The Herd.

The herd is an interesting bunch. They move when the leader moves and they follow with nomadic determination. Moving as a group but with loose affiliations, the herd stops and starts as the leaders moves. They wonder around independently too. Never straying too far from the bunch, but autonomous enough to graze here and there as whim leads.
Threat can appear and they will acknowledge danger, but confident in the crowd, will not scatter. This allows predators to come in and steal an outlier while the crowd remains mostly unfazed. Briefly moving away from imminent danger the crowd re-gathers and continues grazing.

Leading or influencing a herd requires that you connect strongly with the leader. Capture the crowd leader, lure them in a direction and with similar loose affiliation, the crowd follows. Albeit with a lower sense of commitment. You can lure and lead crowd members, but that is all you get, one member. Which means to get many members this way, you have to do a lot of individual luring – not very efficient. In short the most efficient way to lead the herd is to capture the leader and steer them.

The Swarm.

You would be forgiven for thinking that this is one body. The crowd moves with such dogged oneness and swift response that it is easy to think that perhaps they are all one body. But they are not. They have just given themselves to the swarm are depending on the collective for protection, good choices and direction. Nobody strays near the outer edge or ventures out on their own. Independent thinking is not common. At the approach from predators, a single avoidance maneuver from one crowd member, activates the whole crowd and they all move away. They react almost in unison. Their strength is in their numbers and in their unison.

Because a single crowd member can turn the whole, leading the crowd is easier and requires less initial effort to redirect them. The problem is that it is just as easy for others to redirect them too. They are fickle, here one day and gone the next. Keeping the swarm around something is therefore challenging because they can be so easily distracted.

To navigate the swarm you need:

  1. Be convincing. A strong presentation can keep the attention of these easily distracted crowd members, so make it strong and convincing.
  2. Be creative. Only original or fresh ideas will keep their attention. Concepts that have been used before are quickly disqualified because they have lost their luster. Be fresh, be new, be first, be original.
  3. Great/innovative content. Being fresh and new is important, but if it is just fluff with little true innovation, the crowd will quickly loose interest. You might be able to get away with reworking old material or ideas, but it will have to come with a new/better angle.
  4. Collaborate with the buyer/customer. Engaging the crowd is a powerful way to keep them oriented toward your product. While they are so busy helping to design and create their products (that you produce) they are less likely to be distracted by other attractions and get drawn away.

US Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki said:

“You may not like change, but you are going to like irrelevance even less.”

Understanding the crowd you are leading should affect the way you engage and lead them. If you don’t learn how to engage them in a relevant way, you will lose your voice and that will lead to irrelevance and irrelevance is the slippery precursor to the abyss. Caveat emptor.

Two questions then:

  • Does the crowd you are influencing behave like a swarm or a herd?
  • If changing your approach strengthens relevance, what needs to change?