Just watched the incredible video I'm about to post of Melinda Gates' Ted Talk in New York last month, and it's something I think every marketer, strategist, communications guru, change agent, activist, and anyone who cares about making change in the world should watch. Just sayin.

This is the headline that caught my attention on Reddit today: "Coca-Cola's plugged-in, global nework of marketers and distributors ensures that every remote village wants -- and can get -- a Coke. Why shouldn't this work for condoms, sanitation, vaccinations, too?

Mrs. Gates uses Coca-Cola's distribution of their product to the most remote places on the planet by harnessing the forces of real-time data, marketing, and entrepreneurism. If I've not already made it clear, this is a compelling message.

My key takeaways after the video.


It's all about networks

What Coke did was build adaptive, decentralized networks to extend their distribution reach. It's networks that carry the marketing messages that make people want to have that "Coke experience", it's networks that generate revenue for the company some of which it used to promote messages of freedom and to provide micro-loans to "micro-distribution centers" for equipment for otherwise destitute families to earn a living.

Realtime data "turns on the lights"

Mrs. Gates describes the lack (or really, the latency) of data on the impact of applying a Theory of Change as "bowling in the dark." You roll the ball in a direction you THINK is going to work, you hear some pins fall down, but you don't know which ones until the light turns on. Realtime data, Mrs. Gates says, "turns on the lights."

This was a poignant phrase for me. I recently took a business finance class at Vanderbilt University and we learned about the Time Value of Money. It's basic financial theory that says that a dollar in your hand today is worth more than a dollar in your hand at some point in the future. Well, I think there's a corollary about the Time Value of Data, that should state that data is more valuable the closer it is to real-time.

Real-time data (vs more latent data) is more actionable, has a higher degree of correlation between cause and effect and shorter feedback cycles to allow for more rapid adaptation. There are a lot of compelling advantages to moving towards realtime data.

Media and marketing are vital to success of any change effort.

Look, if people don't know about it, nothing's going to happen. The leveled (for the time being) playing field of ideas means it's super crowded with lots of people like myself who have ideas and want to share them. This creates for a lot of competition for people's thoughts (just consider that reading this means you're not being exposed to an advert trying to sell you something!). Our challenge as a movement is creating messages that touch and transform people into participants in the movement. No big.

The most powerful agents of positive change will be the corporations.

When WalMart starts insisting its supply chain adopt sustainability practices, the entire industry changes, because WalMart is such a huge customer in the marketplace. Cost effective realworld distribution being the scarcity that it is means that suppliers are going to do whatever WalMart says.

While activists have been long paving the way for corporations to change their ways, it's ultimately consumer pressure that forces a corporation to adapt, and large distribution companies (Walmart, Home Depot, Staples, etc.) can have an exponentially bigger impact just by changing a few things. In my oft cited example of my feelings being an activist trying to change the world being like swimming next to an ocean liner, I consider that my impact INSIDE the ship has so much greater potential than trying to change it from the outside.

Aspirational marketing is the only really effective marketing for change.

While I think it's important to tell the truth about the facts of the issues as we know them, telling moving stories with heart-wrenching details of injustice, and being honest about the PROBLEM, I tend to default to my grandmother's wise words "You catch more flies with sugar than vinegar."

What opens peoples hearts and aligns them is sharing a vision of possibility. It's ironic that protesting usually means to be against something. We need to change our messages to start creating a positive vision of the future that excites and invites people into participating.

Everything I know about Change is wrong.

Not really, but, wow... (see forthcoming blogpost of same title) What if we have it all wrong? What if our Theories of Change are based on an old paradigm of politics and engagement? When I think through the significance of change possible by having a few companies change their business, basically, I'm left wondering if we aren't focusing too much energy on movement building and not enough on reaching the hearts and minds of decision makers in business?

One could argue that movement building creates a rising tide that changes culture/society and thereby affects the frames through which corporate decision-makers see the world. In BP's case, perhaps, no amount of movement building and activism against the oil giant has had any impact at all.

Of course, I've not looked at either their stock, nor their evaluated their strategy to know if it did or didn't. Maybe it's just the pessimist in me that thinks not. Despite that I still maintain that corporations hold the keys to real, substantive and lasting change.

We're on the verge of eradicating a terrible disease

Polio is 99% eradicated and we're close to wiping out a disease from the face of the earth for only the second time. There's a huge evolutionary challenge there for us.

Africa as opportunity for sustainable growth models.

Not really a takeaway, more like a thought-during. It struck me that the "Third World" has always leapfrogged "the First world" (ethnocentrism, anyone?) in terms of implementing technology because the technology that gets dropped into Africa doesn't have to interoperate with legacy systems. Similarly, I wonder if Africa doesn't represent the place where new economic systems are being developed - the opportunity being to build sustainability and triple-bottom line values into an emerging market in a way that creates not just economic growth but sustainable economic growth. Something I think the global economy really needs.

I'm curious to know what you got out of the video.