Tag Archives: values

What are the values that ToysRUs is promoting to young people?

 

ToysRUs have recently released this ad. If you haven’t watched it, please do. The main message of it is that nature is boring, shiny plastic is good. Not only is ToysRUs using ads to create demand amongst children for their products, they are also putting out a negative message about nature.

Nature is having a hard enough time to get kids to spend time with her and get to know her (and, of course, we are part of nature, rather than separate from, but that is another argument), without explicitly anti-nature messages being added to the marketing mix.

Given this ad, I thought that I would look up what ToysRUs had to say on the subject of the sustainability, given that they are, in their own words, the world’s leading toy and juvenile products retailer, and you would think that they would at least have a passing interest in the future of the world’s youth. There was nothing to be found in the main navigation or under the About Us section, so I did a search on the site. This is what I found:

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 16.57.21A blank page.

To be fair, there was one other search result for sustainability on their site, a press release about the installation of solar panels on the roof of their warehouse from 2011. I then thought that maybe the information is housed under CSR or Corporate Responsibility. This brought up more responses, but the most relevant ones were about charitable giving. Philanthropy, but not sustainability as we know it.

A recent BBMG survey showed that 78% of Aspirationals are excited by going shopping. And at the same time, 9 out of 10 say that we need to consume less. It is hard for me to understand how we are going to consume less as a society, if we are excited about shopping, as the kids are shown to be in the ToysRUs ad. I engaged in a little bit of a Twitter debate about this, when I said that values needed to change, and I was told that being excited about shopping was not a value. I admit is not a value as such, but to me it is an expression of extrinsic values taking precedence over intrinsic values – seeking fulfilment in that which is outside of ourselves, rather than on the rich resources that lie within us. If companies are really going to help us go down the path of sustainable consumption, then they have an important role in promoting the intrinsic values that are at the heart of any long-term sustained behaviour change.

In the video for the petition against ToysRUs, the little girl says that kids ‘can go out and play in the dirt’. ToysRUs would no doubt counter, in private, ‘Where is the money in that?’ ToysRUs is about providing ‘products for magical playtime memories’ – but we all know the old truth that kids are often more interested in the box than in the product. Children have their imaginations, and being in nature is one of the best ways that children can both express their imagination and have their imagination stimulated. But if ToysRUs wants to exist as a business in the long-term it needs to be looking at how it can provide services as well as products – and helping kids connect with nature could be one of these services.

Clearly, ToysRUs having any kind of public sustainability strategy would be a start. But once they had that in place, they could start to take some responsibility for encouraging the wellbeing of the whole child, which includes being able to enjoy spending time in nature, valuing nature, promoting creativity and imagination and not fostering a reliance on consumption to generate happiness. Whatever you may think of McDonald’s, they are at least using the opportunities that they have to communicate with children through Happy Meals to educate them on nutrition and wellbeing. ToysRUs have a similar kind of opportunity – and after all they do show products in the ad such as a telescope and a bike which are ideal for exploring nature, although lost in the overall message.

When is ToysRUs going to take responsibility for the young people that it purports to stand for? I would like to see ToysRUs developing a sustainability strategy, and at the heart of that strategy would be a commitment to education, and particularly helping children to learn about nature. Companies need to start thinking about the long-term implications of their actions. They have a moral duty of care.

And perhaps ToysRUs could take on a little more of SMCG in its behaviour – Slow- Moving Creative Good – rather than just be about pushing disposable consumer goods. I hope that ToysRUs will listen to the voices that have risen up to express their views about this ad, and will use it as a catalyst to begin to take a stand for the genuine wellbeing of children.

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If you would like to express your views about the ad, you can sign the petition.

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Questions, values, stories

Questions, stories, values

The questions that we ask determine the stories that we create, tell and live. The stories that we share reveal our underlying values. Our values, in turn, shape the questions that we ask.

It is now frequently being said that we need to look again at the questions that we are asking, create new stories and get back in touch with the values that matter to us. In order to do this, we need to learn to ask the big questions, which will unlock the powerful stories, and enable us to share a common ground of values.

