The Dragonfly Effect

Find the ignition point of a chain reaction, and go ignite it.

Stanford GSB professor Jennifer Aaker gave a great lecture at the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders seminar: Creating Ideas that Build Momentum.

The middle third of Jennifer’s talk told the story of Samir and Vinay: Harnessing Social Media to Make a Difference:

In three months a group trying to save a friend’s life used social networking tools to get over 24,000 South Asians to register for the National Marrow Donor Program. Their effort inspired Professor Jennifer Aaker to develop a course at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, The Power of Social Technology, which is supported by a set of social technology cases written with Victoria Chang, Alice LaPlante, and Sara Gaviser Leslie.

(…) Tapping the power of both the internet and a closely integrated South Asian community, they emailed 100 of Sameer’s close friends. Within 48 hours, the forwarded message had touched 35,000 people. They reached an even broader audience by partnering with Team Vinay, a group that had formed a few weeks earlier on a similar quest to save the life of Boston-based Vinay Chakravarthy, a 28-year-old South Asian physician who had also been recently diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). With focus, efficiency, and hyper-utilization of social media, Team Sameer and Team Vinay used web 2.0 services like Facebook, Google Docs, and YouTube to mobilize and empower others to organize bone marrow drives all over the country.

In 11 weeks, Sameer and Vinay’s supporters registered 24,611 South Asians into the bone marrow registry and found a match for both. And the 7,500 people they registered in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Sameer lived, yielded 80 matches for other leukemia patients — an unintended but celebrated consequence.

To make it super easy for people to be part of the marrow registration project, the team developed web 2.0 tools — these are explained in prof. Aaker’s presentation slides: “Power of Social Technology – Using Social Media to Save Lives“. Here are the Help Sameer site, the Help Vinay site, and the registration site. There are a number of YouTube videos (we don’t have enough bandwidth to sample them).

What the team learned is summarized by “The 8 Lessons” (page 79 of the PDF):

1.Develop a clear goal.

2.Tell your story.

3.Act, then think (big).

4.Design for collaboration.

5.Empowerment marketing.

6.Measure one metric.

7.Try, fail, succeed.

8.Don’t ask for help. Require it.

I think these techniques are applicable to a wide range of projects. If I’m correct that means that ordinary citizens could make big change without a big budget. E.g., how about igniting a viral campaign demanding conversion from coal to nuclear power?