There are few books that capture the scope of the definition of leadership in its full arc, and even fewer that do so in the proper order. Recognizing the layers of leadership, built upon each other with care and confidence, is an exhilarating experience for me. It’s like coming home. Blueprint for Revolution by Srdja Popovic is one of those books, and it is resounding in its success.
Blueprint for Revolution is partially autobiography, partially intellectual framework, and partially a call to change. Mr. Popovic was instrumental in the Serbian movement against the dictator Slobodan Milosevic, and this is his instruction manual for other nonviolent activities. The book is structured in a logical flow from the creation of a revolutionary ideal based on a vision for a better future, through the turning into reality of a movement as a force for political change, and finally into the possibilities of individual people to improve their world.
First, Mr. Popovic calls out to every person and their potential to lead. He not only says that ripples in the pond spread from the smallest stone — “hobbits”, in his words (22) — but, in fact, must come from those who are most immersed in the reality of life (Chapter XI, “It Had to be You”). Everything else that he describes is a way to find the right behaviors to create that change, building leadership piece by piece. This is very much functional leadership.
Second, the approach to cultivating a vision is both deep and accurate. All five factors are addressed, but his focus on the change and worth is truly marvelous: “Instead, people talk about the little things…. That’s it. It’s never sweeping stuff. Too often, however, dissidents fail to realizing that it’s the mundane things that move people.” (73). These are powerful ways to see how we should talk about vision if we want to create excellence.
Third, the forms that Mr. Popovic proposes to tell stories of vision may seem silly or juvenile: parades of kids’ toys, painted barrels, jokes and flying flowers — and never violence, even if it appears to be the only option for regime change. But these approaches are effective for dissenters for reasons, as Mr. Popovic explains, and this reminds us that the forms of vision storytelling we use must be effective even if unorthodox. They should be chosen not because they are comfortable, familiar, or obvious, but because they satisfy some aspect of the human experience and therefore they work. Telling the story of vision is a creative challenge, and the joy and passion we bring to the telling makes us better at it.
Finally, there was one truly eye-opening moment for me. Chapter VII “It’s Unity, Stupid” captures the impact of distributed functions in the absence of leadership. This chapter explains how movements fragment as specific sub-group priorities create conflict, division and eventually failure. Leadership’s unique role is not as an authoritarian — against whom the book is focused, after all — but rather as a guide towards a single, shared vision that has room for all members of the group. Great leaders provide the overarching story into which competing factions can find unity.
All of this possibility does not diminish the fact that Blueprint for Revolution is structured learning, and an abstract book at that. As is always the case, our challenge is to turn the words on the page into our own actions in the real world. Mr. Popovic’s writing is accessible and clear and he says the relevant points outright. Readers must still be conscious in their application, as it is easy to find insight throughout the chapters and then eagerly move on the to next topic before pulling the idea into a learning cycle. I suggest readers make a list of notes as they go, totaling perhaps half a dozen ideas, and then reconsider these items at a later date, as part of more deliberate learning practice. I say this because I made a list of my own.
Blueprint for Revolution covers all three functions of leadership, though it favors vision most of all. The book’s strength is the threads that pull from change and worth through the cultivation of a vision into the effects of vision upon the group and its interactions with relationships and learning. The subject might seem irrelevant to for-profit business, but in fact a different perspective offers the benefits of triangulation: the clarity to see something in a new light, thereby revealing nuances and dimensions that were previously invisible.
Welcome to THE LIST!
Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World. Srdja Popovic. New York, NY, Siegel & Grau, 2015.