Storytelling & Four Shifting Forces

Back in New York, I attended one of the best Creative Mornings sessions, a captivating talk delivered by Jonathan Harris on the storytelling. I’ve blogged before on deconstructing the power of storytelling, and if you’re looking to understand more about this, Jonathan Harris’ projects are absolutely remarkable. They have ranged from documenting an Eskimo whale hunt to capturing human emotion on the interwebs to interviewing Tibetans on happiness. Here’s his Creative Morning talk and my visual notes from that day:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So my notes couldn’t quite capture the tail bit of his talk (I basically ran out of space!), but essentially, he highlights key trends that he is observing in our evolving world of tech and storytelling:

1) Rise of Social Engineers: Never before has there been such a small subsection of society ( aka. software developers in tech startups who are having a big effect of millions of human through design of software.

2) Urges & Outcomes: All tech extends some preexisting urge. What is the urge within humans that needs to be enhanced?

3) The Ethics of Code: How can we regulate software? Could there be a self-directed ethnics from the creators of software? This ties in back to point 1 on the responsibilities of a social engineer, given their wide-spread influence.

4) Healers & Dealers: Startups are basically falling into two buckets: healers and dealers. Healers: marketplace companies that connect people. e.g. kickstarter. Dealers: Attention economies that take up your finite resource aka. time by convincing people to spend time on their product/sites. e.g. facebook.

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All in all, I was very struck after the end of his talk with this question(s): what kind of presence do you want to have in this world? Am I a healer or a dealer? As our world’s language continues to trend towards a technology-based one, how do we position ourselves to become creators once more, instead of just curators of information?

For now, I suppose I am satisfied with being a Healer in the investment world. The bigger picture of all of this, is wondering, as an investor, what trends in society do I want to help accelerate…

One Book Per Week: Tumblring My Findings

Since coming to New York, I’ve developed a healthy habit of reading on the subway going to and fro from meetings. My Kindle has made it a lot easier to read in a packed subway car and my expanded networks have provided me a wealth of books to add to my reading list. After a conversation with a good friend who inspired a goal setting quest, I decided to embark on a One Book Per Week Project – where I would read a book a week as a personal self-development goal. It has been two months in, and I am pleased to share that reading is firmly back in life and can officially say that I have read all the books on my shelf. I’ve added some of the books that I read and loved to my Book List but more than that, I would love for my readings and discoveries to be shared in a more public way. Hence, going forward, I will be doing this in two ways:

1) Tumblr

I started a tumblr where I would post quotes and highlights from books that I am currently reading. Majority of my readings are now done on my Kindle and thanks to this awesome tool called: Findings.com, all the highlights from my Kindle readings will be shared to my tumblr. Quotes Galore aka. my personal quote bank and tracking of books that I am currently reading. Below is a snapshot of Findings.com. I definitely recommend that you check it out!

2) Moleskin Book Visualization 

One of the skills that I have been working on is the Art of Visual Thinking. I am naturally a visual leaner, but the art of translating thought and complex ideas into pictures is a completely different thing. Hence, to help me along with this learning process, I decided to combine it with my One Book Per Week Project. I bought some brand new moleskins and will be summarizing up the books I am reading into one page in my moleskin. This not only enables pushes my ability to retain information, but also allows me to piece together the book in my own way.

Aspirational Storytelling

 

Grand Central Station, New York. Photo by: Cuba Gallery

“When you first start writing stories in the first person, if the stories are made so real that people believe them, the people reading them nearly always think the stories really happened to you. That is natural because while you were making them up you had to make them happen to the person who was telling them. If you do this successfully enough, you make the person who is reading them believe that the things happened to him too. If you can do this you are beginning to get what you are trying for, which is to make something that will become a part of the reader’s experience and a part of his memory. There must be things that he did not notice when he read the story or the novel which, without his knowing it, enter into his memory and experience so that they are a part of his life. This is not easy to do.”

