Selling Your Vision With A Swarm

A fast-moving road ahead

People’s friends are better marketers than you, for the simple reason that they are those people’s friends, and you are not.

But first, before we go into marketing, let’s take a moment to reflect on the nature of the swarm.

In the last chapter*, we talked a lot about formal structures of the swarm. Keep the working groups to seven people in size, split the informal groups that approach 150 people in size into two. This will have come as a surprise to some, who would believe and maybe even insist that a swarm must be leaderless and fully organic.

(*this is an excerpt from an upcoming book, Swarmwise. That “last chapter” has not been published yet.)

I do not believe in leaderless organizations. We can observe around us that change happens whenever people are allowed to inspire each other to greatness. This is leadership. This is even leadership by its very definition.

In contrast, if you have a large assembly of people who are forced to agree on every movement, including the mechanism for what consitutes such agreement, then you rarely achieve anything at all.

Therefore, as you build a swarm, it is imperative that everybody is empowered to act in the swarm just through what they believe will further its goals – but no one is allowed to empower themselves to restrict others, neither on their own nor through superior numbers.

This concept – that people are allowed, encouraged and expected to assume speaking and acting power for themselves in the swarm’s name, but never the kind of power that limits others’ right to do the same thing – is a hard thing to grasp for many. We have been so consistently conditioned to regard power as power, regardless whether it is over our own actions or over those of others, that this crucial distinction must be actively explained. We will return to explore this mechanism in more detail in chapter five, as we discuss how to create a sense of inclusion and lack of fear as we mould the general motivations in the swarm.

As a result, somebody who believes the swarm should take a certain action to further its goals need only start doing it. If others agree that the action is beneficial, then they will join in on that course of action.

The key reasons the swarm should not be leaderless are two. You will notice that I refer to ”its goals”. Those come from you, the swarm’s founder. If the swarm would be allowed to start discussing its purpose in life, then it would immediately lose its attracting power of new people – who, after all, feel attracted to the swarm in order to accomplish a specific goal, and not out of some general kind of sense of social cohesion.

The second reason is these very mechanisms, the swarm’s culture of allowing people to act. These values will be key to the swarm’s success, and those values are set and established by you as its founder. If the swarm starts discussing its methods of conflict resolution, meaning there is no longer any means to even agree when people will have come to an agreement, then the necessary activism for the end goal will screech to a halt.

Therefore, I believe that leaderless swarms are not capable of delivering a tangible change in the world at the end of the day. The scaffolding, the culture, and the goals of the swarm need to emanate from a founder. In a corporate setting, we would call this ”mission and values”.

But I also believe in competition between many overlapping swarms, so that activists can float in and out of organizations that best match the change they want to see in the world. One swarm fighting for a goal does not preclude more doing the same, but perhaps with a slightly different set of parameters.

So the sum of this little introspective reflection is that the vision of the swarm’s end goal comes, and must come, from you – its founder. However, as we shall see, this doesn’t mean that you can control the message being told to every single being, or that you should even try to do so. Rather, you should encourage the opposite.

You do the vision. The swarm does the talking.

Traditional marketing says that a message needs to stay constant to penetrate. My experience says that’s total hogwash.

It may certainly be true that you can influence routine buying patterns or even routine voting patterns with simpleton messages of the one-size-fits-all type. But if you want activists, people who walk an extra mile to make a difference, then it’s a different ballgame entirely.

You don’t want a routine pattern when you’re looking for activists. You want people who are energized, who feel like kings of the world and who can’t wait to make a difference with their bare hands.

Try to do that with a TV ad. You can’t. No matter how many millions you spend on it, it cannot be done. (This disregards the fact that swarms form in money-strapped environments in the first place.)

”A man does not have himself killed for a half-pence a day or for a petty distinction. You must speak to the soul in order to electrify him.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Our language is a social marker. Our choice of words matter, as do minute details in their pronounciation and timing. Our language is a marker of group inclusion, and more importantly, of group exclusion.

If somebody comes up to you and tells you a factual statement in a language that you identify as that of a group you dislike, you are very likely to discard that message as false, despite its actual truthness. In the same vein, if somebody that dresses, speaks, and acts in a manner consistent with your social standards tells you a factual statement, then you are likely to accept it as plausible and maybe examine it on its own merits later.

This sounds obvious. Yet, it has not been used in the marketing of ideas before swarms arrived on stage.

The recipe is ridiculously simple: communicate your vision to everybody, and let the thousands of activists translate your vision into words that fit their specific social context. Don’t make a one-size-fits-all message that everybody has to learn. It will be a one-size-fits-none.

Let me give a tangible example. When I speak about the opportunities associated with the obsolescence of the copyright industry, I can do so in many different languages. If I were to speak about this before a liberal entrepreneur crowd, I would say something like this:

”There is tremendous opportunity in the cutting of this link from the value chain. The copyright industry intermediaries no longer add value to the end product or service, and so, on a functioning market, they are going to die by themselves. There is a problem here, as their monopoly prevents that. Therefore, we must assist in this cutoff, as removal of that overhead allows for growth of the overall market, future opportunities for the artist entrepreneurs, and for new jobs that take the place of the obsolete ones.”

However, speaking to dark-red communist groups that celebrate the Red Army Faction as heroes, I would choose a different language:

”I think it is fantastic that the cultural workers have finally assumed control over their means of production, and that we finally have the ability to throw off the middlemen parasite capitalists who have been profiting for decades off of their hard labor. We should help our brothers and sisters to make this transition happen, and help them turn the captured middlemen profits into new jobs for our culture.”

Factually, these two statements are completely identical. I am saying the exact same thing. But one wording would not work for the other group; you would get thrown out of the room and the curiosity in your swarm discarded for good.

Granted, these two settings are extreme contrasts to make a point. But even a subtle sign of not belonging can be enough to get your idea and vision discarded in a conversation.

This is why you need the activists – thousands of them – to translate your vision into many different social contexts as you have activists. Only then will you be able to electrify their friends with your vision, once that vision is clad in the language of that social context.

Don’t think you can do this yourself for every setting. You don’t master every nuance of language and social code. Nobody does. I may be able to switch languages rudimentarily from years of training in different settings, but I can’t easily change appearance. If I arrive in a suit at a place for a presentation, and they turn out to be laid-back hippie types, then that’s it. No word I say after that can change their perception of me.

It is also important, and imperative, that your activists not only are encouraged to translate your vision, but also to interpret and apply it to specific scenarios. In a political swarm, for example, that means they need to be able to translate general principles into specific policy on the fly, and express it in appropriate language for the context – always without asking permission. A three-activist rule can apply here, or you can empower everybody straight off the bat. When this starts to happen without any central planning and control, the swarm starts to really fly.

There will be people in the swarm who object to others’ interpretations of the vision and general principles, of course. This brings us back to the distinction between empowerment of the activist self, versus the power to crack down on the work of others. The golden rule of the net springs to life: ”If you see something you don’t like, contribute with something you do like.”

This rule is absolutely paramount, and it is you who must enforce it.

One of the worst things that can happen to the swarm is the emergence of a back seat driver culture, where those who do are punished for it – and it is your responsibility to make sure that people who do things are rewarded, even – importantly – even when you think they weren’t exactly on the money.

Otherwise, a back seat driver culture will emerge that punishes those who take risks and do things they believe in, a mechanism that is critical to inspire others in the swarm. If this doesn’t happen, because people become afraid of doing so, the swarm dies.


This is a draft part of the upcoming book Swarmwise, due 2012. It is an instruction manual for recruiting and leading tens of thousands of activists on a mission to change the world for the better, without having access to money, resources, or fame. The book is based on Falkvinge’s experiences in leading the Swedish Pirate Party into the European Parliament, starting from nothing, and covers all aspects of leading a swarm of activists into mainstream success.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot.

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

Since I'm not a robot spammer I'm also answering this easy question:


  1. X

    I believe you meant to write “float”, not “fleet”.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      Yes. Yes, of course I did. Thanks, fixed.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    “that you can control control the message being told” 2*control

    Using swarm to find mistakes in a text about swarm. Brilliant 😀

  3. Michael

    This is generally good but you overstate your case a little and it weakens your argument.

    Leaderless/consensus part, good.

