Caring about what people care about, changing the language of sustainability, Commercial & Civic Alignment, Copenhagen Film Company, Corporate Integrity, Credentials, Emotion vs. Reason, Intellect worn lightly, Mads Ovlisen, Maya Angelou, people Powered Change, Setting the Agenda, Stakeholder power, storytelling, Sustainability Pillars, Tone Of Voice, Trust. Sustainable Strategy, UNGC
I watched a film today. A discrete film. An understated film. A short film.
No popcorn. No slash cut dash glut editing. No highly confected verite cutaways. No corporate schlock horror probe. No desperately arch atavistic activist paddling in their own propaganda.
The film, by the Copenhagen Film Company, focused all of its attention on one man.
The camera is unwavering. A set up shot. A few discernible cuts. One push in. Otherwise, clean, clinical and respectful of the subject.
Sitting in a sparse elevated office, we see incidentally through the window behind the subject that life relentlessly trammels on behind and below, regardless of us and our elevated conversations.
The man, Mads Ovlisen, a Senior Advisor at the United Nations Global Compact, speaks of running sustainable businesses. He speaks of the UNGC, committed to setting the agenda and aligning policy around sustainability issues – Energy, Water, Agriculture, Renewables, Food, Transportation, Building and Pharmaceuticals: most every pillar and issue one might ever imagine turning up on a company’s sustainability strategy slide.
He speaks of a discrete yet powerful stakeholder group who collectively make astonishing impacts in the world through their brands and businesses. He speaks of how much fortitude it takes to merge civil and corporate interests.
The man speaks of things that still fall far from the ears or the offices of the average Brand Jonny or Jane (and probably far from their frame of reference or, to be blunt, self interest). Though, to be fair, they would I hope understand the emotion that the film evoked in me.
Maya Angelou’s exposition on the transformative power of emotion versus reason – “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”- is a powerful philosophical sound bite for an ad man or woman looking to do more creative and insightful storytelling.
It is one I respect, as I do spend most of my time seeking to make very complex things simple through creative story telling.
But the storytelling here is not some confected theme or hashtag slogan mantra being played out. The storytelling here is in the nature of the Storyteller.
It is not the dry content of his words that I particularly remember: though there is one axial moment in his discourse that did fix itself in my memory.
“This is about how a company makes its money, not about how it spends it”
The scintillating simplicity of the statement enables one to view a company’s resilience strategy with a powerful philosophical clarity.
If a company finds that its focus resides in the first part of the phrase – the pursuit of a more sustainable business becomes seemingly infused with a richer seam of intentions – of purpose beyond profit, ethical perspectives and corporate morality – and it gives a clear measure of the degree of humanity that might be enshrined within that company.
If the focus is on the second part, then the company errs on the side of rational efficiencies and economies and smart procurement – potent and very very necessary but a far less compelling and more importantly far less desirable mantra in attracting the right people towards that company.
The reason why this subtle difference is or should be so important to companies is rooted in the part of their resilience strategy that demands best possible future talent be attracted in to the business.
I sense that the leadership and purpose at play in the first shading is vastly more attractive to Millennials than the second, which suddenly feels quite ’90s Business School in comparison.
Its not about which one is right or wrong. It is about which one is more powerful and compelling: and fit for the purpose. And though the ability to sustain itself financially is paramount and primary to any business’s success, its ability to relentlessly and profitably attract best in class new and enlightened talent has to be the only strategy for purposeful future growth and stability.
As I have said, for me, though powerful, it is not ultimately this axiom that made me ‘feel’ something to remember beyond the words. It was the man that I found more compelling. He was the story. The storyteller as the living embodiment of the story he tells.
It was not what he was saying so much as how he said it: his demeanour in the telling.
Simply put, his easy intelligence held lightly, the fixedness and the quiet purpose of his delivery were what drew me in. His eyes and his voice where in some ways hypnotic. A ruse perhaps the cynics might say. Or is he just another modulated technocrat? Maybe.
