Story vs. Data: A Battle to Fix the World

It was such a pleasure to attend the Social Innovation Summit at Stanford this week and the experience confirmed what we see as a fundamental tension between Story and Data, underscoring predictions of the future and how we facilitate social change.

Social Innovation SummitThose that lead with Story focus on areas like human connection, brand narratives and emotional mobilization in order to address social crises. Whether it is Unilever’s powerful ‘Project Sunlight’ narrative or Cycle for Survival’s wonderful mobilization of passionate people directly touched by cancer, it’s the human quotient that is the key to change. Several themes emerged from proponents of this including:

Defining your brand purpose and narrative

Nurturing your employee culture

Investing in internal storytelling

Collaborating with peers and competitors

Relentless resourcefulness and creativity

Robert Scoble at Social Innovation 2013Those who lead with Data focus on areas like miniaturization, rapid prototyping, data streams and the exponential reach that such awe-inspiring technology enables. Robert Scoble (pictured here giving a special grin before taking the stage) broke out today’s most powerful contextual trends this way:

1. Ownership to Access – It’s no longer about ownership of objects or technology, but rather having access to the experience of them that counts.

2. Business Unusual – Business is now constantly changing and innovation itself has become a pre-occupation.

3. Digital Fabrication – Whether it’s additive, subtractive, robotic or nano-scale, digital fabrication has effectively combined manufacturing with the microprocessor to computerize manufacturing.

4. The Rise of Information – The ability to find up-to-date information instantly, plus people’s willingness to share information, is rising exponentially.

5. Infinite Computing – Everyone now has a super computer in hand. In fact, the only resource in the world getting cheaper over time is computing.

The truth about the future of social innovation, I believe, lies somewhere in between but it’s important to lead with story. Technology must always be in the service of moving hearts and minds if we are to inspire people to think beyond themselves and rise to the challenge of critical social innovation. The heart provides technology with a critical moral compass, but by working together, Story and Data can unlock the power of shared values and collaboration to rapidly address social crises and reframe how we coexist in our world.