Are You Ready to Believe in Business?
A lot can happen in a single moment.
A life ends.
A light bulb turns on.
Unicorns are born… ok ok, we’ll stick with the light bulbs.
In the past eight months, we’ve seen first-hand more than 200 moments of inspiration. It’s happening in a place you might not expect: corporate America. Change is in the air, but you’ll need to listen carefully to hear it.
A moment of inspiration is a lot like a light bulb. It seems so simple once it’s on, but it can take years or decades to create the right conditions. And once you’re inspired, what do you do next?
Maybe you’re not in a creative industry like design. Why then would you care about inspiration? Because inspiration speaks to our humanity and your company is filled with real humans who are yearning to contribute.
Always remember that each person in your organization is an individual with a unique perspective and something unique to offer to your team and the world. While capitalism widened the middle class and brought prosperity to more people than any prior system, it still dehumanizes too many workers by not treating them as individuals.
You want a better way, you say?
Inspiration is an individual experience. It’s an instant response to the right conditions that reinforces our belief in what’s possible. It motivates immediate action and is necessary to craft creative solutions and seize fleeting opportunities. Inspiration is a rhythmic force that helps us get unstuck and stay focused on what’s most important. In any community that celebrates shared innovation and collective well-being, inspiration can spread quickly to build momentum and align dreams.
As we all stand together on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution, it’s impossible for even the geekiest of geeks to predict how quickly our world will advance to accommodate our most pressing needs. Whatever skeptics say, the world has a long way to go for everyone to have access to opportunity and prosperity, and surely inspiration will be central to that progress.
The greatest source of untapped innovative capacity is not technology — it’s our largely uninspired workforce. Each person wants to contribute and to be heard. She wants to connect with someone. He wants to know that his perspective matters. But advances in technology can help people organize and communicate more efficiently so they’ll have a greater impact and will know how they each contribute to a greater purpose.
Wait, won’t technology turn people into robots whose uninspired performance becomes automatic? I thought we were going the other direction. No, not robots (though having Google Glass implants might help me remember people’s names). I’m suggesting that, fortunately, there is a predictable path toward sustained and impactful inspiration in the workplace. It starts with how companies tell their stories, which is a combination of saying and doing.
Stories connect people by bridging the gap of our unique perspectives and imperfect communication. The best stories share what we believe and resonate emotionally with people who also believe. They deepen our understanding of each other, fuel relationships and inspire action.
When you think about your website or sales pitch or media coverage, are you telling a story that inspires and entertains? Think really hard about it for a few minutes. Turn off your phone, stop playing with your cat, take a breath and think.
If the answer is no, don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, most of the people we interview aren’t thinking about telling stories at all. They are still talking to people about what they make and do (what they sell). And many of them run very successful businesses. It’s some seriously impressive stuff.
People increasingly want to support businesses that stand for something meaningful, whether through a purchase or where they choose to work. Authentic stories are the best way to connect potential customers and employees with these companies, but some fundamentals must be in place before a company can tell stories that resonate and develop lasting relationships. Businesses that aren’t ready to say what they believe will find themselves scrambling to keep up with those that put in the effort to change. While inspiration may happen in a moment, the kind of change an organization needs to tell these stories requires a lot of groundwork.
We aren’t people who tend to worry a lot. But we’re concerned for companies that can’t make this change in mindset to express what they believe, because we are starting to see its benefit so clearly. We’re not geniuses. We’re just a group of people in Chicago that started to see things differently after we met Simon Sinek, who taught the world to start with Why.
One big thing we have going for our research is our insatiable curiosity. We love to collect data and refine our ideas by expanding our own perspectives. So we started interviewing business leaders to get their take on marketing and media, which are typically how businesses think about storytelling. Like so many epic journeys, we had absolutely no idea what we were getting ourselves into (and probably still don’t). But we stay curious and ask questions that lead to our own incredible moments of inspiration that propel us forward.
Now that our vision is sharper, we’re thrilled to share what we see with the world. And don’t worry, we’ll never stop evolving. We can’t help it. It’s kind of an addiction (the good kind).
Our research has led us to see a predictable path toward creating sustained and impactful inspiration in the workplace. There are many steps along the way and five are GIGANTIC. Some depend on challenging what we believe; others rely on the tons of really hard work and the pressure it takes to produce a diamond. Everyone has that diamond in them, and therefore so does every business.
The first gigantic step is Believe. Then come Discover, Ignite, Engage and Impact.
Whoa! That’s a lot of stuff to take in at once. So here’s a fun video break.
