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There’s a page in my copy of Chip and Dan Heath’s book, ‘Switch, How to change things when change is hard’, which falls open without me having to try to find it. It’s like a well-thumbed favourite recipe in a much-loved cookery book. I have come back to that page over and over again. On it, the Heath brothers refer to researchers John Kotter and Dan Cohen who say that:

“Most people think change happens in this order: ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE. You analyse, then you think, and then you change.”

They go on to describe how, in a relatively simplistic setting that might work pretty well. If you need to reduce costs or cut time off your daily commute, for example. But then they go on to say something so revelatory that I think everyone who wants to see change in our society should reflect deeply on this insight:

“In almost all successful change efforts, the sequence of change is not
ANALYSE-THINK-CHANGE, but rather SEE-FEEL-CHANGE. You’re presented with evidence that makes you feel something … it hits you at the emotional level.”

I love that triad of SEE-FEEL-CHANGE. It quivers with anticipation and promise. See what? How is it going to make me feel? Where? When? Why? This approach to change making is not about offering up absolute answers. It’s not about analysing intractable problems and finding the elusive panacea. It’s not about pinpointing how to definitively persuade or change minds once and for all.

Instead, it invites questions, provokes engagement and piques curiosity. How do I want others to feel? Connected? Hopeful, creative, competitive? What’s next, where is this heading? Who else is on this journey? How are we going to get there? It invites action, momentum and mobilisation. It’s a ‘More Than Words’ form of ‘gifting’ our communication.

In summary, SEE-FEEL-CHANGE does the following:

  • [ANCHORING] It anchors the frame of reference. What we posit may be a straw man and it may be refuted as unachievable or untenable, but it shifts the debate to be about what might be, rather than getting stuck reminiscing a nostalgic version of what has come before.
  • [COMPETITION] It helps us to become competitive about articulating a viable, imaginative, alluring vision of the future, rather than being locked in competition with one another.
  • [REALISM] It forces us to be realistic about what could be. What will work and why? How can we envisage a future lifestyle that’s viable, rather than overly idealistic and unattainably utopian? Ultimately, how can we all live well together, whilst taking care of our planet?
  • [ENERGISING] It helps to energise and enthuse us. And it guards against us becoming demoralised and discouraged, stuck in a loop of lamenting the current state of affairs, seeking out ‘the’ definitive answer to intractable problems.
  • [CREATIVITY] It encourages us to be playful, imaginative, creative and innovative. It serves to heighten the importance of working with, and investing in, brokering organisations like Pop Change, run by Counterpoints Arts, Opening Knowledge across Research and Entertainment (OKRE) (both here in the UK), and the Pop Culture Collaborative (in the USA), all of which are doing valuable work bringing together creatives with knowledge and social justice sectors, to generate ideas that imagine a better tomorrow. Now, more than ever, we need to work with creatives and storytellers to craft visions for us to see, feel and imagine the future. And it’s not just realistic visions of the future that matter. Dystopian creative content can warn us against sleepwalking into the future too (Russell T Davies’ Years and Years comes to mind here).
  • [OBJECTIVE] It forces us to re-assess our objective. Our focus becomes less about how can we change other people’s minds in the now. Instead, it’s more about how we can envisage and form consensus around a world where we can live well together, care for one another and our planet, in the future. It’s about finding ways to preserve and protect what we hold dear, at the same time as articulating a viable, pluralistic ‘Larger Us’ vision of life in common.


Modern myth-making

SEE-FEEL-CHANGE is more important than ever in our response to the Coronavirus pandemic. It means we need to craft and articulate myths for our modern age that chart a course towards the future (by myths, I mean commonly shared stories or ideas that help us to make sense of the world around us). Nesrine Malik writes about this in her recently published book, We Need New Stories:

“The greatest trick a myth can play is to convince people that we are in the best of all possible worlds, that we live in a moral universe.”

And Jonah Sachs’ book: ‘Winning The Story Wars: Why those who tell – and live – the best stories will rule the future’ is also a must-read for anyone interested in myths, stories and visuals for our modern age. The book is a call to arms for communicators to cast aside broken traditions and join a revolution to build the iconic brands of the future. He writes:

“We have the means to design the future we want; what’s most needed are the stories that will engage millions of people who want to get there … And while no single story or storyteller will singlehandedly deliver the new myths we need, a steady shift in our media landscape away from stories of blind consumerism to ones of engaged citizenship will allow us to lay the foundations for a far better future.”

This notion of engaged citizenship is thoughtfully covered by Jon Alexander in his latest piece: Subject, Consumer or Citizen: Three Post-Covid Futures.

Somewhere over the rainbow

The outpouring of rainbow imagery has been a recurrent visual example of our desire to look to the future. We’ve all become used to the cheerful, friendly sight of rainbows adorning our windows and chalked onto pavements. At first it just seemed like a fun, naive activity for children – a chance to show solidarity and hope. But, dig a bit deeper and it’s clear that rainbows offer up a greater significance in our collective (sub-)consciousness. They offer up a powerful visual representation that plays into our human desire to see and feel a better tomorrow.

