By: Pedro Medina
Herbert Simon, Nobel Price Winner, says that when there is so much information in the environment, that which is scarce is that which the information requires – attention. How to capture the attention of information saturated audiences? How to compete against electronic gadgets, social media, and traditional media which desperately struggle to survive by using strategies that range from neuro marketing to cause oriented marketing?
The answer is story telling.
I have been telling stories for fifteen years. I started with a story which gave an entire nation hope – and it became the single most shared story in this nation in the midst of its darkest moment.
In 1999 Colombia woke up with a picture in the front page of all newspapers. This picture shattered the dream of all Colombians that we were going to finish the year, the century, the millennium in peace. The picture was of the empty seat – when Tirofijo, the head of the FARC, the oldest guerrilla group in the world, stood up President Pastrana in the middle of the peace talks. Two weeks later, the picture in the papers was of the earthquake in the coffee zone. The rest of that year was shattered dreams and earthquakes for Colombia. That year we had 80% of the kidnappings in the world – 3000. 55% of the terrorist acts in the world happened in Colombia that year. 400,000 Colombians, 1% of the population, left the country. There was a graffiti on the way to the airport which read – “will the last one to leave, please turn off the lights”.
That year, our economy plummeted. For the first time in written economic history, our GNP decreased – 4.3%. Invested was at an all time low. Unemployment skyrocketed. 1,200 companies went bust.
1n 1999 Colombia´s best humorist, Jaime Garzón, was shot to death.
While all this was happening, I was running McDonald´s in Colombia and teaching a business strategy class.
On September 3, 1999, while teaching my class in Los Andes University, I asked my 39 students – “which of you sees yourself in Colombia in 5 years?” Only 12 raised their hands. Unable to sell Colombia to my students, I asked myself why was it. I then understood that the stories of success which we were told were almost always, foreign. And the local stories were incredibly vivid and terrifying. I realized we lacked local positive models, reasons to be proud, examples, sources of inspiration.
I recruited a group of people and we set on the mission to research local heroes, milestones, inventions, models and built powerful stories. Mixing 20% stories, 20% theory, 20% data, 20% humor and 20% dynamics, we put together a talk called Por Que Creer en Colombia – Why one should believe in Colombia.
The talk generated a tipping point effect. In the first 8 months, running McDonald´s, in 3 Boards, with 3 kids, teaching a class, I gave that talk 256 times. Some days I would do it 5 or 6 times. We started to train people to give the talk. Por Que Creer en Colombia became the one single talk which has been shared the most time by more people to more audiences in more cities in the story of Colombia. 700,000 Colombians and foreigners in 163 cities and 33 countries have seen the initial and subsequent versions of the original talk.Now an NGO, Yo Creo en Colombia is initiating similar processes in other countries.
Story telling is one of our key strengths.
How do I spot a story? A good story has a crisis, and we have plenty of those in Colombia. Even now, fifteen tears later when Colombia has gone from 5,000 to 500,000 visitors from the US, from 67 to 32 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, from 1.8 to 15.2 billion dollars in foreign investment, we are not short of daily crisis, hence daily stories.
The beginning of the story should include context – when, where, whom. The context is enriched with details which make the story real, and which are the preamble to the crisis.
After the crisis is narrated in a slow speed with a lower tone of voice for emphasis and to create a sense of impending doom, comes the unfolding of the crisis. This is the moment something happened which dramatically changed things. Lastly, a good story includes the lessons learned.
The story of Colombia continues and so does the one of Yo Creo en Colombia. We are a force to be reckoned with in our country and have created a discourse which is changing the way Colombians refer to ourselves and best practices on how we connect with each other. We are contributing to the change in the mind of a nation.