Influence that drives positive change can stem from various sources. The key lies in recognizing and enabling it.
When we think of influencers, we think of famous people – actors, writers, political leaders and others. In the past, the world was split into heroes and followers. Today, the digital world has changed all that. We are all influencers and the influenced, and these roles are rapidly changing all the time.
If I look back on my life, apart from my family, colleagues and friends who influenced me, many people who do not even know me shaped my thinking. In my youth, strong women like Gloria Steinem, Marie Curie influenced me with their unabashed dedication to their chosen cause; musicians like MS Subbulakshmi, Aretha Franklin, Tracy Chapman, Bonnie Raitt influenced me with their talent and to this day, the impact they had over me still prevails. I always thought that there are talented people on one side and there are the rest of us, who get influenced by them. I did not know that each of us can be an influencer in our own way.
The first time I understood it was when I was working at Intel with legends like Andy Grove, Gordon Moore and Dennis Carter. A small group of us believed in e-commerce and pushed for Intel to talk about it. We designed an event in New York by putting together demos that showed how one can purchase online (remember that this was 1994, when most people had not heard of the Internet) and we brought together the most influential leaders to talk about how something like this will be useful in their world. The CEO of Ticketmaster, an American ticket sales and distribution company, talked about how the future of ticket purchases would save hours of standing in lines, while a fashion designer and car designer spoke on mass customization. And when Intel took a position like that, a whole ecosystem was created that gave us what we take for granted today. It was not one person or one company that made this happen. It was Intel’s willingness to take the backseat and get many people together and share the credit that got us what we have today. Standing in the back of the room for that event, the best compliment I got was a tap on my shoulder from Andy Grove with a curt, affectionate, “Now, I see what you have been talking about”. That was enough for all the arguments, fights, discussions, mind- numbing presentations we had to make to get Intel to take e-commerce seriously. The beauty of this was that no one individual or company could take credit for what happened. That’s when I understood that I could be an influencer by influencing the person or company with the right resources. Individual accolades come and go but if we can become an influencer of ideas and be willing to take the back seat for all the adulation, we can move mountains. This is very hard to do but worth it every single time. Behind every major breakthrough, there are many silent influencers. We need to find them, honor them and celebrate them.
Today, being an entrepreneur is fashionable and working at a large company is perceived to be a low priority. The fact is that there are many corporations that are larger than many economies. If we can influence the thinking of these leaders and of their employees, we can design a world we can be proud of. And the ability to inspire the leaders by exposing them to innovations much beyond their area of expertise creates a tribe that is excited about learning for life. The more successful you are, the more there is a need to hang out with those who do not look like you, talk like you or even do what you do.
Being an influencer and being well-known are two completely different things. You may be the wealthiest person, famous in your
field and still be inconsequential in terms of influencing any change in this world. Alternatively, you could be a 16-year-old writing a blog from your bedroom influencing much more than a multinational.
Arunachalam Muruganantham was making low-cost sanitary napkins long before his talk came on INK in 2011 and then we had it on TED in 2012. This was followed by Time 100 in 2014, a Padma Shri in 2017 and the movie Pad Man in 2018. The truly magical outcome is that many entrepreneurs mushroomed across India making a variety of low-cost sanitary napkins, making menstruation a more acceptable topic for discussion. And he was able to do all this because over a million people watched his talk online.
Each of us who tuned into his story influenced the outcome.
The truth is that influencers are not made that way. They had someone who believed in what they said and took it upon themselves to make them influential. Each one of us are instrumental in creating influencers, in choosing what we watch, hear and follow. In the digital world, we can create heroes or hatemongers with a click. Today, we are not just masses following a leader blindly. We have an opportunity to research, dissect, think and make an informed choice on who we want to support. Take the time to follow, like who you believe in and also be very choosy at the same time.
At INK, we are honoring “Billionaires of Moments” next month, motivated by this inspiring quote — “Life ought not to be measured by the number of breaths we take but by the number of moments that take our breath away”. If that’s true, we should celebrate those who create breathtaking moments for others. When we find them, let’s go all the way to make them memorable. Each of us have an opportunity to be billionaires of moments either by becoming an influencer or creating and supporting an influencer. All it takes is the touch of a finger to decide how we want to influence the world.
The INK 2018 Conference will be held in Hyderabad from November 30 – December 2, 2018 focussing on the theme — Billionaires of Moments — to motivate each one of us to pursue moments that matter, to create and amass them.