How many times have you left an idea to just lay there because you did not have the courage or energy to take it forward and speak up? 

In Adam Grant’s Originals there are lots of insights into why some people and ideas flourish.

Amongst the key messages are two fundamental issues: choosing the right audience to focus on and having the right message for that audience.

It is being smart about where we can have the most influence once we speak up and target our efforts in maximising that impact.


Using the impact criterion for finding your audience

The notion of “impact” is very different for different people. Understanding  this perception will allow you to understand why particular people behave the way they do, and also which ideas they are willing to push forward and where.

I have for example a friend who told me recently of his Impact Criterion in deciding which events to attend and participate in.

He is very high in the top tiers of a global organisation and is constantly a sought after speaker and participant in all kinds of events.

But he uses an Impact Criterion to decide which events are worth attending: if the event  does not have clear impact (e.g. a large conference), he might opt out and look for opportunities to attend smaller gatherings where he knows people can get things done and where there is more opportunity for real change and outcomes.

Most other people do not know about his criterion and often wonder why he is turning down perfectly good and often high visibility opportunities that could advance his career and the organisation.

But he has understood something much more fundamental: choosing the right audience and spaces for impact is what can deliver actual transformational change.


Choosing your audience in leadership development

In a recent McKinsey podcast episode Leadership Beyond the C-suite the authors provide an insightful discussion on robust organisational change via leadership development.

Their research uncovered that highly functional organisations are those that have more leaders: “organisations that built a significant number of leaders tend to outperform those that focus in on the very few”.

But they also found that in order to effect truly transformational organisational change, we don’t need to reach 80% of the people working in that organisation.

In fact, focusing on the 5-15 % pivotal influencers in the organisation in leadership training and skill development results in the desired changes:

“around 5 to 15 percent of the pivotal influencers need to change the way they lead in order to affect the broader organization. The broader organization people, they change the way that they behave, given the context. And role modeling is a very powerful element of that context, especially role modeling by leaders. That can be superiors, leaders in the organization. But it can absolutely also be peers and subordinates who have an influential role, a visible role, in the organization, who the rest of the organization will take notice of

These do not need to be the top people in top positions but also those who people listen to even if informally, people who are already advising others and trying to effect change.

These numbers should give us hope but also think about picking your audience as an art: a fraction of people can revolutionise an organisation from within once they start speaking up and embodying the leadership vision.


Speaking up for the global goals

This week Michael Bloomberg announced a commitment of 500 million US dollars to be spent in Beyond Carbon, which is about influencing to end the use of coal as a power source and creating cultural change towards low carbon society.

This is about sending political leaders clear messages that their electorates will no longer accept climate damaging decisions:

“Our message will be simple: Face the reality of climate change or face the music on Election Day. Our lives and our children’s lives depend on it, and so should their political careers.”

The focus on influencing voters as one of the main audiences is critical here.

The world of marketing and branding is about driving behavioural change, yet lot of us working in academia do not know the opportunities that are out there when it comes to branding ideas and influencing people.

If you look at commercials, they are based on years of researching what makes people tick, and how do you increase the chance that someone will click on a link and make a purchase.

That is the psychology and winning strategies that we should be right now most concerned about as just preaching state of the art scientific findings is clearly not enough to drive any behavioural change at large scale.

Yet, there are movements like Greta Thunberg that speak directly to the values of people, directly to the hearts and minds of people and that is igniting global action for climate change in a way we have not seen before.

Greta’s “brand” is about honesty, despair and hope: it is about real feelings, fears and aspirations of different generations who are all called to participate in giving voice to these and for other neglected groups who might be feeling they are not powerful enough to make a difference.

The audience is listening and resonating with her messages that started from one girl sitting on the steps of the Swedish Parliament.


Messaging around impact for innovation 

I do believe that organisations like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have a role to play in all of this as do United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Convention on Biological Diversity.

But these organisations need to also think about much more carefully what kinds of messaging has the most impact, what kinds of negotiation processes result in faster and more equitable decisions, and most of all they need alignment in identifying the greatest areas of “impact”.

And this is the space where daring leadership has its opportunity, where people within organisations globally can step forward and speak up on what they know and what they are experiencing as a result of global climate change.

Adaptation therefore remains one of the key innovation areas as impacts of climate change begin to take place and we all need to change the way we live and lead, sometimes resulting in transformative changes.

But maybe we do not have to change the whole global community to get traction.

If we take McKinsey authors’ suggestion of organisational change, we need to identify and target the 5-15% pivotal influencers, and also use unforeseen and innovative strategies for communication that can broaden the acceptance and awareness of the realities of climate change.

As Adam Grant notes in the Originals, “the mistakes we regret are not errors of commission, but errors of omission. If we could do things over, most of us would censor ourselves less and express our ideas more” (p. 91)

Finding the right audience but also having the correct message to that specific audience is a challenge that each of us can take up.

Now more than ever is time for daring leadership that rests on our willingness to speak up when it matters.