Daniel PInk's A Whole New Mind states that one of the six essential aptitudes necessary to differentiate one's business (or presentation!) is that of story. Having to deal with a post-lunch audience full from food and sun, this afternoon's first round of speakers were up to the challenge as they inspired us with their stories, but also reminded us of the importance of story in the realm of sustainability.
Julie Cordua, Director of Communications for (RED), shared with us the path taken by one of the most successful cause marketing campaigns in history. Started as a way to fulfill the private commitment in the public/private partnership of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, (RED) quickly decided to focus their story on the greatest point of need - AIDS in Africa. Through the leveraging of partnerships with global brands, (RED) has been able to not only send $166 million to Africa, but also share the story of those whose lives have been dramatically improved due to ARV medication. Still, the organization's story continues to evolve. By 2015, they hope to eradicate mother to child transmissions of AIDS. Using a sustainable business model, (RED) is looking to deliver the world's first AIDS free generation in 30 years. Now, that's a story worth telling.
Known for The SHIFT Report as well as her role as a Principal at Ci, Kierstin DeWest emphasized the importance of context. While most sustainability stories include the four pillars of society, environment, financial viability and spirituality, Kierstin says that we will be unable to effectively communicate the need for change unless we frame it in a way that recognizes relationships and values of each individual. Add specificity, credibility and a local story, and we then have the potential to inspire others to "[meet] our current needs without screwing the potential for the future to meet theirs."
As a perfect closer to a trio of storytellers, Jonah Sachs, Founder of Free Range Studios and the mind behind The Meatrix, educated us on the importance of myth. In an age where many of us are trying to move the cultural conversation, stories must now be powerful enough to change the core stories people carry with them and survive in an age of information overload. For those of you who have doubts that it's possible, just look to The Story of Stuff and its 15 million views. Jonah further explained that these myths not only include explanation, meaning and story, but also freaks, cheats and familiars (also known as those who break our expectations, those who break the rules and things with which we can immediately relate). Jonah recommends looking to ad campaigns to see how they leverage these elements. I would also strongly suggest reading Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth.
The afternoon's first round of speakers have faith that we all have the power to tell our sustainability story in a compelling way, whether it be through the written word, presentations or visual metaphors. Still, it is our job to find the appropriate context and meaning for our audience to drive them to action.
Jessica Watson is completing her second semester of the innovative MBA in Design Strategy program at California College of the Arts' where she is focusing on sustainability and social entrepreneurship. This is her first Compostmodern conference, but she is sure it will not be her last.