    Traditional marketing, weak. The state of the art in marketing today is messaging as customized as possible to the individual recipient. Political parties in the U.S. today may send out 100 different versions of a message to 100 different demographic groups, each one customized to fit the particular targeted group. This has proven to be very powerful. I understand what you’re trying to say, that you do not need centralized message control, but your argument applies ONLY against national TV ads and not against other sorts of marketing, see what I mean?

    This sentence: “Yet, it has not been used in the marketing of ideas before swarms arrived on stage.” Utterly false. Marketers who want to sell to 30-something housewives use pictures of 30-something housewives to sell products. Or take schemes like Amway or Tupperware, which have people explicitly selling products to their “friends”. Marketers knew that a long, long time ago. This sentence just immediately rings false to anyone with any marketing knowledge. Take it out.

    The rest is good.

    1. AeliusBlythe

      “The state of the art in marketing today is messaging as customized as possible to the individual recipient.”

      But isn’t the idea that this type of marketing is generally done by outsiders trying to assert an in-group identity that they don’t actually have, rather than the group themselves (or a representative of the group) spreading the message around in their own circles?

      For example, I am reminded of Hermain Cain’s attempt at getting women voters by using stock photos of women. If some women’s group had actually come out in support of him, he may have had more success. But his “customized” ads failed so spectacularly because they were were blatantly the work of an outsider. Better companies/candidates/activists may not make the same glaring mistakes, true, but it is the same idea: outsiders, not insiders, doing the “customizing.” Obviously it works often enough that they keep doing it, but if there is a better alternative, will the old methods–the work of outsiders–still be so successful?

    2. Rick Falkvinge

      This is a good point. Thanks. Specifically mentioning Tupperware “but on internet time and scale” hits the nail much better.

  4. Robert Wensman

    About Leadership:

    You are right in the sense that you use the word. We need people that take initiative and inspire others.

    However, to my understanding the word “leadership” has been tainted by how it is used in modern society. In many cases leadership has become analogous to “manager” or “director”. Someone who uses authority to make others follow orders. Large companies nowdays do not talk about “management” or “bossing around”, they try to beautify what they do by using the word “leadership”, which is then tainted. Even political leaders of today believe they are “managers” or “directors” more than people who are there just to inspire. When newsreporters talk about “strong leadership” they usually refer to people who are good at dominating over others, getting their will through.

    This is the backround why some people get fed up with this auhority mixup, and they simply want to talk about “no leadership, just swarm”.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      You’re quite right. I should probably explain this distinction somewhere.

      In the military, we had the difference between “leader” and “manager” very clearly explained to us: manager is an appointed position in an organization chart, whereas a leader is a state of group psychology.

      1. Robert Wensman

        Actually, I work for a large(huge) software company in Sweden, they just recently changed one organization block from “PM” to “PL”. “Project management” became “project leadership”. They talk all the time about “leadership” and sometimes refer to managers as “leaders”. Sometimes “leadership” is also used to describe what company is ahead of everyone else in the sales race. I guess big business is big business, regardless if it is about disrespect of privacy for property, or vandalising our common langauge in order to “look good”.

  5. AeliusBlythe

    ” Our language is a marker of group inclusion, and more importantly, of group exclusion.”

    “….communicate your vision to everybody, and let the thousands of activists translate your vision into words that fit their specific social context. ”

    Really intereting that you mention this. So one of the differences between spreading an idea the traditional way and spreading an idea with a swarm and is the difference between forcefully trying to insert oneself into social spheres (like advertisers or politicians with their “Hey, We’re Just Like You!” ads) and attracting people who actually ARE part of those social spheres and can inspire their own people.

    Have I got that about right?

    So the idea is that a swarm spreads the message more… naturally, then? Makes sense. Diverse individuals and groups within movement can more easily spread the message to their own social groups that they already belong to – it seems so intuitive, I wonder why it hasn’t been recognized long, long before now. Seems to me it is a type of movement primed for evolution – adaptable, inviting, unified but individualistic – things that make it useful for widespread adoption. An important aspect in rapidly changing world.

    I really look forward to reading this whole book.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      The way I read your rewording, you’re echoing my message perfectly (and you may be explaining the concept better than I do).