– Ernest Hemmingway, unpublished manuscript from the Kennedy Library collection, Hemmingway on Writing (Ed Larry Phillips)

How to Create an Impact Investing Movement

I’ve been stalking the impact investing space closely for the last few years and it seems that across research papers, from the recently released Acumen FundMonitor Group: Case for Philanthropy in Impact Investing (which is a great read!) to goals of foundation tackling impact investing – a systemic issue that resurfaces is the lack of infrastructure to help people identify and function as a part of the impact industry. A recent conversation with a friend on movement creation sparked this idea on figuring out how to build this infrastructure. It also reminded me of a old twitter exchange I had with Steve Wright (Grameen Foundation) and Kevin Jones (SOCAP) on the value of marketing and storytelling in the social context. A snippet of our conversation is below:

I believe that marketing/value-positioning is an undervalued practice in the impact investing space. However, if we’re looking to expand the space beyond those who care about the impact value of capital, we have a to start looking at creating a movement of impact investing – a sustainable and scalable platform. We have to look closely on how we can create pull-factors needed for a successful impact movement. Now, I am not as naive to think that the world of philanthropy and for-profit investing should cease to exist. What I am suggesting is that the movement’s aim is to help the general public and those in the investing world to have a third way to think about capital: a blended value of capital and impact.

So, this is my attempt to build this movement’s basic framework and my vision of what core elements of an impact investing movement would contain and look like.

Defining the Movement’s Core

Education is the key to the movement and a first step is shifting people’s perspective to a third way to think about capital. I would like people to think of their portfolios as follow (Note: the pie charts below are based on a hypothetical way to think about capital – main point is to illustrate the inclusion of impact investments when an individual thinks of capital):


I believe the core of an impact investing movement should be two-fold:

1) The choice between impact and profit should not be a binary one.

2) Close the mental disconnects and isolation between the different components of the Impact chain of capital: (Input –> Output –> Impact)

Distinction of Target Groups 

Just like the ‘real’ investing world, in the impact investing world, there are two distinct investors to target: Institutional and Retail. By the nature of the way that capital flows into the space, influence on the retail end is bottom heavy + personal and on the institutional side, it is top heavy and politically barriered. (Sidenote: A great report to read to understand the institutional-policy relationship in impact investing written by Pacific Community Ventures & Harvard Uni).

Another target group (and this is admittedly the harder group to penetrate than the former) would be both institutional and retail investment advisors. Straight away, the inherent challenge to create this movement is how to create a simultaneous pressure on both ends and in each respective groups.

Five Strategies

In creating this ‘pull’ platform, because capital flows through a system through an impact chain, the platform should become the mechanism by which ‘push’ platforms must engage in. The graphic below illustrates this point using the recently announced Morgan Stanley Investing with Impact platform. The idea is that on Morgan Stanley’s end, they can only get so far by engaging their current clients. However, if they look beyond their Investing with Impact platform, and engage in a middle ‘pull’ platform that educates the masses, their message and reach would more than double.

I believe that a successful impact investing ‘pull’ movement would contain the following practices:

 1) Radically lower knowledge barriers

The landscape of impact investing is slowly coming to light. There is great research and data that heavily supports the sector. However, bite size pieces of information are far and few in between. Investors and advisors need understand: the reason for impact investing, proof of concept, and how it would affect an institution’s or individual’s portfolio. The knowledge barrier should also include a way to disseminate authentic and real stories (see: twitter exchange above) about impact investing and the results of the investment – a form of curated ‘entertainment’.

2) Uncover and disrupt offline analogies

Most form of human interactions surround a pre-existing way of thinking. e.g. before email, people would send letters. In the case of thinking about capital, the tipping points of where someone starts to think about money is in the education system, with a focus on universities and college (typically an individual’s first experience in managing a substantial amount of money).

3) Empower key community leaders

I’m a big fan of Seth Godin’s practice of building tribes. People are more passionate about this issue than you think they are. A great organization that organically (and perhaps unexpectedly) tapped into the power of tribes is Acumen Fund. (Full disclosure: I currently volunteer with them, and this is by no means a representation of their perspective on the matter. Just my own). Acumen Fund currently has 12 volunteer-led chapters around the world that support and spread their cause. These chapters are going into local communities with a depth and reach that Acumen would not have been able to achieve just by themselves.

4) Reduce friction

Thinking about capital – can be an overwhelming experience, especially on the retail side. The movement needs to create a frictionless and simple experience that catalyzes ‘pull’ for transactional activities. A great example of this practice is by LearnVest, a budgeting and advisory platform to help individuals achieve their goals. Simple and clear. I envision a successful impact investing platform to embrace a similar frictionless user experience.

