In the early 1990s, I gave up journalism to work for an Auckland city council. I was attracted to a vision for a great future. Waitakere City will be familiar to New Zealand readers but for those further afield, or ‘overseas’ this little city declared itself an eco city, and led by a charismatic mayor, Bob Harvey embarked on a ‘sustainability agenda’ inspired by the Rio Earth Summit.
Trouble was nobody on the ground new what sustainability was.
But I loved the concept and as an eager storytelling radio journalist, set out to bring sustainability to life, in stories, video, cartoons, newsletters, illustrations, you name it.
One idea struck gold. I created and played a character, a TV reporter called Spud, who had crazy glasses, looked like a nerd, and constantly stuttered over the word suh… suh… suh… sustainability. The reports were humorous but told underlying serious stories about environmental, social and economic sustainability issues and solutions across the city.
It was an internal staff video, designed to build a culture in a divided organisation, full of a conflicting mix of visionaries and sceptics.
But people loved the video and the character. And still talk about it 15+ years on. It broke the ice, let people laugh at themselves and each other, from CEO to cleaner, and helped build a culture and a sense of family in the organisation.
It was an early experience for me about the power of story in building an organisation’s culture.
And a quick lesson about humour and its often hidden depths.