The Stories We Tell
We all build up stories about the world based on preconceived ideas from culture and experience. This can cause us to make some very poor decisions such as when HP denied Steve Wozniak’s multiple attempts to offer the personal computer or we assume those from underdeveloped countries are not capable of being entrepreneurs.
“The stories we tell ourselves about the world are true, until they are wrong.”
One of the most flawed cultural stories is the notion that business is purely about money, greed, and lack of ethics. Should we really believe that all their is to business is monetary value creation at any social cost? No, and there are many companies that prove this.
Companies That Tell a New Story (Non-exhaustive)
- Patagonia: “We know that our business activity – from lighting stores to dyeing shirts – creates pollution as a by-product. So we work steadily to reduce those harms. We use recycled polyester in many of our clothes and only organic, rather than pesticide-intensive, cotton.” – Patagonia mission
- Preserve: “Our mission is to help reduce the harm caused by the industrial age by demonstrating that consumer products can be both fabulous and lighter on the earth.” – Preserve mission
- TOMS: “At TOMS, we believe we can improve people’s lives through business. With every product you purchase, TOMS will help a person in need.” – TOMS mission
- Mozilla: “Sometimes I think the concept of winning gets lost or feels wrong or doesn’t fit with our values… but I’m here to win. I want the internet to have certain values…. I’m not here to be nice – I hope that we don’t think our values mean it’s ok to be mushy and not succeed.” – Mitchell Baker, MozCamp Berlin 2011
- Seventh Generation: “Business has the power to spark a movement that can transform an entire industry. That’s why we champion honesty, responsibility and radical transparency in commerce.” – Seventh Generation mission
- Lyft: “We imagine a world where cities feel small again. Where transportation and tech bring people together, instead of apart. We see the future as community-driven — and it starts with you.” – Lyft mission
How To Successfully Tell a New Story
There are two general strategies for competitive advantage in business: cost leadership and differentiation. It is more often the case that differentiation will be more powerful because it is more difficult to replicated and therefore more sustainable over time as other business enter a given industry. For mission driven organizations, the mission can serve as the differentiator but only when it is communicated through the product experience. This is in contrast to relying purely on the features of a product to give the advantage.
All of this is to say..
Mission is not enough. What makes you different? Tell that story in your marketing and product experience.
Telling Through Touchpoints (Service Design)
This notion of communicating through the experience of a product is not new. There is a whole area of design, Service Design, which looks at the various touch points a user has along their process of using a product. Adaptive Path (a design firm in SF) defines touchpoints as “a point of interaction involving a specific human need in a specific time and place.” When we connect this back to the way we think about business, we can use the model of delivering value to an end user. As such, I think about touchpoints as…
A human-centered focus on the point of interaction where you deliver value to the end user.
The diagram below expresses this idea and the notion that a touchpoint is where the story is delivered to the end user.
Link to slides with examples and more!
Below is a link to the slides from the talk which will show more details and examples from the companies mentioned above. [Link]
Being mission driven is meaningless unless it is communicated to the end user in the touchpoints of the marketing and product experience. By doing so, this creates a shift in the way we view business to something more like the TOMS mission, “we believe we can improve people’s lives through business.”