Thursday, 7 June 2007

Telling stories - Changing minds

Do you ever have the feeling that you're being lied to about a few things, but you just don't know what? That there's something wrong with the way society defines your success, but you just can't put your finger on it? Do you question that there has to be more to life than getting a job, making some money, working until you're sixty, then retiring to the country?

The simple answer is there is something wrong. We're living our lives based on cultural stories that define who we ought to be, not who we might want to be. Stories that tell us the planet was created for humanity, greed is good, hierarchal power is progress, money is the only path to happiness, and self-advancement at the cost of others is simply the way of the world.

These stories are myths told to us by a hierarchal society that wants to keep order. A society that says cultural advancement is for the good, yet as generations pass, we're becoming more and more unhappy. We have bought into society's trappings of success—bigger cars, better houses, the latest hi-tech gadgets, more holidays, trend-setting clothes—but none of these things brought us true happiness, because none of these things brought us closer to ourselves.

The good news is that we're living in a time of cultural change, that change is happening because more and more people are asking the hard questions: Besides my job, who am I? What is my part in this world? Why does it matter? These questions help us break out of the stories we've been told and allow us to find our own truth. Our life's purpose.

When we find our authenticity, we no longer have to play a bit part in a corporation's movie, reading a script we didn't write, acting out a part we don't recognize and living a life we didn't plan. It's a revelation to know we have another choice.

The stability of these other choices relies on us finding new stories to replace the old myths. Stories based on truth, not fiction. Stories that place us more in a tribe culture than a dog-eat-dog world. All we need to do is be willing to create the difference we want to see in the world. “That's great,” you might say, “but what can I do about it?”

The stories you have believed so far have been created by politicians, the media and by large corporations. Changing the laws, ideals, and beliefs created or supported by these institutions is done much in the same way—by telling stories.

The advancement of humanity is based on telling stories. Every time we converse with a friend or a coworker, we exchange stories. Our interpretation of history is based on the version of stories we were told. Many of our everyday decisions are based on which story we believe, from the brands we buy to the politicians we elect.

We don't have to be anti-brand, anti-institution to make these changes. In fact there are already large corporations who are creating their own new stories. Citibank in America has become a reflection of social consciousness for the misplaced belief that money is the only route to happiness, running ads that say things like "It's a statement, not a scorecard,"; "Collecting interest does not constitute a hobby" and the ultimate, "Be independently happy".

These ads may seem like lip service, but a bank who's willing to tell its customers that money isn't the only thing in life is a brave institution. By running these ads, Citibank shares a common belief with the public and creates "believers". These believers share their belief with more people and a new story is born. This same kind of believer can be created by any company who creates a story worth believing in. Howies has done it with ecologically sound clothes, Innocent has done it with unadulterated fresh fruit smoothies and The Body Shop has done it with Fairtrade.

We're fortunate to have many organizations leading the way. The CEO of Interface Corporation, the biggest manufacturer of carpet tiles, read the book "The Ecology of Commerce" which radically changed his thinking. After reading the book, he saved Green lobbyists around 20 years of work by transforming one of the most highly toxic manufacturing processes into one of the greenest. After a radical re-design of the production processes, Interface designed a carpet that was fully recyclable.

This had a massive effect on the industry, as all of their competitors had to follow suit just to keep up. Consumers demanded the best. As a culture, we are constantly inundated with brand stories, and we've become adept at tuning them out, until we hear something new, something different, something relevant. This is one of reasons that authentic companies have the advantage in the marketplace. We have unique, some might say, life-changing stories to tell.

When we come into contact with companies who passionately believe in saving the planet, creating Fairtrade, providing work that nurtures the individual, not just the company we understand that change in this culture is worth fighting for.

There's nothing stopping you from doing it with your life's purpose and your own company. Our mission is to create new stories that change peoples' minds and turn them on to a better way of living, by offering an alternative to the old way of thinking. Individually, we can do this and make a difference; together we can change the world.

At This Way Up, we're in the business of helping authentic companies get their stories straight, so they can compete better against the corporate giants and society's myths. Our passionate, easy-to-follow approach makes it possible for authentic companies to better understand and communicate their reasons for existing. In a way that makes people care.

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