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  • Writer's pictureSiria Contreras

[Fast]Follow the New Leaders

(photo originally published by SELF)

Imagine hearing the words, “Our strategy is to fast-follow” stated matter-of-factly by the Director of “Innovation” at a Fortune 10 company as you’re in the midst of the brainstorming and development of new industry-disrupting consumer products. That is just one of the double-take inducing statements I’ve heard in my career.

Let me first say that there is nothing that I enjoy more than originality.

Whether that be in people, art, content, music, solutions, stories, strategy, etc., it is a characteristic that lends itself to my being constantly surrounded by similar-minded innovators, pioneers, and visionaries—the type of people that I enjoy brainstorming with or having conversations about everything under the sun with.

So needless to say that my respect for that particular Director went down a few notches after that statement.

Most people that I tend to collaborate with— business leaders, literal rocket scientists, civil servants, data architects, engineers, social anthropologists, doctors, writers, professors/teachers, social justice activists, or artists— all share that one common trait, they are all originals. They not only make great dinner party guests, but more importantly make for great collective brainpower that can be applied to anything from content creation to solving world problems. Their original perspectives and approaches are invaluable in this day and age. Some of them from time-to-time, however, do have to fast follow— but what it really means is that their strategy at times includes optimization or product growth, not the copy-cat syndrome that this other executive had so proudly suffered from, all the while actually misusing the tech start-up coined term.

To fast follow is defined as “startup strategy that aims to build a company by copying an already proven business model- and executing quickly to “follow” the moves of the predecesor”

The keywords are “executing quickly” which most that attempt to fast follow can’t really do.

With all of that said, as much as I love original and new approaches I do recognize that a large percentage of consumers do still enjoy franchises and re-makes. However, even these have a fresh new twist is usually incorporated to serve as a hook to engage audiences.

In fact, attempts at this “fast-follow” approach is something that happens every single day, everywhere from large corporations to start-up accelerators and incubators. A prime example of this is MoviePass, whereas they started the movie theater subscription service model that although they couldn’t sustain the model, their venture provided learnings for the next wave of followers like the AMC Stubs A-List program that has successfully put more bodies in movie theater seats since it began. They took the model and refined it to appeal to their own audiences and limited inventory to their own holdings, a much easier plan that involves less overhead and lessens losses should the product fail.

Earlier this week, we got to spend time with some of our creative, proactive, and like-minded colleagues. A collaborative community comprised of leaders from the top names in entertainment, tech, and social justice—ranging from peers at Hulu, Viacom, HBO, Universal Music, Buzzfeed, WWE, Verizon, and more. In short, a healthy mix of innovators, disruptors, and yes, even some fast-followers.

However, I was happiest to share space with the Gen Zers (including some of the brave Parkland survivors, political analysts, and more), who in their own original ways are taking action addressing a variety of our world issues. The more of these youth activists and leaders that I meet, the more that I am convinced that this next generation will make strides in areas where older generations couldn’t, thanks to their ability to band together and not waste their time debating each other around subjects where facts plainly make the case.

One of those that I was most impressed with, who prior to this meeting of the minds I did not have on my radar and I now pledge to support in whatever way that we can, is Harvard-student Nadya Okamoto — a bright, charismatic, and super-capable individual who I know will continue to effect great change. Nadya is currently leading a movement around the accessibility of female sanitary products as well as her own Gen Z consulting firm. She is also the author of a forthcoming book, Period Power.

I cannot wait to see what the combining of our collective passions for change will result in.

In a world, where being original is actually our default setting, it is a shame that we often re-configure that innate quality, dialing-it-down to “better” align with the needs of our professional or personal lives, resulting in contributing further to more formulaic forms of expression, content, and watered-down experiences. However, I trust fully that this will be another area that Gen Z and doers like Nadya will help disrupt and I hope that these efforts and initiatives that they pioneer and push through will be the new business models that the world starts to “Fast Follow”.


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