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; a gentleman of about 60 years of age. The camera is unwavering. A set up shot. A few discernible cuts. Otherwise, clean clinical but mostly respectful.
Sitting in a sparse elevated office, we see incidentally that life relentlessly trammels on below and behind the speaker regardless of us and our elevated conversations; cars on streets going about their business.
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 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 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 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 creative 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 was not some confected theme or hashtag slogan mantra being played out. The storytelling here was in the nature of the Storyteller.
It was not the dry content of his words that compelled me: though there was one axial moment in his discourse that fixed in my memory.
He (unsurprisingly in an axial moment) made what was for me an axiomatic statement – one which sticks in my memory.
His axiom was thus: “this is about how a company makes its money, not about how it spends it”
I found this statement scintillatingly simple. Its power for me derived from the way in which it frames the resilience strategy of a company with such philosophical clarity.
If a company finds that its focus resides in the first part of the axiomatic phrase – the pursuit of a more sustainable business is infused with a rich seam – of purpose beyond profit, ethical perspectives and corporate morality – and it gives a clear measure of the humanity enshrined within that company.
If the focus is on the second, then the company is about rational efficiencies and economies and smart procurement – a far less compelling and more importantly far less desirable mantra in attracting the right people towards that company.
The reason why the 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.
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 future growth and stability.
As I have said, for me, though powerful, it is not the axiom in his treatise that I found so 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 his intention created license for me to both find his arguments 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.
Having spent an inordinate amount of time around the professional cabal of the sustainability world and the consultancies that advise them, I realize now that I find them often no different to the sociopaths and psychopaths of the financial and advertising worlds they so often deride.
The messianic fervor of righteousness is never far away. One need only scratch a little to find it.
I said once that I was stunned by the amount of self interest I found in what is supposedly vaunted as a shared interest space. In the 3 years between that observation and today that feeling has only strengthened.
This is where the kettle pots and blackening may well begin.
So to be clear, that is not to say that the self interest or self advancement, a certain over confidence, or arrogance and a particularly singular and thick skinned trajectory have not been wielded by self interested individuals to make brilliant and collectively beneficial things happen.
The application of one’s personal mettle in the room to achieve an objective is a precarious process at the best of times – and self PR in a good cause is a dangerous tight rope to walk at the best of times. One shouldn’t be pilloried for faltering or getting it wrong sometimes.
Furthermore, doing so while traversing the particular social minefield of a leading edge cause that requires a deft combination of rare scientific and analytical rigour and messy irrational populist behaviour change is verging on Mission Impossible status.
I have been known to hop about a stage wrapped in my own personal theatre espousing methodologies that are of personal interest to me first and foremost.
So I am the last one to talk. I could never say that the cult of personality is a satanic pall over us all.
BUT the sudden clarity the film gave me around those simple levers and pulleys: a voice and eyes that I trust.
And the sudden realization that imparting a world view where the smile barely penetrates past the retina, or simply fixes like a grimace slung under cold eyes is not going to move this forwards.
Playing ones intellect and credentials before you into a very carefully prepared rooms like a buttered juggernaut to ensure the room is won takes us nowhere – other than to the next room.
Does that mean I think we should all grin like an idiot and play the fool? Or not deploy fierce intellects when they are needed?
Not at all.
I would be the first to say intellect wielded well, whether in arch seriousness or as playful banter is more a matter of style, circumstance and empathy than integrity. I am the first to admit that my own flippancy and ‘lightness of touch’ means that I regularly misrepresent my deeper values and beliefs in this space amongst people who do not see these as even faintly redeeming character traits. I am certain it annoys the crap out of some of the more esteemed minds of the sector, especially if they feel people like me trivialize their cause. A Shiny brand jonny. A Catch phrase Charlie. And an interloper to boot.
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 in its evocation not one demanded through an attrition of rationality.
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? Great. Thanks. Two of those please.
Who knows. Perhaps I a far too one dimensional for all of this and I miss the complexities and subtleties inherent in the thrust and parry. Shallow Is the new Deep.
Al I 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 need some Trust in there to even begin to listen and change tack.
And degrees, credentialing, linked in profiles or executive steering committee positions just don’t cut it with them. That’s your dinner party conversation. Not their life.
So I return to the man who speaks discretely. Sets out his stall. His beliefs and the benefits of what he does.
And 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/