On a cold November day in 2013, frustrated by recent events in Ukraine, a journalist named Mustafa Nayyem posted to Facebook, “Okay guys, let’s get serious. Who’s ready to go to the Maidan today at midnight? ‘Likes’ will not be counted. Only comments under this post with the words ‘I’m ready.’ Once there are more than a thousand, we will organize it.”
Nothing needed to be explained. Everyone knew exactly what he meant. Nine years earlier, hundreds of thousands of people flooded Independence Square in Kyiv, locally known as “the Maidan,” to protest a falsified election in a movement called the Orange Revolution. Mustafa was now calling on his fellow citizens to do the same.
It was a moment that changed history. Yet it’s not that moment we should focus on, but what came before. It was what happened in those ensuing nine years — the development of unseen networks, the learning and the cultural change — that made the moment possible. The truth is that for genuine change to take place, significant cultural shifts need to come first.
1. From Preaching To Listening
The Orange Revolution got its name because orange was the campaign color of the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko. “It was not about social mobilization, it was not about political mobilization, it was mostly about the political class in Kyiv,” Mustafa would later tell me. And while it achieved its goal of putting the preferred candidate in office, it would ultimately fail to survive victory, which is what led to the call for people to revolt again nine years later.
Many organizational transformations follow a similar pattern. Convinced change has to come from the top, they start with a big kickoff campaign detailing what change will look like. In a show of force, leaders take center stage and declare their support. The goal is to create a sense of urgency and inevitability around change.
It almost always fails and it usually fails for the same reason: people resist it. The simple reality is that human beings form attachments to people, ideas and other things. When they feel those attachments are threatened, they will lash out in ways that are dishonest, underhanded and deceptive. If you are going to…