of how the world works best. You see the most value in competition. I see the most value in collaboration. I believe that both probably have some merit. However, in my opinion, in this country we have so over valued competition so as to have created a virtual dog eat dog world which we then perceive as the natural order of things, not as an unnecessarily harsh means to our self created goal of ever increasing wealth as our highest value instead of developing a sense of gratitude and thankfulness and enjoyment of what we already have and a sense of  grace in being willing to share our abundance with others.

      2. Tia Will

        Frankly I did not play team sports. And I do not subscribe to the theory that a rising tide raises all boats. This is only true if some are not anchored tightly to the bottom, or have not had holes poked in them to the benefit of those in the yachts. However, my lack of team sport activity does not mean that I have not achieved an appreciation of the value of teams. I was in ballet until my late teens. Those on stage serve as a team whose members must work in strict cooperation in order to succeed. I have been and am a member of medical and surgical teams. In each case we have succeeded, not be being in competition with each other but rather by working together collaboratively to get the best outcome for the patient. I understand that our life experiences have led us to very different understandings of how the world works best. You see the most value in competition. I see the most value in collaboration. I believe that both probably have some merit. However, in my opinion, in this country we have so over valued competition so as to have created a virtual dog eat dog world which we then perceive as the natural order of things, not as an unnecessarily harsh means to our self created goal of ever increasing wealth as our highest value instead of developing a sense of gratitude and thankfulness and enjoyment of what we already have and a sense of  grace in being willing to share our abundance with others.

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