Last week saw our tenth Google Firestarters event. I can hardly believe it's been over two years since we had our first event. Since then we've built some pretty significant momentum, had some amazing and thought provoking talks (too many to mention individually) and a real sense of community has built around the events which is great to be a part of. To mark our tenth event we focused on the theme of 'Planning For Good' and had three smart and inspirational speakers.
John Grant, who is something of a long-time hero of mine (and who was beamed in via hangout from RuralHub in Italy), spoke in a talk rich with ideas of how planning for good might be considered as a mix of turning planning skills to good causes and trying to create cause related and social mission strategies for clients. His overarching theme was that the best way to do planning for good is to be a planner for good. In other words to take an inside view, to start with an ethic, with a personal commitment, a rounded human satisfaction with your working life. Another way to think about this he said, is Erik Ercison's idea of 'generativity', or the creativty between generations, "a concern for establishing and guiding the next generation." (Jonathan Zittrain's definition of Generativity is "a system's capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences").
Brands and virtue can be an awkward mix. There is an Arab proverb: "a good deed dies when it is spoken about", and the danger is in doing good against just seeming good. John used the example of the term 'greenwashing', which originated in reference to hotel towel schemes that might make the hotel company look environmentally friendly but are an isolated example and take no account of what else the company might be doing. Really doing good can have significant benefit for brands in terms of brand resilience, loyalty, longevitity and meaningfulness. So really it's about the choices we make about who we will work with, what ideas come naturally into our general work, particularly around innovation perhaps. John finsihed with some recurring approaches around creating a space wherein people and customers can live better:
- Innovation - creating better alternatives
- Education - fuller knowledge usually means better choices
- Co-operation, participation - citizens not consumers
- Working with authentic human ways of life, instincts, free-will
- Avoiding alienation - meet the consideration of a human mind not a system
- Curative creativity - that heals divides, or its just a great idea that gives people joy
- Working on the core offer rather than the fringe
- The best ideas are those that transform the organisation - new self-image or vision
- Giving access to the excluded - a fairer, more integrated society
- Working in real local communities - in your backyard, keeping your feet on the ground
Nick Hirst, Planning Director at Dare, focused on the relationship between money and doing good. Milton Friedman argued that CEOs should be motivated only by money and was explicit about the supposed oppositional relationship between delivering shareholder value and doing pretty much anything else. Jack Welch called “shareholder value” the “dumbest idea in the world”. And yet it's wrong to consider that improving lives is diametrically opposed (or at least at tension with) making money. People pay for what makes their lives better, For brands that make them happy or that serve a useful purpose. Improving lives might actually be a more profitable way of growing brands. Nick referenced Obliquity, John Kay's fascinating book which makes the case that our goals are often best achived indirectly. Obliquity is relevant whenever complex systems evolve in an uncertain environment, and whenever the effect of our actions depends on the ways in which others respond to them, which definitely applies to marketing. So instead of 'doing CSR', build purpose into your business plan. People are increasingly uncomfortable with the collateral damage of the brand choices they make, so think about the role that guilt might play in a choice between two trivially different brands. How much guilt does your brand create? Businesses are made of individuals, and the choices that those individuals make. So planning for good is about choices. It makes business sense to make lives better. Avoid collateral damage. And be moral.
Our last speaker was Sam Conniff, who runs Livity, the marketing agency that works with youth communities in South London and embed the power of purpose in everything that they do. It was a hugely inspiring and moving talk - I couldn't possibly do it justice here but I urge you to check out his wonderful TEDX talk in which he talked around some similar themes.
Sam's passion is tackling the systematic waste of the talent of our young people which he believes is one of the most precious natural resources and powerful forces for change and good that we have. Amongst many other things that they do Livity run mentoring programmes pairing people working in business with some of the young people in their local community. Sam's belief is that the true beneficiary of mentoring is more often the mentor, and that the benefits are increased proportionately to the greater the cultural or experience gap between the mentor and mentee. He ended with a challenge to the audience to mentor some of the young people they work with, for their own benefit, not just the young persons. I believe a number of people who attended the event have responded, and I have signed up myself.
All in all, it was a wonderful event so my thanks to our amazing speakers, to Google as always for hosting, and to the many that attended. The Scriberia visual of the talks is below - you can view a larger, higher res version of that here.
And there is a Storify of the event which is well worth a look: