Storytelling For Sustainability
There is conflict and confusion over cause, severity and outcomes, a million ideas and solutions drowning each other out. And in the middle of it all, consumers don't know who to believe, what to do, and how to feel. At best, we're stressed and confused. At worst, we're going catatonic and numb, unable to effect any change at all.
Funny as it may sound, what we need is a good story.
Storytelling is, and always has been, the antidote to information overload. As Edward Wachtman says, stories are the structure that brings order to our existence.
As humans, we are wired for order and sequence. We intuitively organize the millions of independent events in our lives into a clean, comprehensible structure with a past, present and future. One of the mechanisms we use to do this is storytelling.
Stories bring an emotional context to the unfamiliar, enabling us to not only process information, but determine if that information should sway us.
Truth is, you can't win anyone over with a superior argument. You need to connect with them on an emotional level.
When Aeschines spoke, they said "How well he speaks." But when Demosthenes spoke, they said "Let us march against Philip."
What's the green story?
Climate change, sustainability and green innovation may be relatively new topics. But as the dusty newspaper aphorism goes, there are no new stories.
In fact, when you dig into the disarray, you find many elements of our current situation fall naturally into a story template. That template, described by green PR expert James Hoggan, has the following elements:
1. Foreboding -- a vague sense that something isn't right
2. Triggering event -- a moment that causes us to act
3. Epiphany -- the curtains draw back and we see clearly
4. Reconciliation -- we act to bring reality in line with our vision
5. Transformation -- we grow based on the experience
6. Return and responsibility -- we bring our new wisdom to daily life
Let's take the Ray Anderson story. Anderson runs Interface Carpet, a shining light of green innovation. For years, he answered Interface's environmental critics with "I'm doing what I have to -- I'm obeying the law" despite his growing sense of foreboding about his company's environmental impact.
His triggering event came when he read Paul Hawken's Ecology of Commerce, leading to the epiphany that 'business as usual' would make his legacy a dead planet.
Reconciliation came when he redefined Interface's mission, and brought his managers aboard to create a bold new vision.
This led to Interface's transformation, with incredible product and business model innovations -- culminating in its No. 1 ranking in the SustainAbility global survey.
The story concludes with Anderson living a new life as a sought after speaker and advisor on all issues eco -- including a key role advising on President Obama's Climate Action Plan.
Innovation needs storytelling
Innovation (green or otherwise) is, by definition, new. In a world moving at breakneck speed, new is not always welcome.
Storytelling ensures that your innovation has the momentum it needs to overcome inertia and resistance to change - both inside your organization, and out in the real world.
A staggeringly large number of things have to go just right for a new idea, service or business model to ever see the light of day -- and many of them involve changing or expanding consumer thinking. Without the glue, context, and inspiration of storytelling, the odds are stacked against you.
Without a story, a great innovation can be reduced to a clever invention among a million clever inventions. With a story, it can help educate consumers, drive them to positive behavior change, and perhaps even inspire greater, more fervent climate action. Not bad for a new product or service.