Business

Allan Savory: How to green the desert and reverse climate change

“Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And it's happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Savory has devoted his life to stopping it. He now believes -- and his work so far shows -- that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert.

This TED talk struck me in a number of ways.

Firstly - the blinding simplicity of the idea once explained - which does tend to be the key to great ideas. I think his biggest challenge now is to spread the ideas, and to have more organizations pick them up and start to spread (which is one of the things that motivated me to add my blog to draw attention to the video). I won't spoil the story here by giving you the punchline so WATCH THE VIDEO, and if you want more information take a look at a more in-depth 1h talk on the concept on vimeo, or visit the SavoryInstitute, and read the commentary on the talk from FinchJ.

The idea was good enough to get the Savory Institute a place on the finalists list for the Virgin Earth Challenge.

Second - is the way he goes about presenting the idea, and effectively turning a common wisdom on its head.

He starts by setting up a perfect tension, or a challenge - 'The most massive tsunami, perfect storm is bearing down upon us' - and then outlines problem.

Then he moves into fleshing it out, and outlines that there is a solution... but he doesn't jump to immediately. He starts to delve into the problem step by step, one concept at a time.  He uses powerful images (once we all thought the world is flat) to delineate sections of the presentation, and then invites the viewer to follow him on his journey - making it personal, and telling it like a story.

Around half of the way through the presentation, he recaps the 3 solutions that won't work from the earlier section; then poses the question 'what are we going to do?', followed by a good long pause. He follows this with a 'There is only one option', which he repeats with emphasis before introducing his surprising solution.

Into the final part of the presentation, now he works through the solution step by step to explain more fully what led him to his solution, then presents a series pictorial examples, with statistics to show the merits of the solution.

To summarize - he finishes with his belief that this is the only solution to the problem; and that with broader adoption this solution has the potential to be the one practical, and achievable way to solve climate change in our lifetime.

The structure he uses is very much along the lines of the Beyond Bullet Points outline that I briefly blogged about in 2007, and have tried to follow in my work. It takes a great clarity of mind to work an idea into this sort of presentation, which I guess he has having worked on this for years. In the business context it only works if you're presenting to people face/face (not creating a presentation for email), and have the time to work a story through - but when you get the opportunity, it can be a really powerful way to get a message across.

Email newsletters... Don't you just hate them?

Well… I do.

I mean - we used to get individual emails from people across the organization containing useful information sent to a well maintained distribution list. Anyone could send, but as each email would go out to lots of people, you would be careful to compose your email, and ensure not to send if it wasn’t going to be valuable to the recipient.

Recipients had the power to filter the content email by email - because if I determined that a certain person was sending content that wasn’t relevant to my job, then I could simply un-subscribe from their distribution list, or auto-filter their emails into a ‘I’ll read this someday’ folder. Conversely I could look for keywords in the title of useful emails, and mark them as bold & red in my inbox to highlight them as important to read - because each email generally contained one item.

The rise of the newsletter

Now zip forward to 2012, and newsletters have taken hold within the enterprise. Someone somewhere decided that we all get too much email. So they determined what we need is less email, and the solution would be to bury all of the interesting and useful content into a stream of utterly irrelevant content. Oh - I’m sure the content is interesting and valuable to the publisher; and that they try to create email newsletters customized to a particular audience to make sure it is all relevant, but to me… most of it is irrelevant. We don’t all do the same job in this company, and we don’t all consume information in the same way.

Newspapers are fine for browsing content on a Sunday morning over a coffee and croissant, but when every email in my inbox is another newsletter… things have got out of hand.

Now because the process for pushing content into an email newsletter has become so much easier, publishers don’t think about the effort the readers have to go through to filter out the gems from the dross; so they put less effort into making it concise, and send more, rather than less content.

The worst crime I see these days is the repeat-summary newsletter… where a second person thinks the content from the first newsletter was so important that they recycle into a new format, and send again - making me have to scan through for a second time to determine if it is indeed something interesting or not.

How do I respond?

When I receive an email today, I scan the subject line to see if it is worth opening. If it passes that test, I scan the first page to see if there is anything there worth reading. If not - it gets filed in Archive or Trash depending on whether I might want to be able to search for the content later. I NEVER scroll past the first ‘fold’ unless I see something on the first page that draws me in.

I’m considering changing my email filters in Outlook to auto-file all newsletters into an archive folder - just so that they’ll be there if I have to go search for the content, but otherwise not getting in the way of doing my job.

So how would I fix it?

Personally I find twitter and feedly both excellent ways to consume updates and information. I can follow, or un-follow sources of information at will. Sources tend to be either very subject specific, or are generalists that have the same interest base as I do. All headlines are concise, and designed to fit the teaser into as few characters as possible - so that I can scan and read quickly, without getting bogged down.

But how could this apply to the enterprise?

Well - the simplest answer for me would be to ban email newsletters (or at least use best practice and put concise summaries above the fold for everything in the newsletter).

I’d love it if we managed to convince folks to go back to sending one email at a time about a specific subject, and to let us subscribe and autofilter - but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

How about an enterprise microblog (twitter-like) service, with publishers forced to create one article at a time, then published with a short teaser, appropriate #tags, and a link back to the article. The number of clicks on the item would indicate the popularity of the item, making it possible for others to discover to popular topics. Then as the user I could subscribe to the sources that I need to do my job - whether people, or topics (#tags). Assuming we also built a mobile interface to the service - we could also scan the news via mobile while out and about.

Does the technology exist today to do this? Yes - of course.

Question is - will we use it?

CRM, E2.0 & social convergence

As I predicted at the start of the year, we’re beginning to see the start of a movement to tie together social, CRM, and E2.0 - and it’s @loic from Seesmic that’s in the driving seat (with just a little help from salesforce.com).

I just spotted a post on G+ from Robert Scoble with an interview of @loic about Seesmic CRM - their new product focused on the Enterprise providing a mobile interface into SalesForce using a native app on iOS, Android and WP7.

The sales team can use the app to dial direct from contacts or leads, send emails, or participate in chatter (salesforce.com’s enterprise-microblogging service), and all of these actions are captured in Salesforce automatically - saving the sales guy from having to manually populate CRM after the fact.

Whilst Salesforce are already planning to move to a html5 app, @loic talks about how Seesmic is going to be able to combine their skills and knowledge in social with native apps on mobile to come up with something special that builds added-value over and above the basic Salesforce platform.

One of the features discussed is geo-location & ability to look at your customers or opportunities on a map - which is something that I suspect is going to be much easier to do with a local app which could potentially hook into the device’s mapping service vs a html5 based app.

Chatter conversations around a customer or deal are automatically aggregated on the device, so you can instantly see the discussions that the account team is having across your enterprise about that customer of deal. This really dissolves one of the issues in gaining traction on standalone E2.0 systems - because the chatter discussion is right there in your CRM system, and on your mobile.

One additional comment that @loic made during the video was that salesforce are planning on somehow extending chatter to allow the org’s sales team to interact with customers directly through the chatter interface. He didn’t explain how this was going to work, but I got the impression that it was something salesforce are working on, which Seesmic will build into their app when released. You also have to remember that salesforce acquired Radian6 earlier this year - so they’ve already got the ability to be scanning the social media space for leads and issues that can be tied back into the CRM system.

Even if salesforce don’t build it in - I think it is likley that seesmic are going to work out a clever way of bridging that connection at some point, given their experience in social and mobile.

As I said in January, I think salesforce are in the best position out there to capitalize on the this convergence, due in a large part to their forethought in making salesforce a platform, not just a closed application.

Watch the full interview here:-