Thursday, 30 September 2010

A business book in Seven Days - Chapter Four

Please let me know your thoughts on Chapter Four!


Chapter Four

Storytelling to Create a Vision

Alice went on ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go?’
That depends a good deal on where you want to get to, said the Cat
‘I don’t much care where’ said Alice
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat

Alice In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

“When there is no Vision, people perish”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

A few years ago I had the opportunity to take a group of CEO’s on a tour of the Eden Project in Cornwall. We weren’t looking for ways to save the world or the next big sustainable thing in business. We were looking for Leadership. And we found it in spades.

When you first meet Tim Smit, the charismatic founder of the Eden Project, you are immediately stuck by his immense energy and charisma. Even if you didn’t know he was once a successful record producer, re-discovered The Lost Gardens of Heligan and then went on to create what many consider to be the eight wonder of the world, you can’t help but be intrigued and impressed by him.

He is a big man. And he talks at a rapid pace, about great big important things, with humour, determination and flair.

As he led the group of Execs on a tour of The Eden Project he explained the seemingly insurmountable problems he, and his team, had to overcome to get it open. And that’s when he began to talk about Storytelling.

He explained that all his life he has employed “the Tinkerbell theory”. I can’t remember his exact words, so forgive the fact I am quoting from his book :

“In Peter Pan, Tinkerbell is a fairy who exists only if people believe in her. I know that if enough people can be made to believe in something it will happen”

With a, sometimes, fractured – and often unpaid team - he created a shared Vision of what Eden could be – it’s potential contribution to the local community, to education and to the planet. They in turn used this shared Vision and the passion it generated to persuade council planners, environmentalists, hard-nosed media types and the people of Cornwall that Eden simply had to be built.

Tim admits, that occasionally he has had to stretch the truth to get through a sticky situation, but in his inimitable style he calls this “the telling of future truths”. It may not be true today but if enough people believe in it, it will be true tomorrow.

The first lesson for my group of CEO’s, that wet day in Cornwall, was:

If you want to build a successful business you need to get people to believe in that which is not yet real.

Tim is not alone in using stories and “future truths” to drive change.

Martin Luther King’s famous speech ‘I have a Dream’ was delivered to 250,000 civil rights campaigners, at the end of the ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’ in August 1963. This speech is often cited as the catalyst for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Dr King started by setting a context:

“Five years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.”

He went on to bring state the current situation, though repetition and dramatic imagery:

“But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land”

He continued with the, now famous, Vision for American society:

“ I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

This is our hope”

His Vision and call to action crossed generations, class, creed and colour to break down the barriers of segregation and deliver emancipation to the Black people of America.

Now to bring us right up to date in the Digital Age.

Who amongst us has not used Google? From a garage at Stanford, the co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, have built a by-word for the Internet Generation. There is even a verb “to google” in the OED.

Much has been written about Google’s fantastic culture, the rigorous hiring methods, and the company’s Values. But when I have been fortunate enough to visit their ‘campus’ both in the USA and Europe, what stuck me the most is their Vision.

Google’s Vision is

“to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”

This is as audacious as it is awe inspiring.

Some of the very best minds in the world go to work everyday, knowing that this is what they are being paid to do. The very audacious nature of the Vision forces them to think more and more creatively for ways to achieve it. This has resulted in break through technology that was unimaginable a few years ago.

Google’s Vision is tri-fold

1) Organise - though Cloud technology

2) Universally accessible – though ubiquitous connectivity we can access our data in the Nevarda desert on a mobile phone

3) Useful – connecting data and information and offering solutions to the user with innovations like Google Maps and Fastflip

But there is a danger that a Vision so large could be daunting and, rather than inspire the Googlers, it could defeat them.

In order to achieve their strategy, they have developed a clear framework:

1) Create a climate of innovation
2) Focus on the User
3) Create Partnerships
4) Be global, but truly local
5) Create value and be competitive

The “future truth” is set out and the path in clear. And with a consciously created climate of innovation, they are proving that, almost, anything is possible.

So I want you to ask yourself the following questions.

1) Why did you get out of bed and go to work today?

2) How did that ‘duvet chuck’ moment feel?

3) What story will you tell when you get home tonight?

And more importantly…

3) What story would you like to tell?

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