As children we are told the elusive myth of gold at the end of the rainbow. And, thanks to the LGBTQ+ movement, rainbows are emblematic of pride, solidarity and hope for a shared future.

We’re also reminded of the iconic song, ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’, whether it’s back in 1939 sung by Judy Garland or versions by Eva Cassidy, Ingrid Michaelson, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, and more recently in 2017 by Ariana Grande. Despite being saccharine and misty-eyed, it’s timeless in its appeal because it conjures up dreams of promise and newness – something we are magnetically drawn to. Joan Bakewell recently wrote beautifully about VE Day being an: ‘Over the rainbow’ moment in her article, ‘VE Day was the spark for change. Coronavirus could be too’:

“The great deadly cloud of threat lifted. We knew from the song that, “Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true”. And they had. It was our Over the Rainbow moment.”

There have been some helpful interventions urging us not to use war metaphors in response to Covid-19. But there is an interesting comparison around re-making, re-building and re-grouping in the post-War context, which is worthy of analogy. What can we look forward to and imagine in a post-Covid-19, ‘Over the Rainbow’ moment?

I’m working with Phoebe Tickell and Hope-Based Comms (supported by Unbound Philanthropy and Migration Exchange) to convene and connect thinkers, creatives, researchers, activists, policy-specialists and storytellers who are working together to share stories and imagine a new future post-Covid-19. If you’d like to get involved, please get in touch.

A selection of SEE-FEEL-CHANGE inspirations:

Post-Covid-19 futures inspirations:

  • On Tuesday 19th May, Arundhati Roy and Naomi Klein will be in conversation, moderated by Asad Rehman, to hear how we can begin a global transformation towards a Global Green New Deal for people and planet.
  • The story of the impossible train is a powerful exercise in futures and moral imaginations from Phoebe Tickell. It starts, tantalisingly, like this: “I have a story I’d like to tell you. It’s about a train, and a group of people who live on that train and know of nothing else…”
  • Lori Villarosa writes urgently about how we must move from simply pursuing racial equity to implementing a transformative vision of racial justice: Covid-19: Using a racial justice lens now to transform our future.
  • Here is Jon Alexander’s piece: Subject, Consumer or Citizen: Three Post-Covid Futures. In his words: There is a part of us that is deeper and more fundamental, and has been more starved, that is nourished by this, a part we feel when we look across the fence, clap the NHS, and act for someone we do not know. This too could grow. This does not just have to be a nice side effect; it could be the beginning of the new story.”
  • The Narrative Initiative is producing comprehensive round-ups on all things narrative and messaging. More on futures narrative work here.
  • This bedtime story by Tom Foolery looks back to our present Covid-19 moment from a time in the near future, it’s called: The Great Realisation.


Pre-Covid-19 futures inspirations:

  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez narrates this stunningly beautiful illustrated film produced with The Intercept about The Green New Deal called, A message from the future. Everyone should watch this! My favourite parts: “We stopped being scared of the future, we stopped being scared of each other and we found our shared purpose.” And: “The first big step was just closing our eyes and imagining it. We can be whatever we have the courage to see.”
  • Young, undocumented migrants in the US significantly advanced their cause when describing themselves as ‘The Dreamers’ – the language, reminiscent of ‘The American Dream’, created a powerful new frame and spoke to the future aspirations of many young undocumented migrants. Their cause has experienced set backs under the Trump administration. But, nevertheless, the messaging is a reminder of the power of SEE-FEEL-CHANGE communication.
  • Simon Amstell’s ‘mockumentary’ Carnage is set in the year 2067. The world has gone vegan and the programme charts the changes that took place in order for this societal shift to happen. It’s just the right mix of clever, quirky and funny. Max Benwell, reviewing Carnage in the Independent writes: “Carnage is an almost perfect example of how to push a worthwhile message without being preachy … I’m not a vegan, but after watching Carnage, I’m even more certain that I should be.”
  • Ella Saltmarshe and Beatrice Pembroke are carrying out vital work as part of ‘The Long Time Project’. The describe how they set up the project because:(1) Our capacity to care about the future is crucial to our ability to preserve it; (2) Developing longer perspectives on our existence will change the way we behave in the short term; and, (3) Art and culture will be crucial to making the much needed transformative shift in attitudes and behaviours.
  • Jonathan Porritt’s book, ‘The World We Made’ is set in the year 2050. He spent many years of his life promoting sustainability but then developed the realisation that: if we can’t see it, we can’t be it. The book is written from the perspective of a teacher who explains: “how we got our world back from the brink of collapse, to where we are now in 2050.”
  • Shared Ground is a report I collaborated on while working at IPPR. We challenged ourselves to think about what it would mean to ‘live well together’ in the future: ‘We understand ‘ground’ to mean the tangible and physical places that citizens share (such as civic institutions and public spaces) as well as the intangible and ideological ‘common ground’ where human beings connect with one another (incorporating values of fairness, inclusivity and reciprocity)’. The report explains what it would look and feel like in order for ‘shared ground’ to exist in our local areas in the future.