How Can Intelligent Naivety Help the Climate Movement?

Part 3 in my series on how adopting a challenger brand approach can help change the climate movement.

Now that we’ve got a good grasp of the climate brands, we can move on to exploring the first Challenger Credo, Intelligent Naivety.  The concept here is simple – sometimes the more you know about a subject, the less you are able to look at it with discerning eyes. This applies to messaging to non-experts, examining organizational structure, and coming up with the clichéd “outside the box” solutions that sometimes work the best.

Intelligent naivety refers to a person who lacks experience in a given category, but of course is smart and perhaps experienced in other related areas. For example, somebody who is an amazing communicator but doesn’t know anything about the energy industry could bring intelligent naivety to the industry and figure out a new way to motivate people to switch to clean energy. Some notable examples of people whose intelligent naivety revolutionized categories are Richard Branson, going from selling rock albums to starting an airline business, and Jeff Bezos, going from managing a hedge fund to starting Amazon as an on-line book seller.

In the climate movement, we could dearly benefit from some new perspectives. Many of us have been immersed in the field for more than a dozen years, with some leaders in environmental NGO’s harking back to the original Kyoto Protocol negotiations in the 90’s. Yet our “consumers,” the audience we want to reach has not had even close to the day-in, day-out exposure that we’ve had. So, yeah, how do we communicate to them in a way that makes sense?

As pointed out in Eating the Big Fish,  approaching a category with intelligent naivety allows one to step back and ask what they call the “upstream” questions that those of us immersed in the area have forgotten to keep asking. Basic questions like, ‘why does our movement have to be about this, and not about that,” and “why do we lead with this frame and not another frame?” I’m talking about the type of questions that go at the very beginning of our work, before we had all these NGO’s and other interest groups. A key approach for one with intelligent naivety is to skip over the part where we ask the public how they feel about the category (‘what’s your view on climate change?’) and go to the fundamental question – how can we change the relationship we have with the public as it currently stands?

A specific example might help clarify this vital point. A few years back, if you had done market research, including focus groups and polls with the public about what they want in dish soap, you’d probably almost only hear about more effective products, maybe at a lower cost, and maybe with less chemicals. In other words, better benefits to fit the typical “problem-solution” marketing approach. This is what I mean when I talk about asking the public about a category. In Eating the Big Fish, however, the author relates the story of method.  Eric Ryan, the company’s founder, found a way to change the public’s relationship with the category by asking more of a “why not” kind of question. His question in essence was, why couldn’t a household cleaning product attract the millions of homeowners who care deeply about their home’s appearance and style? The result, of course, was a line of products put in exquisitely designed containers that look good sitting on the counter in your re-designed kitchen. The main point is that Ryan couldn’t have poll-tested or focus grouped his product into existence because consumers wouldn’t have even articulated a need for a product like method had he done so.

What’s our equivalent in the climate movement? What questions could be right below the surface that the public can’t articulate just yet? The answers to these questions could change the very nature of the public’s relationship with the climate movement.

 

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