If we use this model, the effect that this will have in our communities where we live or work is:

  • to engage people in conversation, through the questions that are asked, and the questions that these questions provoke
  • to unlock motivation to act through the sharing of powerful stories
  • to generate ongoing action based on a collective sharing and understanding of values.

These are the activities that we need to be engaged in if we are going to meet the challenges that we currently face, such as ensuring that every business, organisation and community is in carbon descent in the next 700 days. Below, I will explore each of these three areas, their inter-connection and how they are key to driving action.

Questions

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes”. (Albert Einstein).

Einstein knew a thing or two about solving problems. Yet asking penetrating questions is frequently overlooked in the rush to get to answers – even if the answer won’t be clear because the question is not clear.

In their paper, ‘The Art of Powerful Questions’, Eric E. Vogt, Juanita Brown and David Isaacs give examples of powerful questions, and the key outcomes that resulted from those questions. Watson and Crick asked the question ‘What might DNA look like in 3D form?’. The outcome was the discovery of the double helix. Ray Kroc asked ‘Where can I get a good hamburger on the road?’. The outcome was the creation of McDonalds. Powerful questions are the drivers of innovation.

We need to become skilled in asking these powerful questions if we are going to make the shift that is required in the way that we live and the way that we do business. Marilee Goldberg in her book, ‘The Art of the Question’ said ‘A paradigm shift occurs when a question is asked inside the current paradigm that can only be answered from outside it’. Dr Alan Knight, founder of Singleplanetliving.com and a member of the Sustainable Development Commission, spoke at the Goodenough College Challenge of Sustainability conference on June 13th 2009. He said that the question that was going to be asked at the Copenhagen conference in December was ‘How can we reduce our carbon impact by 80% by 2050?’ However, simply doing less of what we are currently doing is not going to achieve the levels of carbon reduction that are required. He therefore posed a new question, ‘What do we want 9 billion sustainable lifestyles to look like in 2050?’ There is currently no vision for what 9 billion sustainable lifestyles will look like. Surely, if you are embarking on a strategy, you would have a vision of what you are setting out to achieve? How can we undertake a mission of this size, without having a vision? The major piece of the jigsaw is missing.

The nature of the question determines the level of engagement as well. What story would you prefer to hear – or tell – or act on: the story of how to reduce carbon use by 80%, or the story of 9 billion sustainable lifestyles? What appeals to the imagination about either of those questions? The story of 9 billion sustainable lifestyles grabs my interest because of the human aspect.

Stories

Do you know what the secret to the Obama campaign was? Stories. And it wasn’t the Obama story parroted by people up and down the country. It was individuals telling their own story and answering two questions: ‘Why are you here?’ (taking part in the Obama campaign). And ‘what matters to you?’ Obama Camp trained the volunteers who mobilized the volunteers at grassroots level. The first thing that volunteers learned how to do was to tell their own story in two minutes. If they could tell their own stories powerfully, about what had moved them to become part of the campaign, then they in turn could motivate and inspire others to get involved.

If powerful questions are under-utilised, then stories are absent too. We need to begin sharing our stories with each other as a way of explaining why issues are important to us, and setting the context for the action that we are taking, if we are going to inspire others to do the same. To be reminded of the power of story in action, watch Obama’s speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2004 – he seamlessly links personal story, with wider values, with the challenges faced by the country, with the urgency of a call to action. Marshall Ganz was one of the architects behind the 2008 Obama campaign, and you can hear him talk about the principles behind the campaign and the importance of stories in this video.

Values

The third component of the circle is values. Marshall Ganz has written:

“The irony is that access to our moral sources is exactly what we need to create the possibility of winning. One of the key lessons of the social movements of the past — of the left and of the right – is that their power grew out of the moral energy of their people (not just their organizers), their readiness to take risk, and their resourcefulness – all of which was rooted in turn, not in “self-interest” in any obvious sense, but in the values at stake.” (Read full article here.)

If we share stories about why we are taking action, then we are at the same time sharing the values which are driving our action. A shared sense of values is more likely to result in ongoing action, as the values provide a deep-seated foundation. As we go through the cycle of questions, stories, values, the questions will begin to change and become more powerful as we reconnect with our values and what is important to us. And our actions will grow in power too.