On having a bender and what else we might learn from Kony2012

So Jason Biggs appears to be the first serious contender for a Jason-Russell-style naked-meltdown parody. I expect more people will follow Jason’s example and there might even be some niche products and T-shirts on their way.

Ring-tone, anyone?

I chose not to blog the Kony2012 uber-trending event. Sorry if you were expecting me to jump on the wagon. I was quite busy at the time, driving through Eastern Europe and negotiating with corrupt border officials so I didn’t have much energy or time for it.

And besides that, there are so many organizations out there LIVING among the global poor rather than talking about them, pursuing economic and spiritual possibilities rather than military solutions, and spending MOST of their budget on impacting vulnerable people rather than salarying themselves to create cool videos. So I decided to let it go.

Actually, the whole trending thing made me roll my eyeballs. It was like a day at the races, watching how fast and how high this thing could go, as if success became the all-encompassing reality and measurement criteria. Is philanthro-tainment a word?

However, I WAS tempted to send $10 to Invisible Children if Jason Russell would put his pants back on!

Jason Russell Kony Poster

On the other hand, the Kony2012 became a social media event and it would be just downright disrespectful for me not to acknowledge that Jason Russel launched the most viral video EVER!. 55 million in 4 days! That’s something! 80+ million views total. That blows us all out of the park. Well done, Jason. Perseverance rewarded!

And not only that but it was a wonderful and marvelous thing that the most viral video in history was not about anything trivial like mating mutant cockroaches or elephant excretions but instead was about a real need in a real place that called for righteous anger and justice. Well done, planet earth for responding!

But the project has not gone according to plan, as you know, and there are a few lessons here for the rest of us who are launching and leading social enterprises.


1. Keep Bender’s Private.

A lot of great leaders have benders, also known as emotional meltdowns, or as Jason Russell’s case, a “reactive psychotic episode”. It’s not the end of the world. But if you feel a bender coming on, and you have the luxury of choosing your location, let yourself go in a somewhat private space. Or even better, go to a retreat center and have your meltdown in front of some trained counselors and supportive empathizers where you can wave your privates around and shout at the devil in a secure environment.

2. Prepare for Ridiculous Success.

It’s not always failure that kills a social enterprise. Sometimes it’s too much success, too soon. Learn to put the brakes on, install limits on your project, don’t be afraid of stopping the machinery once your target is reached. You should also have a RIDICULOUSLY SUCCESSFUL strategy which includes what to do if your project greatly exceeds expectations, where the excess funds will go and how you will fulfill all obligations (millions of action packs??) in case the response is exponentially swollen above what you originally planned for. You might not achieve anything like ridiculous success but at least you will be prepared for it if it comes your way.

3. Focus on Facts, not Feelings

We all want to move people, somewhere deep in their bowels, with the essential importance and great eminence of our cause, but if we have to choose between presenting accurate facts and portraying moving stories in which the underlying reality might be somewhat dubious or at least untested, go for the facts every time! People want to give intelligently and they need the info. Beware of manipulating your givers through “emotional pornography” which can lead to Giver’s Regret the morning after.

4. Shield Your Celebrities.

If you are lucky enough to have some well-known celebrities take on your cause, make sure they will come out looking better than they did when they entered your world. This involves marrying the campaign with the celebrity and ensuring they are a good match for each other. If there is potential conflict, don’t let them go further. Their celebrity-ness is in your hands and you need to deal with it sensitively. They DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS. They are too busy looking good so you have to do it for them.

5. Filter your Funders

Funders are privileged to partner with you in your worthy cause. Filter them carefully. Find out what other causes and projects exist in their portfolio before you accept their money for BOTH YOUR SAKES!. It’s better to get a smaller chunk of funding from the right organization than it is to get big dollars from foundations and trusts that have embarrassing bedfellows or a jarringly different philosophy than you.

6. Lean on Local Knowledge

It’s hard to appreciate the nuances of a far-off situation when you are living in a suburb in San Diego. There is no substitute for living with the locals ON LOCATION. There is much dumb-tax to be paid by those who choose to comment or act by remote. Much dumb-tax indeed!

