By Bruce Grover, Founder & Chief Strategist
In this series of articles, our founder explores the key principles that inspire our work translating purpose and vision into causes and change.
Eight years ago I left the branding firm where I worked in New York City to lead the marketing and communications team for one of my clients, a regional nonprofit working in children’s mental health. People said I was making a poor career choice.
I went because I was curious. I’d led engagements with prominent organizations for years and had become obsessed with a simple question: How does an organization actually create authentic change over time?
I started work and saw immediate opportunities for the organization to align on strategic priorities, clarify its brand, and unify teams around a shared purpose. As we addressed each point, a path toward growth emerged and we shifted our brand and communications activities to serve a strategic approach — inviting parents, partners and the public to help transform children’s lives.
Defining the Gravity Principle
After two years, I paused to reflect. The organization had stepped boldly onto the national stage, shifting the national discourse and fueling a sense of urgency and action for children’s mental health. I wanted to capture what I was learning professionally as well as through years of volunteer service in neighborhoods across the New York region. Three ideas emerged:
Unity matters. Organizations cannot create productive lines of action without first gaining unity of thought and vision.
Purpose motivates. People are inspired to action by a positive vision of change and sense of purpose.
Generosity attracts. When you offer new research, experience and insight to the public discourse and invite people and communities to help shape the future, your work attracts collaborators and confirmations. People begin looking your way for inspiration — and they step forward to help.
Today, we identify this process as the Gravity Principle. When organizations align internally and lead with purpose, they begin to become magnetic. By looking with fresh eyes at the needs of their audiences, organizations can find new routes to authentic impact by choosing to advance both the field and their own mission through the power of partnerships, convenings and campaigns. They begin to shift from being just another organization to leading a movement. They become a center of gravity.
And here’s a secret: Approaching this work with a spirit of generosity and collaboration sets organizations up for a leap that transcends what traditional branding, design, communications and fundraising can accomplish.
But first: A shift in mindset from competition to collaboration
It is easy to say a rising tide lifts all boats. Yet, organizations are understandably concerned with what they perceive to be limited pools of financial support, prospective employees and audience interest. And, the history of power and its systemic abuses raises essential concerns to address.
We have learned that when we expand our vision to also include advancing the field, we begin to contribute to a cause, to the rising tide itself. When we join forces with individuals, communities and institutions, we begin to contribute to a movement with the potential to impact millions. Ironically, boats anchored too tightly to the past or to competitive mindsets risk taking on water and sinking when the currents of society, research and awareness shift.
This discussion of collaboration replacing competition requires asking questions that may push the limits of our theories of change. For a rich discussion of this subject, see this insightful TED talk by Dr. Michael Karlberg. For now, four questions:
How can we collaborate with our audiences in ways that enable them to take charge of their own social, economic and intellectual development?
How can we grapple with the forces of self-interest at the root of the Western concept of “survival of the fittest” to promote shared, sustainable growth?
How can we identify and benefit from principles of creativity, collaboration and community building that have distinguished social evolution, are required to sustain life on our increasingly small planet, and that are too often dismissed as unrealistic?
Finally, how do we better understand the spiritual impulses that inspire the hearts and decisions of our audiences even as we work to increase equitable access to the knowledge, resources and opportunities our organizations may offer?
Reflecting on my choice to go client-side, I’m brought back to the power of curiosity and collaboration. I could have stayed at that boutique branding agency. But, something inspired me to take a chance. Something pushed me to bring my professional and volunteer experiences together to try to understand what it takes to rally people to a vision of change and then translate this vision into movements that improve lives.
I believe that no one person or organization can do this work alone. We must create opportunities to partner with people, communities and institutions to shape a shared and sustainable future. When we do, the work becomes magnetic. Mindsets, approaches and outcomes shift. And the seeds of a movement begin to germinate.
At this point, a key question arises: How do we reach consensus internally and with our partners in ways that benefit from a diversity of ideas and ensure focus and forward motion? We’ll explore that next time with the Consultation Principle.