One year ago today a 15-year old Greta Thunberg posted a picture of herself on Instagram. She had only been using the platform for a few weeks and didn’t really know what she was doing. She had no strategic plan. There was no elaborate social media campaign. No “influencers” to share her post other than her friends and parents. No film crew to document her journey. The post wasn’t even in English. Neither was her sign which read “Skolstrejkar för klimatet” which is Swedish for “School strike for the climate”.
She didn’t even use a hashtag!
She simply posted this image of herself protesting outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm.
She spent most of that first day in August 2018 on her own. The next week, a few people started to join her and that’s when everything started to change. People who knew how to use Instagram turned up. People started to take pictures. Local TV turned up to see what was going on. Back then she was just a young girl with pigtails and a sign.
Twelve months later, almost everyone in the developed world seems to know her name.
How did that happen?
Because that’s not how it’s supposed to work.
Social movements are supposed to take time. Patience. Planning.
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone once told me “It takes ten years of trying to become an overnight success”. I loved that quote from the second I heard it.
Malcom Gladwell suggested in his brilliant book Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve success. Bill Gates puts it slightly differently:
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” Bill Gates
So what made Greta so different?
Sick of grown-ups not talking the climate change seriously, Greta just decided to go on strike every Friday until her government committed to more urgent action to solve the climate crisis. Later today she will be celebrating 12 months of her campaign on a zero-carbon racing yacht, on route to speak at the United Nations in New York next month because she refuses to fly. (You can follow the progress of Greta and the Malizia II here)
The curious thing about Greta is that she is not saying anything different, unique or unusual. She just decided to do something. Her TED talk was compelling but it was by no means a masterclass in public speaking. What she did was add a sense of urgency to inspire those around her, especially her own age, to stand alongside her.
She wanted to fight the climate crisis. She didn’t just talk about it. She didn’t post about it. She didn’t launch a hashtag campaign or try to become a social influencer or a digital activist. She just physically sat down quietly outside her local government office, unaware at the time whether anyone would even take notice of her. When asked how long she would be there for, Greta said she won’t stop protesting until the Swedish government honours the commitments they made in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and does more to fight global warming.
She captured people’s imaginations simply because she decided to do something.
She just decided to.
She decided to take a stand for something.
That’s something any of us can all do.
No matter which corner of the world you live in and no matter what cause inspires you.
We can all decide to DO something.
Something that with a little effort and a lot of focus, will probably make a big difference at some point in the future. For Greta, things just happened a bit faster than anyone expected.
Greta’s #FridaysforFuture campaign (yes it now has a hashtag!) has mobilised more than a million students from 140 countries to campaign against the climate crisis and global warming. She has been invited to speak at UN summits, feted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, nominated for the Nobel peace prize, collaborated on a song with the band the 1975, appeared on the cover of countless magazines and been credited with injecting new life into the climate movement.
She is GQ’s person of the year. TIME magazine named her one of the most influential people in 2019. Her TEDx talk has over 3.8M views. Sales in environmental book sales (especially among children) has sky rocketed. While air travel grows on average 4.1% year-on-year, in Sweden it is down 8% and twice as many people are now taking trains. And Last month, the head of the trillion-dollar Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) described the campaign by Greta and others as the greatest threat to the fossil fuel industry.
Analysts say this is all the result of the “Greta Effect”.
Greta is probably the first future world leader to be born this century.
All that after just 333 Instagram posts, 52 Friday protests and a few talks.
Makes you think doesn’t it…
What did you do in the last 12 months?
Or another way of looking at it might be…
What could YOU start doing today that people might be writing about on 20th August 2020?
When asked in her press conference before she departed Plymouth for New York last Wednesday, she said “Some things are actually changing, like the mindsets of people. It’s not fast enough, but it’s something”.
It reminds me of that great quote from the economist Rudi Dornbusch, “Things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.”
12 months ago hardly anyone knew her name.
Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg
They do now.