Recently, I interviewed Malcolm Wells, who specialises in creating ‘symbols of re-evaluation’, particularly for energy companies: orchestrated sequences of events (often world records of some kind) that capture the public imagination and successfully migrate understanding and perceptions of ‘who’ a company is and what they are trying to do, in a few big steps.
I went into the interview primarily interested in the ‘how’—these are the kind of ideas that many of us talk about in brainstorming sessions, but very rarely hatch into anything real, and colourful because they are seen as too difficult to push through, internally or externally. So how does one drive this through?
Instead, he rightly focused on the strategic intent, and the importance of gaining alignment around that. He cited the work he had done for a large energy joint venture in Africa that demonstrated the value of a new fuel in three steps. At the heart of the key shift in the latter stages was a link with cheetah conservancy, ending with the first race between a man—Springbok rugby player Bryan Habana—and a cheetah.
We made a strategic decision, said Wells, that we would rather be 5 per cent part of a cheetah conversation than 100 per cent of a fuel conversation—the world is much more interested in cheetahs than they are in new kinds of fuel.
It was a perceptive reminder of two things: first, how infrequently we ask: “Which conversation do we want to be a part of?”, and second, that we need to be prepared to abandon the conversation we want to have, but that the world doesn’t care about, and instead contribute productively and engagingly in a conversation the world is interested in and does care about.
Because 5 per cent of a relevant and newsworthy conversation is better than 100 per cent of one that the world wants to ignore.
Adam Morgan is founding partner of eatbigfish. Follow him on Twitter @eatbigfish.