 5) Getting started

No single agenda or strategy is equally relevant to all target groups. I see two main engagement strategies embedded in the movement, which in some cases can be executed separately or combined. One is a online-mass led proposition with multiple knowledge engagement pieces. The other is a high-touch with direct channel distribution. The latter would fit in more with the advisory/’push’ platform engagement target group whereas the former would fit into a engaging retail investors. The high-touch component is definitely more of a challenge as we would be looking at a target group of banks/corporations/venture capitalist that have systems in place in order to achieve execute their business model.

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There are multiple ways to continue to build out this framework. The points above are merely a starting point in the basic wireframe of this impact investing movement. All ideas are welcome, and if you want to have a brainstorm session about this – hit me up!

Thanks to Erika, Jo-Ann, Steve and Kevin for inspiring this post.

My Week’s Discoveries: Storytelling Resources

Update (April 17, 2012): Guess what? I found more awesome resources to add to the list!

1) MapStory – A crowdsourced platform where the global community shares stories. 

Mapstory allows anyone and everyone to create, share and collaborate on stories to improve our understanding of global dynamics, worldwide, over the course of history. The cool component about MapStory is the “Story Layer” feature, where you can layer on maps, data, etc. onto other stories or create a stories by combining several different layers.

2) DefineAmerican.comPlatform discussing the immigration debate in America

This platform tackles a specific problem in America – the immigration system. It uses stories to bring in new voices into the immigration conversation. The platform is started by Jose Antonio Vargas, an award winning journalist who came out as an illegal immigrant. HIghly inspiring. In the stories section of the website, the public writes in, sharing their stories and opinion on the immigration debate. Definitely worth sending in your story too, and have your say about the DREAM Act.

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Given that I spent most of my time last week researching about storytelling, my (last) week’s discoveries are all storytelling related. Below is a small collection of tools, platforms, posts and resources centered around storytelling.

1) Cowbird – A Witness to Life 

Out of my many start-up ideas, one of them that I loved the most was to have a storytelling platform where people could share fiction and non-fiction accounts of their lives. Then after sharing this idea over coffee with an interaction designer friend of mine, Tony Chu, he informed me of this seriously kick-ass platform called Cowbird. When I checked it out, it was almost exactly what I imagined for; using storytelling as a short short-term goal is to pioneer a new form of participatory journalism, grounded in the simple human stories behind major news events. Cowbird’s long-term goal is to build a public library of human experience, so the knowledge and wisdom we accumulate as individuals may live on as part of the commons. I promptly signed up for an account after checking this out. You should too.

2) Story Pirates 

This is a education and media organization targeted towards encouraging kids to write stories. Story Pirates encourages creativity by then bringing these stories to life – through plays, stand up and different forms of performances. They’re most famous for the Idea Storm Program – a writing workshop that is followed by a musical sketch comedy featuring stories by students and performed by professional artist. Super fun.

3) Startstorytelling.com – The starter guide to nonprofit video storytelling

A really comprehensive  resource for nonprofits to ending bad videos. This is put together by CauseVox and ListenIn Pictures, two great organizations that are in the nonprofit space and who were also on the Be Social Change Panel in my previous post. If you’re a nonprofit and looking to spread your message via video – this is a must read. Did I mention it’s free too?

4) Get Storied – Teaching Entrepreneurs how to tell their story 

So apparently storytelling is an actual consulting business, and Get Storied managed to do this. They have a great manifesto and offer advisory services & various storytelling program. Next week is their Reinvention Summit 2: An online conference for storytelling in the digital age. An intriguing concept that allows for scale and low operational costs. GetStoried.com also has a great list of storytelling books to check out here. A book that is not on the list or related to GetStoried.com that is on my personal to-read list is: Resonate: Visual stories that transform audiences.

5) IDEO Human Centered Design (HCD) Connect

It’s not secret that I love IDEO’s work and last week, the HCD Connect was launched, a platform where the public takes on the world’s challenges by sharing stories, questions and resources. I haven’t gotten around to playing with the platform yet but my immediate impression is that it is pretty similar-ish to OpenIDEO to solve global challenges using crowd intelligence. I’ll let you know my full thoughts once I’ve had the time to play around, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

6) And finally… a plethora of other storytelling resources/articles that was compiled by Rob Wu of CauseVox. Knock yourself out. (Tip: I would start with Blair Miller’s next phase of storytelling)