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Outside the bubble

March 27 2014 | Modern Activism,

A Surfrider colleague has asked me the same question many times. It's a really good question.

His question is "are we talking to the same people just on different platforms (web, chapters, social) or are we connecting with new people?"

I love this question because it speaks to the heart of a movement.

If an organization, idea or company isn't talking to new people - they don't ever reach their potential. They don't scale. The reason this matters for an organization like Surfrider is that our mission is coastal conservation and the more people we can connect to this movement the better our coastlines will fare. Our mission statemenht literally ends with "... via a powerful activist network."

Surfrider's mission requires that we grow the network so that we can maximize our impact on the coastal conservation movement. 

To grow this movement we'll have to, continuously, get outside of our bubble.

This "bubble" issue surfaced again this past weekend. I was at a Start-Up Weekend where teams were tasked with building an ocean-related product in 48 hours. About half way through we were asked how we were doing. One of our team members said "great, the people we've talked to love our idea."

The instructor looked on skeptically and went on to share his philosophy... get outside of your bubble or you won't get real market feedback. 

Get outside of your bubble if you have any desire to scale your idea. Tallk and engage with people who aren't close to you.

Your friends will be nice to you, but that won't help you scale your idea to a larger population.

Bubbles are everywhere and the simple truth is... we like them.

We like living in them because they are comfortable, they don't change and for the most part the people in them are nice to us. Of course most of us will react to that last statement by suggesting that WE don't live in bubbles and that WE, unlike most others, venture out into the real world... have a diverse set of friends, etc.

We may be kidding ourselves more than we know.

You know you're in a bubble when jargon and acronyms are being used as if they were commonly accepted words or phrases. You know you're in a bubble when you're surprised by a stranger's reaction to something your friends or collegues think is normal.

We also don't like leaving our bubbles. It's scary and things happen that we don't expect. You're a bit more vulnerable when you leave the bubble.

Last weekend we came to the conclusion that our instuctor was right. We went out to the streets of Seattle to talk to "real people" (people outside our ocean geek bubble) about our ocean app idea. On one hand we were successful, we quickly figured out that normal people had a wide range of reactions to the idea... from "very cool" to "are you insane?" On the other hand it was a messy and personally challenging process. We were kicked out of one business for soliciting it's customers and approached by others looking to sell us things we didn't want.

All of this matters because it directly relates to how successful you'll be in getting your idea to scale.

It's fine that Google glasses are worn in Silicon Valley but until they are worn in places like Orlando, Houston and Sydney they'll be a gimmick. It's fine that environmental groups think single-use plastics are one of the worst things to happen to the ocean but until populations in non-coastal towns embrace this point the scale of our success will be limited.

My collegue is right to keep asking the question "are we talking to the same people or new people?" Let's make sure we get outside the bubble, the coasts are too valuable for any other option.

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