How about you? Did you learn anything from Kony2012? Feel a bender coming on?


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Joanna says:

    I was amazed as well to see how rapidly this video went viral. I had heard of Kony before, not sure where from though. One other good thing that does seem to have come out of this is some very sensible debates on presentation and listening to the locals and about time too.
    I am still in the process of setting up a social enterprise but trying to find the right kind of input is hard at the moment and so I had never thought what happens if it gets too big too quickly, never even contemplated that as going to be a problem at all. I do believe in a God who can work miracles, so why shouldn’t I think that something may go bigger than I expect, did Joseph expect to get put in charge of a country from his prison cell? It is worth bearing in mind though, that’s for sure.

  • Andrew – if this posts, twice my apologies. I hit post and the sucker disappeared.
    I was noting that you provided an excellent analysis as always. a few points this brings to mind …
    Keeping benders private can be handled if there’s an accountability group set in place. IC has been this “untouchable entity” for some time. If any organization or individual gets to a point where they are above criticism, that sets the stage for a crash and burn scenario – and when this happens all one remembers is the bad and not the good. Also, an accountability group can help guide leaders to practice self-care so they don’t have such a public meltdown.
    Filtering the funders is the bit that is going to keep biting IC in the butt – once it was proven tbey were connected to individuals involved in the Ugandan kill the gays bill, someone should have spoken up and publicly distanced themselves from anyone who advocates on behalf of imprisoning and even killing people because of their sexual orientation. Can you save child soliders and then stand by when LGBT teens are sentenced to death?
    You find this in spades with even progressive evangelicals supporting The Family (sponsors of the National Prayer Breakfast) despite this groups ties to aforementioned bill. Yes, this can be dicey in today’s shifting economy where as you noted back in 2008 the Christian conference carnival is over. But can you really say you’re for a new kind of Christianity when you say take funding from a hedge fund manager in a post Madoff era, have individuals like A Larry Ross to pimp your product (he was hired by the Family to clean up their image BTW), and the like? Yes you may have short term financial success – but trust me, eventually this will all come crashing down. And you’ll be the one running around butt nekkid at least figuratively speaking. 🙂

  • John L says:

    One of the most seasoned blog posts I’ve seen in some time.
    and this… “there are so many organizations out there LIVING among the global poor”
    Human rights attorney Bryan Stevenson echoes this divide between thinking and doing in a most compelling way: http://www.ted.com/talks/bryan_stevenson_we_need_to_talk_about_an_injustice.html
    “The opposite of poverty is not wealth, but justice. We will not be judged by our technology, intellect, or reason. Ultimately, the character of a society will be judged not by how they treat the powerful, but by how they treat the poor.” – Bryan Stevenson

  • Andrew says:

    thanks John. i had a listen.
    “The opposite of poverty is not wealth. … In too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice.” (Bryan Stevenson)

  • Andrew says:

    or in this case, butt nekkid in a more literal sense . . . throws a new spin on the “mission exposure” concept, doesn’t it?

  • You cheeky bugger …
    And this is why I pretty much checked myself out of the Xn world. Impossible to get organic horizontal global conversations started in this Americana missional machine that even in progressive circles still remains so enthralled with worshipping the religious rock star instead of exploring where the spirit might be speaking (hint, it’s not with snazzy videos or performance driven author/speaker shows).
    Still, like I am glad that the #1 viral video of alou l time doesn’t involve kittens. That give me hope that people want to do good. The challenge now is to encourage folks to engage with the critical thinking skills they know they possess. For example, instead of buying into the Blue like Jazz form of faux civil disobedience that’s really a marketing campaign (http://www.bluelikejazzthemovie.com/streetteam), get involved in making some real radical change. 🙂

  • Kate Early says:

    Becky, did you really say ‘bugger’? How rude.

  • Rommel Cohen says:

    That is why we should never underestimate the power of little things; for it is in little things, that greatness is made. The simple idea and video became viral simply because it focused both on facts and feelings. Of course, I do agree that it was more about facts, its facts that touch people. Anyway, I hope he will attain his goals soon. Keep praying for him friends.

  • best post on this topic yet…great perspective

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