When to Jump on the Bandwagon

Am I a band wagon jumper? If so, yuck. I don’t want to be part of the movement of mindless drones accepting everything they see. And I don’t want to be a hypocrite just joining a movement because it is cool. And yet I find myself adopting many things as a latecomer. Why is that? Is there anything to be done about it?

Recently I wrote a post in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. I feared that I was just doing it because it seemed to be cool. Or at least it seemed like an awful lot of people were doing it. I saw a lot of mega companies voice their support, even though I felt convinced they were just protecting their bottom line. I don’t want to be in that crowd. I don’t want to say something or do something just because all the kids are doing it.

But I began to think about my timing as a part of the Diffusion of Innovation model. This is a pretty fascinating model that describes the process of cultures adopting new ideas. You should definitely look it up, but basically it breaks down the process of adopting ideas into sub-groups of people. The innovators create a new idea, then distribute it to the early adopters. The early adopters further distribute the idea to the early majority, and then the late majority get onboard, and laggards are last. Some ideas don’t make it past certain stages and fail to make it through the whole curve. Maybe there aren’t enough early adopters to reach the early majority.

We all tend to fall on different ends of the spectrum in different arenas of life. For instance, I am an innovator and early adopter when it comes to software at my engineering job. But when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, I found myself solidly in the “majority” portion of the curve. I’m not sure if I am part of the early majority or the late majority at this point, but I am certain I am not an early adopter. And that bothered me. It bothered me so much that I almost didn’t say anything at all. Better to say nothing than be in the section of the wagon with the hypocritical corporations.

But what I realized is that I can’t change that now. I can’t go back and become part of the early adopters group. And if I say nothing, I will end up as a laggard. Thus the real question becomes “is this a wagon I should be on?” And that I can figure out. It doesn’t have to matter when I get on the wagon. If I am convinced I need to be on the wagon, then I need to get on it regardless of when.

There is an old proverb I have heard a lot recently. The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, but the next best time is today. I can’t go back twenty years and start talking about racial reconciliation. Honestly, I didn’t have anything to say twenty years ago. But refusing to say it now because I don’t want to be a late adopter is ridiculous. So I chose to plant the tree now. And not because everyone was doing it. But because I thought it right.

And next time, perhaps I won’t wait as long. The only way to not be part of the majority is to move myself up on the curve. To adopt earlier. To voice my thoughts sooner. But the first step is to begin getting on the wagons that I feel I must, regardless of what point on the adoption curve I find myself.

In the end, my takeaway is that it doesn’t matter when I join a movement. The more important part is whether I need to join because of my values and principles. And that is a freeing shift for me. I hope it might be freeing for you too.

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