by Jim Bruce
Yesterday was the 240th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress meeting at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This document announced that the thirteen American colonies, then at war with the Kingdom of Great Britain, regarded themselves as thirteen newly independent sovereign states, no longer under British rule, and instead in a new nation, the United States of America.
Living in Lexington, MA, I see signs of this time all around me. I live less than a mile from the road Paul Revere took with John Dawes and Samuel Prescott on their ride from Lexington, to Concord. And, this past Sunday I worshipped, as I typically do, at Park Street Church in downtown Boston. This historic church is positioned between the Boston Common, this nation’s oldest public park, and the Granary Burying Ground. In April 1775, British soldiers were encamped on the Common before marching off to Concord where the rebels, as they were then called, had stockpiled weapons and gunpowder, and Paul Revere is buried in the Granary Burying Ground. And, in 1812, gunpowder was stored in the church’s crypt.
Everyone knows of Paul Revere’s ride, if not from history, from the Longfellow poem, “The Ride of Paul Revere.” And, almost no one knows about the intricate web of relationships that led to the ride’s success. Let’s explore that web and then draw some lessons on relationships from the expanded story.
But, first, we need to say a few words about the beginning. Starting around 1765, colonists rejected the authority of the British Parliament to tax them. Protests escalated with events like the “Boston Tea Party” in 1773 when a shipment of taxed tea was destroyed. This resulted in punitive laws as well as the local assembly being dissolved, the port of Boston closed, and private citizens forced to provide lodging for British soldiers in their homes. During this time Paul Revere was one of the “express riders” spreading the news from town to town about the British activities.
On April 14, 1775, General Thomas Gage, military governor of Massachusetts received an order from England to disarm the rebels, seize their arms (stored in Concord and elsewhere), and imprison the rebellion’s leaders, especially Samuel Adams and John Hancock. John Warren, a leader of the Sons of Liberty, learned of this through his network of informants and late in the evening of April 18, told Revere and John Dawes that the king’s troops were about to embark in boats from Boston to Cambridge and then march along the road to Lexington and Concord.
Revere first had the Christ Church (now the Old North Church) sexton hang two lanterns in the steeple to alert colonists in Charleston as to the troop movements. He then crossed over to Charlestown by boat, borrowed a horse, headed off to Lexington and Concord alarming folks in the houses and villages he passed telling them that the “regulars” were coming. Meanwhile, Dawes proceeded by land crossing the Charles River near Harvard College and also rode on to Lexington. He arrived at Lexington shortly after Revere. As a result of these rides more than 40 other express riders spread out to inform other towns and villages to muster their militias as more than 700 “regulars” were leaving Boston with possible hostile intentions. Between the riders and a system of bells, drums, bonfires, and alarm guns, it’s said that people within 25 miles of Boston were aware of the army’s movements while they were still unloading their boats in Cambridge.
You know the result. In Lexington, the local militia met the “regulars” march. Being out numbered the militia fell back, and the “regulars” continued their march to Concord. There, additional militias who continued to arrive from neighboring towns ultimately rebuffed the regulars who returned under heavy fire to the safety of Charleston in a tactical withdrawal. By the morning of April 20th, Boston was surrounded by a militia army of over 15,000 which had arrived from throughout New England, and the Revolutionary War had begun.
So, the question is how did so few people – Warren, Revere, and Dawes – manage to unleash such a coordinated rebuff of the British forces? The answer: Through relationships.
Years earlier in response to the tightening of British rule, social groups of colonists began to take on a political role. These groups included the Freemasons of St. Andrew’s Lodge, the Loyal Nine (the nucleus of the Sons of Liberty, a secret society formed to protect the rights of colonists and fight taxation by the British government), the North End Caucus, the (secret) Long Room Club, and the Committee of Correspondence, to name a few key ones. For the most part, members of each group came from different segments of society. For example, over half of the Long Room Club were Harvard graduates; St. Andrews Lodge’s members were primarily artisans, retailers, and men from the sea-going trades; the Son’s of Liberty was a social club of printers, distillers, shopkeepers, men of building trades; etc. Members of different groups had little in common with each other than a disdain for British rule. There was one other thing, however. Almost all the 137 individual members of these five groups were members of only one group except for 19 individuals. Joseph Warren was a member of four of these five groups; Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and Benjamin Church were each members of three; and 14 individuals were each members of two groups. These individuals, and in particular Warren, Revere, Samuel Adams, and Church, by their participation and leadership in multiple groups, constituted bridges that brought the groups and their members together, and focused on a common cause.
So, what can we learn from this story?
1. Relationships are really important. Warren, Revere, Samuel Adams, and Church were all well known and had relationships with all the early players leading up to the Revolutionary War. They were trusted.
2. Being well known as Revere was given his work as an express rider and having a positive reputation as he had, is a strong positive. While having some individuals with very strong relationships is critical to success, having a much larger group of individuals who are more widely known and seen positively is essential.
3. Being a bridge between multiple groups by membership in and by simultaneously having leadership roles significantly multiplies your impact. Warren, Revere, Samuel Adams, and Church were members and leaders in all five of the major Boston social, and now resistance, groups. This enabled them to spread information and ideas, and gain commitments broadly.
So, what’s the implication for you? At he MOR Leaders Conference two weeks ago, we asked whether this is the time when disruptive innovation upsets IT service organizations that have evolved over the past? Is this the time when leaders need to work together as a community to Reimagine IT at their university? These are serious questions that need to be asked not only in IT but in essentially every type of organization.
If the answer is yes, then who are your modern day Warrens, Reveres, Samuel Adams, and Churches? Who are your express riders? Who are your militias? If indeed major change is in front of you, what are you doing to lay the foundation and to be able to lead it to success? If the time is now, are you stepping forward? The future belongs to those who create it.
I hope that you had a wonderful 4th of July celebration yesterday and that you make this week a truly great one.
. . . jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Ride of Paul Revere.
Shin-Kap Han, The Other Ride of Paul Revere: The Brokerage Role in the Making of the American Revolution.
David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride, Oxford University Press, 1994.
Kieran Healy, Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere.
Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap, How to Build Your Network.