I once heard a story (although I don’t know if it is true) about two organizations: The first would carefully study individual regions of the country where they might add new stores. The demographics, sales potential, and dynamics of a particular area were studied in depth, presumably weighed against the costs of a particular style of store. Only then would strategic new store locations be selected and constructed.
The second company just built their stores right next to wherever the first company built theirs!
In business, it is sometimes strategic to be a “fast follower”. While the cost of innovating and being disruptive is often borne by entrepreneurial or cutting-edge organizations, others businesses watch to see what new designs, technologies, or strategies are working, and then step in to quickly adopt them for themselves.
This isn’t great if you’re the entrepreneur, taking the risk of trying something new, only to lose your strategic lead to others who poach your idea. Business strategies and management of intellectual property can mitigate this, but I imagine that it is an ongoing challenge for some invention-based companies.
However, in other cases, having fast followers is actually welcome. For instance, when taking a stand in a crowd for the side of righteousness, we typically appreciate it when others quickly step up to support us.
In addition, it seems that once a first person takes a stand for a position that we agree with, it is often much easier to follow, versus being the first to speak out. Whether we are first or second, though, sometimes only one or two others will step up to support the right position in a group (where the right thing is unpopular). Other times, a large group might raise their hands or voices in solidarity.
The wise Solomon wrote the following:
A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 NLT
It is often incumbent upon us to rally with others (not necessarily at a formal event with signs and slogans, although that may sometimes be appropriate) to support truth and actions that are in line with God’s will. In a fallen world, where the forces of evil are actively working to draw people away from God, being a passive supporter of righteousness is not going to be enough. Instead, followers of Jesus must actively get the truth out in front of those who don’t know it, and demonstrate the blessings of living life as Jesus intended.
However, while it’s great to be a “fast follower” of righteousness, sometimes we must also be the first person to speak up. Consider this testimony about Noah:
This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God.
Genesis 6:9 NLT
Noah didn’t wait for someone else to step up and start living in a way that ran contrary to popular opinion. It seems that no one else on the earth was following God, so Noah didn’t have a large community of righteous people to hang out with, or to gain strength from. Upon receiving God’s instructions, Noah didn’t sit back until someone else started building an ark, and then signed on to the project. Instead, he stood strong and did the right thing, even when others did not.
Like Noah, are we willing to be the first person who tries to do right in a crowd? When we do so, we may enable others to become “fast followers”. Still, even if they do not, may we have the faith of Noah, to trust that God’s way is the best way, regardless of how many people follow Him.
After all, none of us is the first person to live righteously, according to God’s will. Even if we sometimes fall short, we can at least be a “fast follower” of Jesus Christ, who was the ultimate trailblazer for us to follow.