He focused on the differences between Occupy Wall Street and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.
OWS didn’t have a leader and it didn’t even follow a single set of ideas. There was not real structure to it — just a “general assembly” system. Everybody in OWS had a say, but there was a complete lack of organizational hierarchy. It was one big social network.
Gladwell explained that the civil rights movement as set up by its leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a classic hierarchy, according to John Hollon at TLNT. It was “disciplined” and “centralized,” with one person in charge and a distinct strategy set by the leadership team.
Is the OWS-style social organization effective for a movement? How about a business?
Companies have long been built around hierarchies. Some may be more bureaucratic and others may have less management layers, but there has always been someone — or a group of people — in charge. They’re there to present a vision, and help their workers achieve those goals.
In the end, it was that total lack of hierarchy that prevented OWS from prompting large-scale change, according to Gladwell.
“One form is not better than the other,” said Gladwell. “They’re two different forms with very different sets of strengths and weaknesses … Networks may start revolutions, but they can’t finish them. Our job is to remind Millennials of the importance of hierarchies as well as networks.”