We’ll just talk about Believe for now. Many business leaders we interview have the same thing in common: they can’t explain what they believe. Most people have no trouble talking about what they sell in their businesses (if this isn’t easy, then you probably shouldn’t be in business), but it is much more difficult for them to make a shift in mindset and say what they believe (hey people, get out of that comfort zone). Seem obvious? Then you’re ahead of the pack. It’s probably clear to you that leaders who say what they believe inspire people whereas those who talk about what they sell must motivate people in other ways, often through manipulation.
Businesses that aren’t open to taking that first step to talk about what they believe might not last long. Sure, many will succeed for years based on decaying business models. But they will decline in the wake of the inevitable explosion of innovation from every corner of our fabulous world (no, not like a glitter bomb, but those are pretty sweet). Just ask yourself what’s the greater risk: exploring what it takes to say what you believe and contribute to innovation or continuing to talk about what you sell until nobody is listening and it’s already too late to change? Once you’re doing and saying what you believe, your stories will genuinely connect with people who also believe.
Let me tell you about a successful business that not only talks about what it believes, but also uses that belief to become even more successful and to have a positive impact. Our interviews led us to Tuthill, a company headquartered in the suburbs of Chicago that believes it has a responsibility to “wake the world” (yep, the whole world). Certainly this applies to increased performance and engagement at work, but it’s much more than that. Tuthill manufactures industrial pumps and creates space for the original pump, the heart, to thrive. Talk about stakeholders (no, not steak holders), Tuthill gets it right. Their stakeholders are everyone impacted by the existence of their company. Over more than 125 years, that’s a lot of people!
One way Tuthill inspires and wakes its own people is through introspective leadership retreats. Of their more than 700 team members, I asked CEO Tom Carmazzi who gets to attend these retreats. He smiled and said, “It’s not an org. chart thing. We’re all leaders in our own way. We want us all to have that experience and really unleash that inner aliveness. It’s in each and every one of us.” So far Tuthill has helped more than 500 team members explore how to be themselves and be awake to their individual lives. Just 7 billion more people to go.
I hope someday you get to meet Tuthill and be inspired as we were.
Believe is just the first step, but until a company is truly committed to expressing what it believes, the rest of our process will never take hold. Worse yet, it may even lead to uncontrollable rage, purple rashes and other nasty side effects. So how do we help business leaders discover what they believe to take their companies successfully forward and help all their stakeholders prosper?
We call it The Science of Story, which is a fancy name we thought up for the book, and also our media hub. It has since become so much more than that. Right now it’s this magazine and a growing community. Heck, someday we might even make a movie. Ok, back to earth. Fundamentally it is a study of perspective. We interview people mostly the old fashioned way — more than 200 and counting — by sitting down together to share stories. As I said, change is in the air. And so is inspiration. We’re basically just building better and better butterfly nets to catch it.
During these interviews we have the opportunity to find out what excites business leaders and, if we’re lucky, what inspires them. I say lucky because, although we are often the catalyst for inspiration, the openness to a change in thinking must come from within the people we meet.
It’s hard to predict when that moment will happen. Like many moments, it might be gone before anyone noticed that something amazing happened. But we pay close attention and, if we see the light go on, we start pumping energy into it to make sure it stays on to illuminate the rest of their journey. After an hour of jamming, people usually leave wanting to change the world. And it’s very likely that they will. We even put together some fancy diagrams and whatnot for people who like that kind of thing.
So do businesses have to start saving the world and forget all those dreams of buying islands and driving Teslas? No way! We love Teslas and islands, too. In fact, profit is incredibly important because companies need resources to take care of people. But a conscious company takes care of all its stakeholders, including shareholders, by staying true to what it believes (its Why or higher purpose) before it starts buying islands. And having a team of empowered and inspired stakeholders may make that happen even faster.
This is how you change the world. To learn more about the extensive work people have done to prove that conscious companies perform better across numerous metrics, including profit, check out Conscious Capitalism (I’m very involved with the amazing Chicago chapter) and the book, Firms of Endearment, which measures the success of conscious companies.
We learn something from every interview and we have met some people who already express what they believe versus what they sell (that’s right, we didn’t actually invent inspiration). They are typically business founders or leaders in marketing and branding. But they are often lone voices in organizations that aren’t yet committed to embracing and expressing what they believe. These inspired sailors are lost at sea and all they need is a lighthouse. Okay, these metaphors are starting to sound like Yacht Rock, but we really dig smooth jams over here. The Science of Story community helps get them to shore so they can meet and share what they learned on their own voyages.
Is your mind blown yet? Maybe not. But if you’re curious, we’d love to meet you. Our many fruitful interviews with business leaders have made us confident that we are on the right track to help companies find their own path for future success.
The Science of Story grows stronger with each voice we add. Are you ready to believe?
Kevin Bugielski is the Marketing Manager for Victory Lap, a purpose-driven startup changing the sales game. Avid Snapchatter, SoulCycle lover, newfound runner, but ultimately, a foodie.