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4 secrets to starting an ‘Idea Epidemic’

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was wildly successful in raising awareness of ALS and brought in millions in donations last year. Yet there were no complicated communications strategies, no metrics communicated to local offices and no costly branding campaign.

The Ice Bucket Challenge went viral simply because we told one another about it — and everyone liked the idea. We challenged one another to either donate or face a downpour of ice-cold water — and most people ended up doing both.

Why did it work so well? Because it was a great cause, we all had a role to play, we shared what we had done and we wanted to be asked.

While most of us won’t likely be on the front lines of the next Ice Bucket-like promotional action, that experience was instructional: It answered the questions, How do we get others excited and interested in the next great cause? How do we get people involved in work that matters? How do we get them interested in the products/services we offer?

Sure, we can tell people about our Next Big Idea. But ideas spread organically only when people decide that they really want to join in.

Here are four infectious behaviors to help your idea spread:

1. Think beyond yourself.

For an idea to take hold, your “why” must go beyond you and your business. To get other people personally invested, you need a rallying cry that speaks to a broader purpose.

Leslie Needleman, who co-founded The GEM juice bar (with Mary Kathryn Bass), started juicing when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She didn’t launch her Dallas-based bar just to turn a profit; she wanted to spread the message of how juicing and healthy eating contribute to a cancer-free lifestyle. This broader purpose is reflected in every aspect of her business, and it’s helped her build a huge customer base of die-hard juice lovers.

2. Communicate a bite-sized “why” that people can’t ignore.

A recent study by Microsoft found that the average human attention span decreased from 12 to eight seconds between 2000 and 2013. For an idea to spread, you must find a way to get people interested quickly. The best way to do that is to focus your message on a crisp, compelling “why” and communicate that “why” via a trusted source.

For example, just being on TEDx can provide point-of-view validation. Because TEDx is such a trusted source for clips detailing innovative ideas, your being featured there will warm up your audience to your ideas and lead them to trust and eventually spread them.

3. Find your early-momentum builders.

As an entrepreneur, you might find find yourself falling into the trap of self-reliance. Sure, the business and the idea are yours. But if you want the idea to spread, you can’t do it alone. Deciding on early-momentum builders entails more than simply building buzz. You have to consider which idea partners truly have the power to mobilize advocates on your behalf.

One reason the standing desk phenomenon caught on so rapidly and gained momentum, for instance, was that the media jumped on the analogy “sitting is the new smoking.” That phrase may not have been 100 percent accurate, but it was a succinct and terrifying justification to get up and move.

4. Make real connections.

These days, even pets have stories. Instagram accounts feature pets that need to be adopted, and people even take pictures of pets inphoto booths to capture their personalities and help them find homes.

This is happening because adoption agencies and SPCA International know that if you care, you share. By creating personalities and stories for these animals, these agencies facilitate a connection between the animals and potential owners and boost the likelihood that the pets will find homes.

These types of real connections encourage people to trust you, and are more effective for energizing and inspiring your early advocates. Grabbing coffee with colleagues or striking up conversations on an airplane changes the dynamic, from a one-way broadcast to an exchange of information. Plus, studies show, face-to-face conversations inspire more trust than does email or video conferencing. So, make your connections count.

In our hyper-connected, distraction-prone society, presentation matters as much as the idea itself. Start by thinking beyond yourself and refine your message to a crisp, compelling “why.” Then find those early advocates to champion your idea.

Even if your early-momentum builders live on social media, make an effort to have real, one-on-one conversations with them. You’ll find that you just may have hit on the next Ice Bucket Challenge.


CEO of PeopleResults