A lot of what we hear about groundswell is about marketing and public relations campaigns in the corporate and not-for-profit world. Some of the groundswell is created, other accidental. Very rarely do we talk about groundswell that’s associated with personal relationships, trust and even influence. In fact, very few people realize that it’s possible to have a significant impact as an individual; one that would merit a large and impassioned response from a community.

I thought I’d take a few minutes to share experiences I’ve had with personal groundswell; something I’ve occasionally called support flash mobs. You’ll notice that each successive project is more ambitious and had a greater reach and impact than the previous.


Tod Maffin played an important role for CBC employees locked out by management in 2005. He initiated a movement to online support and advocacy for locked-out employees and their CBC audiences. It was a group effort that included blog posts and podcasts created across the country. Tod provided invaluable hope and support to the community and was instrumental in keeping the bond strong between staff and audiences.

When the lockout ended I collected audio thank you notes from CBC staff in Ottawa and from some of the regional staff I knew were closely connected to Tod during the days of the unplugged site — people like Sean Prpick and Shelagh Rogers. All I had to do was ask. They were all too happy to give something back to someone who had given them so much. (Click here for a post that features this audio collage)

CBC Unplugged proved to be a great example of groundswell both as a tool for advocacy and influence during a management dispute, and then as a tool to give back and reflect.


Nine months after “Thank you, Tod”, I became involved in another example of tapping in to the groundswell when Bill Deys and Sean McGaughey wanted to do something special for Derek K. Miller‘s birthday (his first since being diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer). Out of that was born another audio project. Emails were sent out to podcasters and bloggers, many of whom only knew Derek by name and from hearing or using Creative Commons music he’d created for the benefit of the social media community. In a few short hours, we’d collected enough audio comments to create a collage of good wishes, mixed to one of Derek’s own songs. (Click here for the post that features this collage)

Earlier this year, I coordinated a different type of audio birthday card when John Meadows and I re-wrote the lyrics to Billy Joel’s Piano Man and invited 120 people to sing them as part of a 40th birthday gift for Bob Goyetche. Forty-nine people, most from North America and a few from around the world, answered the call (including John Meadows, me and my wife). The result was a Band Aid like collaboration of people that gave something back to Bob for all that he’d given them. The final mix of the song featured solos, duets and small groups. The final chorus featured the entire ensemble. In many ways, it felt as though all 49 of us had gathered in one room to stand around a piano and belt out a song for our friend. (Click here for the podcast that features this song)


If Bob’s 40th birthday song was the most technically ambitious groundswell project (it took about 45 hours to mix), by far the most ambitious in reach was the one I recently coordinated for my wife, Andrea.┬áThe day after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, I sent a personal email to every one of the 220 interview guests of our Just One More Book!! children’s book podcast asking each if they would leave a voice message on our hotline sending good wishes to Andrea. My plan was to create a CD of audio messages Andrea could listen to during recovery from surgery and during her chemotherapy treatments; something I was inspired to call The Warrior Soundtrack.

The messages started to pour in immediately (Henry Winkler responded first, within minutes). In all, 126 messages came from authors, illustrators and publishers from around the world (including England, Spain and Israel) and ranged from newcomers to celebrities. Many of the messages were more than just good wishes. Some people recited poems or sang songs they wrote for Andrea. Some related their own experiences with cancer and others offered to speak on the phone anytime Andrea wanted someone to talk to. An overwhelming 75 minutes in audio! Plus, Andrea received a number of packages in the mail — handwritten cards with original artwork by famous illustrators, t-shirts, books and other gifts. Andrea even received two “bionic” candy apples.

In fact, we received so many messages that I realized I needed to also create a summary audio clip for Andrea so she could get a quick hit of support and energy any time she needed it. The result is an audio collage packaged over Sunshine and Starlight, a fantastic instrumental by Bjork Ostrom. (Click here for the post that features The Warrior Theme)


Being human means we have the desire to connect, make a difference and be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Everyone has the ability to make or break a company or change someone’s life. It can start with a simple thank you and grow from there.

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