Thursday, June 13, 2013

Global Warming Language

When we talk about about global warming, what language are we speaking?

At BGI we learn a lot about effective communication. We learn the language of accounting, finance, marketing, strategy, and operations so we can make a business case for a new venture. How effectively we can tell a story truly impacts the outcomes we experience. We've learned specifically how to communicate aspects of the triple(or quadruple) bottom line. 

Effective communication depends on understanding your audience. Are we talking to investors, family, friends, or strangers? When we talk about climate change and global warming, what language is most effective? Science jargon? Business? "Layman's" terms?

When it comes the issue of global warming, it's imperative that the message is clear.

The Sightline Institute has been running a project entitled "Flashcards", designed to showcase effective communication tools using values-based strategies. In this post, I'll try to capture some key takeaways.
  1. Communicating the Science of Climate Change (Somerville & Hassol)
    1. Focus on what we know - Stop leading with caveats and disclaimers
    2. Start with the bottom line, then provide the details. 
    3. Use plain language that communicates the message you want
      1. "Theory" sounds like a 'hunch' or 'speculation': "Scientific understanding"
  2. A Guide for Engaging and Winning on Climate Change and Energy in America (Breakthrough Strategies and Solutions LLC.)
    1. Threat: Talk about extreme weather and protecting our kids: Value of Responsibility
    2. Solutions: Talk about American ingenuity: Value of Patriotic Pride
    3. Villains: Talk about fossil fuel stranglehold on government: Value of Accountability
  3. Two Rules for talking about Climate Change
    1. Talk about it. People love to talk about the weather. Not acknowledging climate change is irresponsible. 
    2. Keep it simple.
  4. Climate Change in the American Mind (Leiserowitz, Yale & George Mason University)
    1. There's also a great video to watch here: Bill Moyer's interview with Anthony Leiserowitz
    2. Identifying the audience (Six Americas)
      1. The Alarmed - 16%
      2. The Concerned - 29%
      3. The Cautious - 25%
      4. The Disengaged - 8%
      5. The Doubtful - 13%
      6. The Dismissive - 8%
    3. Simple message and make it personal(to your specific audience)
      1. Climate change is happening, and it's a big deal.
      2. It's personal - not partisan.
      3. There's hope!
  5. A Public Health Frame arouses hopeful emotions about climate change(Nisbet, Maibach, et. al.)
    1. Comparative study of three frameworks:
      1. Environmental consequences - "Do it for the planet!"
      2. National security - "Fossil fuels = war!"
      3. Public health - "Keep our families safe!"
        1. Most likely to elicit emotional reactions with support for climate change mitigation and action
        2. Connects on a personal level

Now that we've been given some useful frameworks and tools around the language of global warming, let's use them.



Jill Bamburg, part of BGI's core faculty team, led a fascinating discussion around strategy at our final intensive of the year. The June 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review ignited the conversation as they published three articles oriented around the evolving world of strategy.

  • Transient Advantage: Achieving a sustainable competitive edge is nearly impossible these days A Playbook for strategy in a high velocity world
  • What Is the Theory of Your Firm: Focus less on competitive advantage and more on growth that creates value
  • The New Dynamics of Competition: An emerging science for modeling strategic moves
As technology has moved from waterfall implementation to MVP and Agile processes, companies that are most nimble are the ones succeeding. What sort of implications does this have for strategy? The argument is that as business evolves, so must strategy. 

I hold that perspective that good strategy includes evolution. I also appreciate my classmate Emily Kanter's stance on growth, and recognizing the cyclical nature of the world, also appreciates how businesses can exit the marketplace(Also a shout-out to Cameron Miller "To grow or not to grow"). In the HBR article "What is the Theory of Your Firm", they capture this concept well:
...To make matters worse, attempts to grow often undermine a company’s current market position. As Michael Porter, the leading proponent of strategy as positioning, has argued, “Efforts to grow blur uniqueness, create compromises, reduce fit, and ultimately undermine competitive advantage. In fact, the growth imperative is hazardous to strategy.” Quite simply, the logic of this perspective not only provides little guidance about how to sustain value creation but also discourages growth that might in any way move a company away from its current strategic position...
Aside from changing paradigms around growth strategies, this point illustrates to me how effective our old theories can be. Porter's theories around competition and strategy evolved around the concepts that "Zero-sum is ho-hum" and effective strategy requires working with uncertainty. To me this speaks to our conversation around Purpose in Business. 

John Boyd's OODA loop theory on strategy truly captures working within a dynamic environment. Moving quickly through this loop is essential to learning, and ultimately, surviving. Their are some powerful parallels between this theory on strategy, and how we move through our own lives. Boyd comes from a military background, where strategy in war truly determines the impact on human lives. Even the new theories on startup strategy, with Eric Ries and the lean startup embraces the OODA loop. The purpose of the minimum viable product(MVP) is primarily in moving through the loop quickly.

Good strategy lasts through the ages, whether it's Sun Tzu's Art of War or Musashi's Book of Five Rings, it comes down to the application of strategy.

What variables affect the application of strategy?

The largest barrier that I have seen, and which also resurfaced during our conversation, is the effective application of strategy in super-sized organizations. The bigger the ship, the harder it is to turn. This isn't an argument against growth or large organizations, it's simply the acknowledgment that more challenges around adaptability arise the larger an organization is. I wonder what implications organizational design theory has around this. Can we use fractal design processes to allow all elements of an organization change at once? What about biomimicry? There are countless examples of a cluster of organisms dynamically shifting together. Schools of fish that can turn on a dime, or insects who lead from the rear.

What opportunities do we have to allow effective application of strategy?

Patent Trolls or Goals?

"Congress shall have power...To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." - United States Constitution: Article 1.8.8.

How do we track how well we are "promoting progress" in the United States? How do we measure innovation? I might suggest that tracking patents could be a great measure of innovation. Unfortunately, patent law and the politics surrounding it are a mess right now. The White House just published a fascinating piece entitled "Taking on Patent Trolls to Protect American Innovation". They analyze the impacts of patent litigation on the economy and on innovation. Over the past 10 years, as technology has exploded(for better or worse), so have patent filings. In fact, the number of patent cases filed over the past decade has doubled, from around 2500 to 5000 since 2003. Impressively, "patent trolls" account for over 3000 of these cases, much more than the couple hundred they were 10 years ago.

Coincidentally(maybe?), This American Life broadcast a part-two on their story on patent trolls. Fascinating, as Intellectual Ventures - the local (Bellevue) company - is the star of the story, as well as a major player in the study shared by the White House.

I encourage everyone to hear Intellectual Ventures perspective as well, and draw your own conclusions. They have three pertinent articles:
I agree wholeheartedly that our current system of patent law is flawed, and that massive amounts of litigation don't inspire innovation. For me, it hinges upon intention. Are we rewarding innovation or just trying to make a buck?

Coming from the perspective of positive psychology, I offer a reframe to the discussion. How do we(as a society) go back to square one and "promote the progress of science and useful arts"? The top line in the White House's patent report executive summary says, "Some firms that own patents but do not make products with them play an important role in U.S. innovation ecosystem, for example by connecting manufacturers with inventors, thereby allowing inventors to focus on what they do best". 

What practices can we implement to encourage this type of behavior?

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