But the simple fact for me is that his demeanour, delivery and my sense of the integrity of his intention created license for me to find his arguments both authentic and trustworthy.
I would go and listen to him speak again. I WANT to find out more of what’s in his head and heart. And therein lies the emotional killer insight.
Why is this so compelling to me?
Having spent a large amount of time around the professional cabal of the sustainability world and the consultancies that advise them, I find the thing this man seemed to hold within him all too often surprisingly lacking in the room.
I realize now that the sustainability scene is populated with the same kind of politicking sociopaths and psychopaths as the financial and advertising worlds that the sustainability crowd so often deride. A realisation which to be fair simply throws a sharp light on my naivety.
The messianic fervor of righteousness is never far away. One need only scratch a little to find it. This should at best be a powerful driver towards a success. But all to often it can equally become blinded and corrupted by its own sense of righteousness and lose sight of all that it has consistently fought for
I said once that I was stunned by the amount of self interest I found in what is vaunted as a shared interest space. In the 3 years between that observation and today that feeling has only strengthened. (As someone who has spent near on 30 years in the Ad world that’s starting from a fairly low expectation base and heavily tinged with black, kettles and pots but bear with me.)
BUT the sudden clarity the film gave me around the simple human levers and pulleys: of a voice and eyes that I trust. And the sudden realization that when imparting a world view, it really does matter if the storyteller’s smile seems to barely penetrate past the retina, or simply fixes like a grimace slung under cold eyes. It really does matter whether I find the storyteller sympatico or antipatico because if I don’t trust the messenger or the storyteller, the message is utterly lost to me both rationally and more importantly emotionally.
Playing ones intellect and credentials before you into very carefully prepared rooms like a buttered juggernaut full of Bona Fides to ensure the room is won before it is entered takes us nowhere – other than to the next room.
Does that mean I think we should all grin like an idiot or play the touchy feely ‘down with the people’ card? Or not deploy fierce intellects when they are needed for fear of intellectual bullying?
Not at all. I would be the first to say that the way in which intellect is wielded, whether in arch seriousness or as playful banter is more a matter of style, circumstance and empathy than a measure of integrity.
I am the first to admit that my own flippancy and ‘lightness of touch’ brings the veracity of my deeper values and beliefs in this space into question amongst people who do not see levity as even faintly endearing.
I am certain it annoys the crap out of some of the more esteemed minds of the sector, especially if they feel people such as I are seeking only to trivialize their cause.
BUT I am on a populist agenda: I want us to find the language, the demeanour and the presence that makes more people turn towards us, listen and find what we impart desirable and accommodating of the real life they lead.
So for me there needs to be creative storytelling based upon what people care about to illuminate sustainability truths. And there needs to be humanity. But mostly there needs to be trust. Trust that is human and effortless; not something we demand via an attrition of rationality and polemics.
It’s a simple human mechanism: Do I trust the person imparting the ‘wisdom’ to me. Do they make me feel bad and stupid? Or good and smart? If its good and smart: Great. Thanks. Two of those please.
Who knows. Perhaps I am far too one dimensional for all of this and I miss the complexities and subtleties inherent in the thrust and parry of the polemicists.
All I do know is that the average man or woman trying to get to the end of the month and have a nice life without bankrupting themselves and the planet need some Trust in there to even begin to listen and change tack.
Degrees, conferences, credentialing, linked in profiles or executive steering committee positions are great to set the agenda but not to democratise it. They just don’t cut it with the 85+% of the people out there. That’s your dinner party conversation. Not their life.
So I return to the film. And the man who speaks discretely. Sets out his stall: his beliefs, and the benefits of what he does.
At the end of it he gets my vote. I’d put him in a pub with a load of people I was trying to bring round to the cause.
He might not be their cup of tea. They might even find him boring.
But I think they’d trust him.
The film can be found at http://thisistouch.com/this-is/the-news/