  6. mijj

    a swarm should certainly *not* have a leader.

    a swarm needs a opinionless, voiceless figurehead for the sake of image and coherence (like royalty in the UK).

    a leader would be a severe point of weakness:
    Creating warring factions because of disproportionate authoritative weight of opinion.
    A weak point for subversion and attack. (A leader could be persuaded to migrate away from thee best inerests of the swarm. A leader is a weak point for propaganda attacks – the swarm would smell of the smears applied.

  7. anon

    I think that swarms already exist to some degree as an emergent sociological phenomenon. It is merely one process (a meme) whereby some animals interact. Where swarms already exist along similar lines to these, they seem to be pretty effective. What I think you don’t address in your concept is the idea of competing swarms.

    I worry that swarms will quickly degenerate into hives. Groups of apathetic and lazy people who believe, however correctly, that they obtain some benefit from being in the swarm will collectively provide a substantially larger benefit to a single/group of leader/s relative to that provided by the leader/s to them. The personal gain to personal loss ratio will naturally produce a lot of very ambitious leader/s. The leader/s will emerge usually as a result of fearmongering, power politicking, violence, and sociopathic manipulation–these are simply the best psychological tools against most people. Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson might have something to say about “first and second circuits,” if you know what I mean.

    Small groups inevitably begin to conglomerate, for whatever reason(s), into larger ones. This is the nature of things. The process is repeated for other phenomena, like money (which, by the way, is controlled and created by many of these people): The danger is that eventually you will have some oligarchy of swarm-interest-person-groups (e.g. the global corporate network:, a bilateral monopoly (US politics), or just a plain-old dictatorship.

    Without a principle or process to prevent the growth of ambitious, hyperdominant swarms controlled by powerful interests or people will crush less violent, less manipulative, and generally less effective swarms. Certainly swarms can band together, whether merging or maintaining their autonomy, but it’s hard to compete with hives or megaswarms that are steered by a charismatic figurehead and populated by what essentially amount to stupid fucking drones (liking the swarm metaphors yet?).

    Before you construct a new meme by which to effect your change, maybe you should look into structural security mechanisms for it (and the rest of this damned culture while you’re at it).

  8. Raybarg

    Swarms, this was fascinating find and read because it completed my own thoughts trying to solve this contradiction in our societies where individualism/”being unique” has been twisted into seeking a state of sort of omnipotency which leads to be less individual and more disconnected (not being dependant of anything allows one to be completely alone). (thats rough explanation of my unfinished thinking).

    Other way to put it, everyone having “everything they need” is a direction to being divided, lost (almost paradoxically). Originally this idea revolved around more material perspective, but made more sense when it comes to visions.

    After reading this glimpse into swarms idea it gave a point of view from opposite direction. Swarm promotes to be individuals without indoctrinated values of what individuality is within the vision of that swarm because it should be promoted that everyone can speak their mind the way they speak their mind. Not become divided drone which just regurgitate something some “manager” told them.

    I can see how everyone seeking to be more independent leads to being divided which leads to easily controlled. It is easy to come to a conclusion that past and today entities of powers feel comfortable to let that be so and go on (or even reinforce it).

    Idea like this swarm could lead into breaking quite many fundamental irrational values because it seems like a working solution to deliver the “message” to those blinded by our past life indoctrination.

    The tiny spark of hope for me just got a little bit more bright.

  9. fauddybub マークバイマークジェイコブス ポーチ 誰の愚痴でも無料で聞きます(でも)(だけど)(しかし)はできる限 [url=]マークバイマークジェイコブス アウトレット[/url] 固く秘密厳守 [url=]マークバイマークジェイコブス バッグ[/url] いたしまだけなので、はなりまをこちらが暇がないあるので、 [url=]マークバイマークジェイコブス 財布[/url] てから愚痴ださいるあなた。 マークバイマークジェイコブス 時計 ほとんこちらもあまり [url=]マークジェイコブス バッグ[/url] か言ってたら、。自民で。[url=]マークバイマークジェイコブス 財布[/url] カラーネームさん(変な意味でなく)は女性と [url=]マークジェイコブス トートバッグ[/url] 然キャピキした私はその後、(星の降る場所)ンまで来たところで。

  10. […] But I also believe in competition between many overlapping swarms, so that activists can float in and out of organizations that best match the change they want to see in the world. One swarm fighting for a goal does not preclude more doing the same, but perhaps with a slightly different set of parameters.” ( […]