Real Leaders

Are You Willing To Get Arrested?

I just completed a strategy weekend with Jeff Jordan and his executive team who lead Rescue Social Change Group. I have previously written about them because I find their purpose-driven capitalism so compelling. There are ferociously committed to their purpose and totally focused on their profitability. They get it. More margin, more mission.

What is so striking about Rescue SCG is Jeff’s infectious commitment to help youth express their individuality without sacrificing their health and well-being. At 30 years old, Jeff is the acknowledged though leader of positive behavior change marketing. It’s all based on science and evidence-based conclusions driven from research projects he conducts with internal and external brainiacs, such as the University of California at San Francisco.

Jeff has figured out how to use the psychology of social identity to promote healthy behavior instead of risky behavior even among youth who want to appear rebellious. You know, hipsters, goths, alternatives, rappers, punks and more. How he does it is brilliant psychological magic.

And it’s not a trick or manipulation. The kids he impacts know exactly what he’s doing and they willingly embrace it. While it’s astonishing that he just recently won a $152 million contract from the FDA to prevent at-risk youth from smoking, what’s even more remarkable is that he began his business as a high school student 13 years ago and never looked back. Jeff is a creative, driven Steve Jobs character.

He wasn’t an entrepreneur dropout. He went to college and grad school. He won a $500,000 contract from the state of Virginia out of his dorm room. It takes over-the-top confidence to even bid on a big state project in between history and math class. But that’s just evidence of his passion that drives his thirst for innovation and impact. My favorite story of Jeff’s entrepreneurial zeal was a night he got arrested for staging an anti-tobacco dance party at a sports complex sponsored by the local department of public health.

He spent months attracting thousands of individualistic teenagers who loved hip-hop music and it’s edgy vibe. Through lots of serious research Jeff had also unearthed a set of social values that actually connect the hip-hop crowd to healthy athleticism and looking good that are incompatible with smoking. He also inspired the informal natural leaders of this community to promote personal health as a foundation for being cool.

The capstone of this campaign was a huge anti-smoking, pro-health dance party that had attracted more than 5,000 teenagers.  It was extraordinarily well planned with the department of public health, the necessary permits and the local sports complex. The event had ample, unobtrusive private security and was even scheduled to end at midnight. But then something went wrong. Not with the party but with the sheriffs department. It seems that the local sheriff had decided that the hip-hop culture was inherently criminal and needed to be stamped out.

In fact, Bill Young, the Sheriff at the time, was even quoted in the Wall Street Journal explaining why he was fighting to prevent rap artists from performing at local casinos, “[rap music is] poisoning the minds of our children and destroying our moral sense.” Nobody in the health department told the Sheriff that the event was part of an innovative public health campaign, nor that it was fully funded by the same county that he pledged to protect.

So with over 2,000 teenagers inside and over 1,000 more lined up around the arena waiting to get in, hundreds of police swept in including mounted police officers and an overhead police helicopter. They arrested some youth that looked scary to them, arrested Jeff and put them in a paddy wagon, locked them up and shut down the dance. No, there was nothing-illegal going on. The party just looked like it might be scary.

Jeff was out in a few hours, charges were dropped and he knew that he had found his calling. Now when Jeff plans youth events he always includes local law-enforcement in the plans. After all, he wouldn’t want to scare anybody with too much teen culture. Today Jeff speaks all over the world on positive behavior change marketing.

He runs his agency like a business because he believes the disciplines of business will enable him to reach more youth, attract more talent, do more good and make more of a difference. Does he believe in the difference he’s making? You tell me… he got arrested for it! So how about you… is there anything you’re willing to be arrested for? Can you turn that into a business? It’s worth thinking about.


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