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Ignition’s Rachel Chalmers: Use Grassroots in the Enterprise Dana Oshiro

Rachel Chalmers from 451 Group on Saul Alinsky’s Rules for RadicalOk

Rachel Chalmers is perhaps best known as the principal at Ignition Ventures and the former VP of research at 451 Group. She was one of the first analysts to cover Opsware, BladeLogic, VMware, Splunk and Cloudera. But in a recent Heavybit talk, the seasoned analyst and investor showed a different side. Using Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, Chalmers spoke about how generations of grassroots organizers have inspired her to think outside the box about building strategies for engagement and business.

Rules for Radicals is a series of lessons Alinsky wrote to pass to the Seventies generation of activists. The book has influenced groups across the political spectrum including the National Farm Worker’s Movement, FreedomWorks (a lobbying group tied to the Tea Party) and the 2008 Obama Campaign. Chalmers adapts five of Alinsky’s 13 rules to help companies empower their users to advocate in the enterprise. These include:

  1. Never go outside the expertise of your people: Chalmers explains that in order for a team to be successful, they must build only the thing that they can build, and sell to the people only that particular team can understand. She offers, “You’ve got to find a unique way of galvanizing your community — something akin to Chef calling its scripts “recipes” and compiling them into cookbooks.”
  2. Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy:”This is the stage you want to get the incumbent on the defensive…It’s Aikido.” She says, “You’ve got to use the enemy’s weight against them.” She uses the example of Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer likening Linux to a cancer. Ballmer’s public admonishment of Linux and open source served as a validation of the seemingly less powerful and more nimble group as a dangerous threat.
  3. Ridicule is your most potent weapon: She offers this with the caveat that ridicule is best used when “punching up.” She explains that companies should only use ridicule to take away social capital from those who can afford it. This tactic is about attacking established repositories of power and reclaiming that power for those in on the joke.
  4. A good tactic is one your people enjoy: Here Chalmers encourages companies to create opportunities for inside jokes, strong symbolism (eg. Docker’s Whale) and of course, time to meet in person. In addition, when planning meetups, hackathons and unconferences, she adds that the commitment to Safe-Spaces ensures that the community remains diverse, respectful and truly open to collaboration.
  5. A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag: “Complacency is the enemy of success,” she says, “Nothing kills a community faster than when the vendors and the end-users interests are misaligned.”

For Rachel’s complete presentation video visit the Heavybit library.

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