First follower theory is the concept that attracting an adherent to some kind of view or initiative is the first step toward beginning a movement that might seem unusual or out-of-step with the surrounding culture to the general population.
The first follower is considered to be as important to the development of a movement as the initiator because they make the leader’s viewpoint seem more credible. Derek Sivers introduced first follower theory at the 2010 TED (technology, entertainment, design) conference. According Sivers, the first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader.
The first follower risks ridicule in the same way that the initiator does. Once a single person follows the initiative, however, it becomes less risky for others to join. Eventually, as enough people join, it becomes riskier to stay on the sidelines than to become part of the movement.
In his TED talk, Sivers illustrated his theory with a brief video in which a single shirtless man begins to dance, somewhat erratically, at a concert while everyone else remains seated. Before long, however, another man joins him and calls out to his friends to join in. Within minutes, other attendees are flocking to join a crowd of people dancing.
Sivers proposed important lessons to take from the video:
- There is no movement without the first follower.
- We're told we all need to be leaders, but that would be really ineffective.
- The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow.
- When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.
Derek Sivers’ TED talk, How to start a movement: