On this episode of Marketing for Good, Hanson Hosein joins Erica to talk about lies and truths. They also talk about living in an information vacuum, how the algorithms of your browsing habits and social media know you better than you know yourself, and creating communities with similar values. If that can’t be a whole country, can it be a state, a city, or the company you work for?
This is a transcript of Erica Mills Barnhart’s interview with Hanson Hosein on the Marketing for Good podcast. You can listen to the episode here and listen to more episodes on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. Enjoy!
SUMMARY KEY WORDS: stories, people, technology, world, misinformation, independence, thought, engage, question, trust, motivated, communities
Erica Mills Barnhart 00:53
Hanson is Co-Director of the Communication Leadership Master’s Program at the University of Washington and the President of HRH Media Group, LLC, a media production and communications strategy firm that has worked with organizations such as REI, Microsoft Tableau Software and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. He’s a pioneer of multimedia storytelling as an Emmy and overseas Press Club award winning journalist for NBC News, a solo TV war correspondent with MSNBC and CBC and a documentary film director whose work has been streamed and broadcast worldwide. While at UW, Hanson has also been recognized as Seattle’s most influential as he engages publicly with the region’s leaders on camera and onstage. He has a law degree from McGill University and the University of Paris and a Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University.
Hanson Hosein 05:32
Isn’t it great when you can write your own story, Erica?
Erica Mills Barnhart 05:36
Totally, well, so what I came across, so I went back and I read the article about you when you won Seattle Magazine’s Most Influential Award, and you said I love Seattle because I feel like I have the freedom and independence to tell my own narrative. And I thought that was so interesting. So before we dive in, you know, we could talk about and I hope we will talk about misinformation, global insecurity, emergent tech and what all that has to do with marketing. But first, your journey has been so fascinating and rich. Will you share a bit about where you came from and how you landed here today?
Hanson Hosein 06:14
Yeah, I think the reason I said that, and that was all the way back in 2010 to Seattle Magazine is that, you know, I’ve lived around the world as that bio seems to hint at and I’ve managed to see some of the world’s best and worst things as a war correspondent and somebody who’s lived in Paris in New York and Montreal, etc. And what appeals to me about Seattle is that it has both an incredible independent streak in terms of cooperatives or media, but it also has this amazing creativity in it. I just found that at the point that in my life that I landed in Seattle and married to a Seattle native and our kids are fifth generation Pacific Northwesterners, that it just really jives very well with what I was looking for at the time and still am, that creativity and that independence. You know, somebody, I grew up, I was born in England. I grew up in Canada. I went to law school in Canada and in France and I went to journalism school in New York. And I was always sort of driven to, to find things that were true to me as opposed to pursue a career. And so, so having done law and then go into journalism, my first job out of graduate school, even before I was graduated, was at NBC News working for Tom Brokaw who was the anchor at the time in New York, and then threatening to quit unless they gave me an endorsement.
Erica Mills Barnhart 07:27
Yeah, I love that part of your story. So Hanson, you took a stand at this point in your career, and you said, I will not work for you anymore unless you send me to, and where was that place? And why was that so important to you?
Hanson Hosein 11:54
You know, I always felt like I had to be challenged and be in a state of learning and I think I was 26 or 27 at the time, and I felt like I’d done everything I wanted to do. I’d been in New York now for almost four years. And yeah, it’s great to work at the top of the mountain, which is NBC Nightly News. But I really wanted to see the world and I was young enough and sort of immodest enough to believe that that could happen. And so when I threatened to quit, I expected them to send me to London where I was born, and I spoke French and I knew Europe. And I think it was maybe part of my hubris to decide to punish me and say, hey, have you thought about Israel, and not punishment, because Israel is not necessarily a bad place to go, but my last name is Hosein and it would be very odd for me operating as an American journalists in the Jewish state of Israel with that baggage behind me. So I asked to check it out. They sent me there for a month. I absolutely loved it. I got along with both sides, and there I was.
Erica Mills Barnhart 12:48
Yeah. And then share how long we were there and then where did you go from there?
Well, I was in Israel for three and a half years, and that’s when I this time I threatened to quit and quit at the end of that night, got the Emmy Award, the Overseas Press Club award for my work in Kosovo during the war there. And during that time, I’d been really learning that there was a different way to tell stories using digital technology. Blogging was just it wasn’t it hadn’t been invented yet. But we were able to start seeing the possibilities with digital technology and NBC just wasn’t interested. I asked, could I just spend a year roaming around the world on the cheap telling these stories? And they said no. And so I quit fairly unceremoniously. And I was picked and I was offered jobs by in Canada by both the national broadcasters and even then I asked, can I learn how to shoot net in mind stories and that’s what happened.
Erica Mills Barnhart 13:36
And so you went and work for CBC at that point?
Hanson Hosein 13:39
Yeah, I took the job at CBC. Basically, CBC said, hey, we’d like to have you as a national reporter, either Montreal or Toronto, and then send you to Paris to be the international corespondent there. And I said, what else do you have? They suddenly have these entry level positions in rural Canada, where we’ll teach how to shoot and edit your own stories, and you’re a one man office, essentially. I said, I chose the sunniest place I could find which is Kelowna, British Columbia, and as close to Seattle for my wife as well, and once there and learned how to shoot and edit, I stunk. I was terrible for the first six months. But I learned and I learned by embarrassing myself on national television in Canada, and I got good enough at it. And as I was really settling into it, all of a sudden out of the blue one day, NBC News in New York calls and says, hey, war is coming in Iraq, do you want to come back and work for us because the Pentagon is embedding journalists, but they can only do one or two people and since you seem to know how to shoot and edit your own stories, which they didn’t want to teach me how do that. So I asked CBC, hey, can I take a sabbatical since you have a partnership with NBC? They said, no, I said, okay, I quit. So I was out sort of on this role of learning how to quit. So I see a trend. But I haven’t quit in years. I’ve been at this University for 13 years now.
Erica Mills Barnhart 14:50
Yeah, I get that. I will say, I’ll tell you a very brief story that has always stuck with me. So out of undergraduate so I would have been paralegal and under a lot of undergrad for immigration and refugee lawyers mainly. And then I’m a really fast typer because my dad, I had to do translation for him. So I actually went to typing school when I was like 12 or 13. So I graduated and I was working for this, it was just a horrible, it’s like a translation service and they place people I don’t know, it was it was a mess. And the owner really liked three martini lunches. So so that made things super exciting. And let’s just say we didn’t see eye to eye at one point she was she was trying to pump us up and she said, so, you know, we really, you know, I need everybody hustling, she went on and I said, you know, it’s tough to get really motivated when the owner of the business is going to three martini lunches and playing hearts all afternoon. Needless to say, she did not love this comment.
Hanson Hosein 15:50
So funny. I didn’t realize that was your background. I have some of that myself. I when I was in law school in Montreal, I actually did an intern for a refugee lawyer in Canada. I did a lot of that work representing people both in French and English. And that was really the extent of my legal career, but it was very gratifying.
Erica Mills Barnhart 16:05
Yeah, I mean, it’s such important work. And I always assumed I would be a lawyer everybody else did, because I like words and you know, have a little argumentative streak. But yeah, but I ended up working for lawyers and realized that that probably wasn’t my calling. But in this moment where this I was, it was clear I was about to get fired, or I was going to quit or something was we were going to part ways and I rung my dad with the time was down with his dad, my grandpa in Santa Cruz, who had you know, he had had his own electric company and they wired UC Santa Cruz campus, among other things, but entrepreneur, my dad’s an entrepreneur/academic, and so I’m lamenting this to my dad who I always call I’m having, you know, career stuff. And I hear my grandpa who was very cantankerous always and especially later in life, and he said, give me the phone, give me the phone, he said. So my maiden name is Adams. He gets on the phone says, Erica, you’re an Adams you’re smart. Quit. Then he gives the phone back to dad. And I was like, I don’t know what just happened. I was like, I don’t either, but I think probably you should take this advice. And I said oh, okay.
Hanson Hosein 17:07
Yeah. Sometimes there’s virtue in quitting as long as you know what you’re doing.
Erica Mills Barnhart 17:09
Yeah. Well, I mean, I think that that’s a beautiful message. It’s like it’s not, you know, when you when you close the door another door is gonna open whether or not you closed it or somebody else but so I just love that you’re so transparent about like, and then I quit and then I quit. And then I quit.
Hanson Hosein 17:22
I actually gave a TED talk about a TEDx why I dropped the mic, right? Because I think you don’t quit just out of a fit of rage right now. And for me, quitting is about remaining as true to my inner narrative as possible, which is sort of saying, Okay, this story feels like it’s done. And for me to stick around is like doing six more Star Wars sequels, which is just, you know, belaboring the point and making it worse and worse. So, what’s it going to take for me to reboot the story, even though the beginning of any story is always painful, because you have to start from nothing, but I find that that’s, that’s the creative constraint that most motivates me to do cool interesting stuff.
Erica Mills Barnhart 18:00
Also, I think a lot of people struggle because when you when you close your chapter ends you grieve it. I mean that’s human nature.
Hanson Hosein 18:07
And sometimes that grieving period can actually take a long time,
Erica Mills Barnhart 18:10
a really long time. And it is nonlinear, which for those of us who are both creative yet hyper logical the non linearity of it is just maddening. You know, I wrote on LinkedIn recently so as we’re recording this, we are both sheltered in place because of Coronavirus. And I was writing about how I think a lot of what we’re struggling with is grief. And then there’s been a lot written on that. And but we don’t see it that way. Or feel it that way. So I just think it’s important to note that grief is present in a lot of ways and we just don’t we only associate you know, like,
Hanson Hosein 18:45
you don’t really physically I don’t think you really know you’re in the depths of that grief until it’s over. So that’s probably why we don’t quite recognize it as that but you know, we’ve lost a lot of things and we don’t know what we’ve truly lost until it’s really done.
Erica Mills Barnhart 18:56
Yeah. So out from there. I want to segue into one of the things on that post that came up for folks was they were grieving a lack of what they perceive to be as, you know, information that they could rely on. So, you sort of noting that we seem to be experiencing an uptick in misinformation. So I’m hoping you will share some of the really exciting and important, pertinent relevant, so relevant now work that you’re doing at the Center an Informed Public. You just, I guess was that wasn’t even a week ago that you had the virtual summit surviving the Coronavirus info-demic.
Hanson Hosein 19:39
Yeah. And is kind of I mean, the the Center for the Informed Public was launched at the University of Washington just late last year. It was a very almost like an emergency request for proposals from the Knight Foundation, which is based in Miami and is focused on the future of journalism and they were looking to essentially create a new academic discipline around the impact of technology on democracy. The University of Washington has some of the best, the world’s best researchers on misinformation disinformation. So they are actually invited to, to apply for that grant. And then they invited me to support it because of my background in journalism and storytelling and everything else, which I did. And I saw my role as how do we actually engage the public if you want to have an informed public because these these guys are really good at actually doing the research. But can we do this in in a, in a way that we’re doing, as they’re researching, as we’re trying to inoculate the public, we need to run these trials. And to me, the trials are engaging the public. And so I push very hard to do these town halls as soon as possible and do it in a way that you could actually give agency and accountability to the audience’s that weren’t being that we’re trying to inform themselves. And yeah, it’s really important because we don’t trust anything anymore.
Erica Mills Barnhart 20:46
Yeah. Yeah. You said in the opening in your welcome to that summit, you said a lie can get halfway across the world before the truth can get its boots on.
Hanson Hosein 20:56
Yeah. I was quoting somebody on that.
Erica Mills Barnhart 20:58
You were quoting somebody. I love that and but it made me wonder what is it about misinformation and lies that are so much more viral than the truth?
Hanson Hosein 21:08
Well, there’s no doubt about it that we are addicted to misinformation, you got to look at information very much like food in misinformation is junk food. It’s got a high sugar content and high carbs. And it’s so easy to consume. And it’s actually fun and it hits our neural pathways in different ways. I mean, McDonald’s, for example, you know, used to try to do a salad menu because they thought that’s what everybody wanted based on the surveys. But in the end, that’s not what people go to McDonald’s for. So they don’t serve it salads anymore. It’s the same thing with information. Everybody says they want the truth. They want the facts. But you speak to the folks at Facebook as I have, and they will tell you that uniformly, the links that get the most attention are the ones that are patently false. That’s what people are attracted to.
Erica Mills Barnhart 21:48
Hanson Hosein 21:51
Well, it’s easy. I mean, and this is when you have data driven easy information. The problem is right now, and this is the this is the transition the evolution that I’ve lived for the last 25 years as a journalist and as a communications person, is that as the multiplicity of information sources that just sort of exponentially exploded on us. We are, you know, we are not living in an information vacuum, we’re living in an age of overabundance of information we don’t know how to choose. And that’s the anxiety. And so we want simplicity, because otherwise we’re just overwhelmed.
Erica Mills Barnhart 22:22
So to say, I experienced this firsthand. And this is not a story that I’m proud of. But so my sister works at Stanford. She’s a geneticist by training, science writer, she’s wicked smart. And so the it was the Monday, the Monday that they announced shelter in place, I think earlier in the day, or maybe the day before. Anyway, immediately prior to this, this text exchange, which I will sharing about, I had a total I’m not like a super emotional person by nature. I’m not a crier by nature, and I had a total meltdown in the aisle at QFC, because I was so overwhelmed with everything, and I sort of had to leave cart and come home and try again. So I was not in my best mental state, let’s just say, and I get this text from a friend whose husband is a ER physician’s assistant in an ER. So I feel like this is a reputable source. And it’s you might have seen this it was basically this you know text from somebody saying, you know, we’re close to the CDC, this is going to get worse before it gets better. By the way, we probably knew about this and it probably comes from you know, cows bovine. Okay, so I sent this text to my family and my sister’s like basically I’ll paraphrase she was like, Oh, good, Lord Erica, get it together. She’s like, and I was like, but the but the flu the flu virus and that came from birds. And she was like, yeah, that’s that’s not this Erica, you gotta, no. You know, retrospect I’m like embarrassed that I fell prey to it. But in the moment, it felt very like that made sense to me in my amped up and anxious brain.
Hanson Hosein 23:56
Yeah, when you’re in a state of fear and anxiety, we’re more susceptible to these things. This is why we’re seeing this rise of demagogues as leaders around the world because they provide easy answers when everything else is so confusing. Yeah. And and they address the fear by actually perpetuating the fear. So that’s, that is the fundamental challenge we all face is that we have to get past the fear. We have to get past disinformation, we have to sit and say, how are we going to collaborate at scale and trust each other again, to overcome these massive problems. And in a way, there’s almost a divine retribution to what the virus has brought to us because it’s been an equal punisher. And it’s basically saying, you shall not have sports, you shall not have entertainment, you should not leave your house, you shall not go to a bar, you shall stay home and think very hard about how you want to support your fellow human because you’re not going to get out of this otherwise.
Erica Mills Barnhart 24:46
Yeah, I mean, I see I see the take of it being the great equalizer. We and the data is also saying that it definitely is disproportionately impacting communities of color, and already marginalized communities. So I think we’re seeing it as an amplification of some of those trends. But your point still stands, which is, you know, we’re all feeling it and we’re all kind of being it’s it is a reckoning, for sure.
Hanson Hosein 25:09
We’re not going to get past it. Yeah, of course, the impact is felt disproportionately, but we don’t get past this unless we get to come together to figure it out. There’s no way.
Erica Mills Barnhart 25:18
Yeah, yeah. This is a little bit of a sidebar, but you just went through what a lot of folks are going through, which is you had envisioned those town halls being in person. And then you had to shift gears to being virtual. I just last week, I gave my first virtual keynote. And that was a really different experience thing giving it in person for sure. And but part of it was just a mind shift from like, I will not be in person. I’ll be online. I was just curious how that how you experienced that.
Hanson Hosein 25:44
Yeah, it you know, I think the challenge was that I didn’t have the visual and physical cues and that’s what I’m really good at totally energy and an audience and the speakers, right? But at the same time, I’d been thinking about this for a while even when we looked at the ideas of town halls last year, I said, there’s no way this could be 45 minutes of sage on the stage and then 15 minutes of random q&a where people with loud voices dominate. That’s just not useful. And so luckily, I found this new platform out of British Columbia called Thought Exchange that allowed us to actually really crowdsource the thoughts and questions of the audience in a way that they can vote things up. And then we would get that into the program. So when we design this, even before we have to go virtual, my thought has always been, we only hear from these experts for the first 10 or 15 minutes to frame their credibility and the question and then we go straight to Q&A. And I feel that that’s what really resonated, we had over 2000 people participated in this.
Erica Mills Barnhart 26:37
I know, congratulations!
Hanson Hosein 26:40
And, the participation was coming fast and furious, so I was getting my students were helping to curate those questions, but I felt it was highly participative despite the fact that nobody was in the room with me.
Erica Mills Barnhart 26:52
Yeah, that’s cool. It looked really incredible. What was the platform again?
Hanson Hosein 26:55
It’s called ThoughtExchange. It’s one word, thoughtexchange.com.
Erica Mills Barnhart 27:00
I’m originally from Vancouver, Canada. So I do confess the probably similar to you, anytime you hear about something good coming out of Canada, it makes me proud.
Hanson Hosein 27:07
Well, I grew up, I grew up in Canada, and this is actually out of Southern British Columbia. It’s southeastern British Columbia near Nelson, and, but they’re being funded largely by VC in Seattle. So that’s how I was connected to them in the first place.
Erica Mills Barnhart 27:19
Very cool. Yeah. I want to shift gears just just a titch. So, this podcast and its listeners, obviously, are interested in marketing for good and we’re coming at it from all different angles, as this conversation has already shown. So when I think about what does marketing mean, it to me is when there’s an exchange of information, ideas, goods, services, whatever, and that can happen one on one or at scale. And importantly, that exchange is mutually beneficial to all involved, right, so everybody should be made whole, but through that. So it’s easy, I think, to think about technology and how it can fuel misinformation at scale but something that I feel like we haven’t been focusing on as much in the past sort of four to six weeks because of Coronavirus is that the way in which technology can shape perceptions because a lot of marketing happens within frameworks that are very well established within our brains. And in the you know, they shaped perception. So, I would just love to hear your thoughts on how technology including emergent technology can help shape perception at scale.
Hanson Hosein 27:54
Oh, boy. That’s a tough one, because, you know, even as I helped pioneer this master’s program in digital media before anybody really understood what social media was, we recognize that technology should not be the tail wagging the dog. And that what we’ve pivoted on with a graduate program is very much that we’re essentially looking at human forces that are amplified by technology but you never start with technology as a solution or as the thing, it cannot be that. But there’s no doubt about it that as we move into the next chapter of technology, which is ambient technology, artificial intelligence, internet of things, that just profoundly disrupts everything where the technology is the driver. And it totally rewires, how we connect and engage with each other and with ourselves. And so, you know, this is going well beyond Facebook and Twitter and Social Media and everything else more into behavioral change, which, you know, marketing does deal with behavioral change has fundamentally been about telling stories, whether it’s been an advertising campaign or a film, right. It’s basically saying, Hey, I can envisage some kind of transition in my life’s journey, if I do this, or I buy this product, I vote for this person, and you tell that story and then it’s done. However, when you’re dealing with a data ocean, and then that data is being manipulated by an algorithm to incentivize people’s actions and it knows you better than you know yourself, then we have a different situation where behavioral change is no longer about telling stories and human incentivization. And it’s more about, well, we can actually get real time understanding of how you are moving and changing. And we’re going to incentivize you based on that data. So for example, if you have a smartwatch on and you go to your fridge and you’re about to take that thing out of the fridge and your calorie count goes up, and it’s going to affect your insurance premium and say, that will descend us disincentivize you from consuming that thing. And so suddenly, it’s the numbers in the algorithm that are determining what you do, as opposed to the stories that motivated you before and that is profound.
Erica Mills Barnhart 30:34
And at least to me, kind of wonderful and scary all at the same time.
Hanson Hosein 30:40
Well, if you look at it, even from the point of view of what we’re facing right now with the virus, you know, and they’re looking like, okay, we now know that we have to get back to work, we have to be able to survive, and somehow we have to put this virus behind us, but the only way we can do that, we have to know who’s sick, who’s had it, who hasn’t, and where they are and how do we quarantine them. All of a sudden, we have we have a solution. Let’s use our smartphones and artificial intelligence to track everybody and put them in their place and keep track of that. And that’s scary. Because that’s just not the applications where this all goes, right.
Erica Mills Barnhart 31:12
Yeah. Well, I think it’ll be really interesting to see. I mean, certainly something that’s happened because of quarantining children in place, and that’s, you know, Americans really pride themselves on independence. And you certainly saw that flare up in terms of people not wanting to give up their independence in service of the greater good. And I, you know, I’m just really interested to see what the legacy will be in many regards, but including in that regard.
Hanson Hosein 31:41
Yeah, no, that’s a really good point. You know, I have you and I both being relatively bi-national. One of the things I love most about America is that focus on independence, its pursuit of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, right? And Canada is built on peace, order and good government, which is very much the human welfare thing. But you know, if we continue to face these crises and if these technologies continue to really sort of herd us, according to our data does America and its constitutional origins and culture get rewired fundamentally? I believe that America was driven by a particular technology, the printing press, which allows for different voices and and independence to sort of shine through against the monolithic monarchies in Europe at the time. So the printing press shaped America for the last 250, 260 years. It’s not the printing press anymore. It’s not even the internet. It’s really artificial intelligence, and how does that make us think and do differently? Where does our freedom go?
Erica Mills Barnhart 32:37
Yeah, where does our freedom go? So we talked a little bit about grief. And then you were just saying that with algorithms, you know, that, in some ways is the demise of storytelling yet what we know is that our brains are wired for story. And so are we going to rewire our brains like our story’s gonna die? Hanson?
Hanson Hosein 32:57
It’s a good question because you know, who cares if our brain brains are wired for stories of if the algorithm is telling us what door we can go through and which one we can’t. And that’s what we’re getting to see in China where you get access to certain things based on their social credit system and you don’t get access and so it will stories matter if, if human incentivization and freewill don’t matter as much, because we are just locked off from those different services. I mean, that’s obviously we’re talking a few years down the line, but I believe the virus will precipitate asking those questions sooner than later. I hope that stories don’t go. I mean, they’re mildly entertaining, obviously. And we’re all bingeing on these these streaming platforms. And it may just be that, entertainment. But the story stories are really what, that’s what sets us apart from any other species. And if we don’t have that, because it also gives us our sense of identity. That goes away, then we’re really messed up as a species.
Erica Mills Barnhart 33:49
Yeah. I’ll just say that in anticipation of the new Top Gun coming out last night, my husband and I did watch the original Top Gun and I was sitting there thinking like, this is just good storytelling. I mean, there isn’t anything super remarkable about it but 34 years later, it’s still a good story. I know exactly how that story goes. And I was still like, I’m gonna watch this, you know, there’s nothing about it.
Hanson Hosein 34:13
But yet, but again, those are stories. I mean, those stories, at most, maybe might just be our bedtime stories. It’s no longer stories from marketing or anything else. Or at best, they just continue to tell give us our sense of selves and purpose and who we are.
Erica Mills Barnhart 34:27
Identity. Yeah, so you wrote a book storyteller, uprising trust and persuasion in the digital age.
Hanson Hosein 34:36
Erica Mills Barnhart 34:37
Okay, okay. And yet, in it, so you describe uprising as meaning people seizing control of communication by building ongoing, credible connections through story and digital technology. Would you still describe it in the same way?
Hanson Hosein 34:52
Well, yeah. Although I’m wondering, I think since then, that was all done right before the height of the apex of the goodness of this, which was the Arab Spring, when you saw populations essentially pushing back against monolithic structures, and this this, it was all inspired my Declaration of Independence against NBC. Like, I realized that I didn’t have to rely on this voice of God anymore to be able to reach people with stories that matter to me. So when I brought that ethos to the University of Washington, I said, you know, what every organization actually tell their own stories without having to rely on broadcasters. And so that actually happened Amazon and Starbucks, and all these companies now have internal newsrooms, and it’s come to be, so that’s great. And that was the independence and freedom I was looking for. But what it’s also happened is that it’s created A) a complete fragmentation of the information ecosystem. And B) because that fragmentation what we’re looking for is clarity. And so we’re willing to surrender all of our power to essentially the big five companies, as they call them. It’s and they’re, and it’s become this massive oligopoly of information technology, which is extremely dangerous. They have more power than states do.
Erica Mills Barnhart 35:58
Yeah, yeah, so you’ve heard me talk a little bit about my affection for the second law of thermodynamics. Do you remember this?
Hanson Hosein 36:06
Yes, I have heard you say something along those lines because your dad’s a physicist.
Erica Mills Barnhart 36:09
Yeah, well, you know, engineer, physicist, I don’t even know, it all blends together. But, you know, with the idea being that chaos is always increasing. And so, and chaos can be productive, right? It is disruptive, but sometimes it can be productive. My stance is from a marketing and communications perspective. Most of the time, clarity is going to serve you better than chaos. So the work is to bring clarity rather than perpetuate chaos. So chaos is always increasing, the second law of thermodynamics is universal law. So we can’t stop it. That whole like stop the chaos isn’t possible, but we can quell it. And I guess I’m curious in a time when it’s at least true to say how we relate to story shifting. What does that mean? And if algorithms are taking over, what does that mean? Like how can people think about bringing clarity.
Hanson Hosein 37:02
Yeah, because the the knee jerk reaction right now in terms of the chaos is to sort of say let’s throw whatever band aid is readily available to us, which means, oh, that algorithm from Facebook is going to quell hate speech and give me as much information as I need. Go for it. I won’t even look at what I’m surrendering. And and they’ve got more power because of that, that can’t be the solution. The other way of looking at it is, how can we actually come up with new narratives new meta narratives about who we are as communities as societies that service us that aren’t irrelevant. And you could say that what we’ve experienced in the last five or six years, in terms of the amount of disruption there has been to traditional institutions like government, and like media, is to say that the reason why we can attack those entities is because they were weakened because we don’t trust them anymore. And so what do we have to do to renegotiate our connection to each other social contract? Well, we have to rethink what our social infrastructure is going to be, how we connect. And to do that, we need new stories. And those stories could be new stories about nation states, communities, religions, those are all stories we tell ourselves to understand who we are, and how we can collaborate at scale. And so if we think about the role of the marketer or the storyteller, I can’t think of any more important charge at this time, then start imagining those news stories and understanding that it has to be relevant to the times and can’t be looking back 20 or 30 years, when we thought that that was the truth. It’s not the truth anymore. We have to take into account these new realities.
Erica Mills Barnhart 38:33
What do you think is still the truth? What truth will sustain-
Hanson Hosein 38:38
The truth is, the fundamental truth is that we cannot act by ourselves. We do not exist in a vacuum and the problems that we face, whether it’s as a country, a community or as a species are so massive, that if we cannot trust each other enough to figure that out together, then we are doomed and so even when I think about the conversation around diversity and inclusion, which gets rejected by certain people, because of just trying to do good for and and whatever else, I think if you don’t have all the brains at the table to try to figure these things out, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. And so what’s it going to take for us to say, you know what, here’s the new terms of engagement for us. And this is why we’re doing it. And this is what motivates us. And this is why it matters in the big picture. Let’s get together and do this. That’s what matters most.
Erica Mills Barnhart 39:31
Yeah, it feels like being very settled on values is more important than ever, like, we went through a time where you kind of always have them, but maybe we didn’t name them as much, you know, and that just feels so important to call out explicitly these days and not take them for granted so that you can, you know, build trust communities and connection in that way.
Hanson Hosein 39:54
Well, the challenge with values is that it becomes a very subjective thing and unless you can come up with a storyline that inspires people to adopt those values in common, then you’re in trouble. And so the other outcome I see happening, which sounds very science fiction, and I’m calling it I’m patenting this or copywriting, I’m calling it a future of platforms and enclaves, essentially, we’re moving away from this, these mass ways of coming together, whether it’s a nation state, or a corporation, or a church, even, to something that’s much more specific to both where we live geographically and what our values are, say around abortion, or gun rights. And, and, and the platforms that we choose to support us that we don’t necessarily need a state or country providing health care when Amazon does. And so all of a sudden, if you’re living in part of the Pacific Northwest, in this community, where you have certain values that matter to you as a community, and you don’t want to associate with anybody else that doesn’t have that values. And you don’t need a federal body to support you because you’ve got you’ve chosen Amazon or Facebook as your as your reputation system plus your service provider. Then you have a system of platforms and enclaves it’s like a 21st century feudalism. But we’re collaborating at scale within that platform or enclave.
Erica Mills Barnhart 41:05
Yeah, I mean, the at scale part makes me wonder on the other side of this, how much more fiercely we will crave human connection?
Hanson Hosein 41:15
Well, depends on how much connection we need, right? If you say, I’m just quite happy with my little village of 100 people, and we all agree X, Y, and Z, and we all agree that we don’t anybody who doesn’t agree with that X, Y, and Z. And we will connect either in person or we will use this particular platform to continue to talk to each other. And we have a rating system so that you can have reputation we’ll take you seriously that may be enough. And and those those technologies are so powerful, that the scale comes from that, doesn’t necessarily come from millions of people doing something it comes from 30 people all agreeing on something.
Erica Mills Barnhart 41:49
Yeah, you know, it strikes me and listening to you is how much we talk about needing to filter out information. You know, that we’re bombarded and we need to you know, kind of filter. And I believe that to be true. However, I think the downside of we’re all very good at reinforcing our own preconceived notions about the world and our opinions. And you know, our brains naturally are wired to go and just reinforce those opinions. And so what would you offer to listeners as a way to kind of balance that out? Like, definitely, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself more than you need to be overwhelmed, because that leads to anxiety. And that leads to reptile brain and that’s just not good. So what do you I mean, if you’re willing to say, how do you balance those things? You’re such a balanced thinker and observer.
Hanson Hosein 42:38
I actually don’t have that much optimism about it. I think it’s too hard to do. Because it actually requires a journalist mind which means you don’t accept the source at face value, you double source and you’re skeptical from the beginning and then you try to it’s a lot of work, right. That’s probably the work of a scientist as well. And I think that’s just too hard to do. And and this is one of the reasons why maybe the height of trust in the United States could have been in the 1950s and 60s when we trusted our media and political institutions. And there were certainly very few of them. They weren’t necessarily right. But at least they told us what to think and do and we generally agreed with it. And so I’m not, I am not confident that we’re going to get past this very easily. Because for us to sort of say, okay, I’m a Republican, I have to start making friends with Democrats, even though I don’t like them. That’s hard.
Erica Mills Barnhart 43:27
Yeah, it’s hard.
Hanson Hosein 43:27
And so my solution has been in jest until even last year when I was giving talks of my solution was the only thing that’s gonna solve this is an alien invasion because the alien is so it’s such an external threat, that we have to put aside our differences to come together. Otherwise, we’re not going to get past this. And in a way that has happened. The virus isn’t an alien invasion.
Erica Mills Barnhart 43:48
Yes, it is, in a lot of ways. Yeah. Okay, I remain more optimistic. I’m not a jaded journalist.
Hanson Hosein 44:01
I just see the facts right now, people are fragmented to the nth degree. And they’re looking at basically they’re saying, hey, Facebook and Twitter fixes for us, you know, give us sources that we wouldn’t normally want to see. And try to push us in front of us because we can’t do it on our own. I do not believe we can do it on our own for the most part. I don’t believe it because it’s too easy to engage in confirmation bias. Too easy.
Erica Mills Barnhart 44:25
Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s all there. Yeah. And I mean, even if you’re aware of it, it’s so hard not to do it. It’s definitely hard not to do it. So you are an award winning filmmaker and I’m just going to call you a video guru and though instantly you’re going to be like oh, I’m not but you know so much more about that medium and have thought about it so much more news just so much more. I’m just curious, let’s assume that that it doesn’t go away and that storytelling stays with us in some form or fashion what I notice is, you know a lot of listeners will be will work for nonprofits or foundations or B corps or you know, they are folks that are on a mission to make the world a better place for sure. And they have such rich stories to tell and yet it doesn’t feel like they’re told as often or in a way that may be as compelling. If you were in their shoes, what would you be doing to get your story told?
Hanson Hosein 45:18
Well, I would say that the bar is very high, in terms of, you have to really justify to yourself that it’s worth making that kind of investment of time and resources to use video.
Erica Mills Barnhart 45:29
Do you think the video has to be high production video to be effective?
Hanson Hosein 45:32
No, it just has to be a really phenomenal story. It has to be really compelling content and doesn’t I’m not saying it’s got to be like a really racy Game of Thrones thing. But it has to get us to pay attention and make us think differently than we normally would do. And there’s so much expected tropes right now in storytelling, and now you see it on Netflix and Amazon Prime now. They’ve got so they’re throwing so much money at these productions and the storytelling is generally mediocre. It’s very predictable, but they’re sort of expanding it over a series because they know people are addicted to it. And it’s terrible.
Erica Mills Barnhart 45:59
Well predictable also has solace. It’s comfort, right? That’s why I watched Top Gun last night.
Hanson Hosein 46:04
But, but if you think about it from the point of view, that’s what that’s what nonprofits are competing with, right? If somebody if a nonprofits putting out a video and somebody has a choice between that and watching the next Netflix thing, no matter how mediocre it is, they are going to choose Netflix because it’s like fast food again. And so even even when we were looking at doing this the summit the last week on the Coronavirus and info-demic, I knew that we had to think very differently, not in terms of how we marketed it, but also how we engage. And so I made it very clear to our experts, they were not going to get more than six minutes of speaking before we went to the Q&A and that I would keep it very fast pace. I knew that we wanted to keep people we wanted to hook them with as much actionable stuff as possible. And what we found is that the stuff that really resonated for us even as we were doing it and resonate with our audience with the stories that the speakers told not the research, but the anecdotes, right. And so I think that’s what you have to think about. First of all, what is it you what action you truly want your constituents or states to take, what is the, what is the astounding, surprising, amazing thing you can tell them that they don’t already know that’s going to make them want to stick around? And can you do it in a way that looks compelling enough not necessary from a production values point of view, but to show that you actually mean it, when you put it out there to do it, and I think it’s entirely possible. And I want to I actually want to rephrase my pessimism that you observed in the last answer is that whenever I tell stories, or communicate what I try not to do, yes, you can be provocative. But I also recognize that people increasingly find any communication they engage with, does it threaten their sense of identity? Like even climate change, you start you start with that word climate change, you’ve automatically disenfranchise maybe 30% of America, because they, they believe that climate change forces them to not be a conservative anymore. And you don’t want to do that as much as you’d like them to embrace it. And so you have to think about what is there a different way for me to phrase this, that invites them into the tent, doesn’t attack who they think they are, and then gets us all to think and talk and engage differently.
Erica Mills Barnhart 48:01
Yeah, and I think you were making a point about like, what action do you really want people to take? You know, when I’m working with with clients, and when I teach, I’m always saying what, who, how? What, who, how? What, who, how? Which means what is success really look like? Who’s your target audience or who needs to be involved? And then how are you going to engage with them? And so often we go right to the how, right and so-
Hanson Hosein 48:24
I think you might recall I responded very belligerently in your class.
Erica Mills Barnhart 48:28
I blocked that out.
Hanson Hosein 48:31
And I couldn’t I can’t stand the target audience message question. That’s very 20th century. I think if we’re competing-
Erica Mills Barnhart 48:39
But if you’re inviting people into a tent, don’t you need to be thinking through who you’re inviting into the tent?
Hanson Hosein 48:43
No, well, I think it’s maybe semantics to you. But I think you have to ask it very differently. Target audience makes it sound like I’m trying to hit them with something so they can buy something. I my my question, how-
Erica Mills Barnhart 48:54
Let’s say who wants to be involved?
Hanson Hosein 48:57
Yeah, exactly. No, no even better. Even better, how do I serve these people? What do they need most? What is what is their anxiety? What will what will make their lives better?
Erica Mills Barnhart 49:09
Okay, but Hanson if you go right to the how, I love that, let me just say I love your reframing like how can I be in service to these people? You still have to, I think, say who are these people?
Hanson Hosein 49:18
Yeah, of course but target audience and just ending with that question just tells me I want to sell them something.
Erica Mills Barnhart 49:22
We’re not ending. How was the ending, were you’re not paying attention? What does success look like? Who do we need to involve? How are we going to involve them?
Hanson Hosein 49:30
I know but I still don’t like the word target audience because it still is that is where most marketers-
Erica Mills Barnhart 49:36
I let it go. I let it go to who might want to be involved.
Hanson Hosein 49:39
Okay. But, but you have to understand that we are in the state of anxiety is not just with the virus, we’re in the state of my God, what is this world coming to you? We need to break that down somehow.
Erica Mills Barnhart 49:52
Yeah, dial it back.
Hanson Hosein 49:54
And not just like, oh, this is the mission statement of my nonprofit and we’re here to solve X, Y & Z and make the world a better place. I find platitude and boring. And and not useful. Yeah, well the other thing about at least nonprofit mission statements based on research, I’ve done this, that 50% of them are technically incomprehensible, really. So that’s a whole separate conversation. Okay, next time. Next time, we chat, we’ll talk about that. I want to make sure I respect your time. And I have three final questions. So one of the things that I figured out recently because you know, I’m always looking the etymology of words, is that motivation is about action, but inspiration, actually the root of it means to breathe in. And so you need enough breath to take action, you need enough inspiration to stay motivated. So will you share what continues to inspire you and also what keeps you motivated? Yeah, that’s beautiful. I think, it actually speaks to the information flow in these place as well as before you share before you intake anything, take a breath you know and calm your system. That’s that’s a nice way of saying it. What inspires me is exactly what I’ve been saying is that I, I’m trying to get past this immediate crisis, and think about what is what are the new structures we’re going to need as a species or society to collaborate? And can you start thinking about that now? And what are the stories that we have to tell to inspire people to build those things and getting past the things that we’ve hung on to for decades or hundreds of years is thinking that’s the truth. We have a new truth and we need to figure out ways to trust each other in different ways moving forward. That’s what inspires me most.
Erica Mills Barnhart 51:38
What keeps you motivated?
Hanson Hosein 51:41
What keeps me motivated is that I have I brought children into this world when things seem to be fairly good, and now they’re not. And so I would like to make sure that they’ve got something that they can hang on to that makes their lives better, and that then the people around me and that they find inspiration in that as well. They look to help each other out.
Erica Mills Barnhart 52:02
Yeah, I love that. Well, you 100% inspire me. And I, of course, think you’re amazing. I love your work. I love how you think so differently about things and invite others into thinking differently. If people want to find out more about you, where should they go?
Hanson Hosein 52:18
Oh, I make it very hard to find me. But just-
Erica Mills Barnhart 52:21
I know we share that in common by the way, we share that in common. But I will put everything in the show notes.
Hanson Hosein 52:25
Erica Mills Barnhart 52:33
I love how your tone of voice totally shifts. I don’t know you can just sort of do the thing and then you’ll like find me.
Hanson Hosein 52:39
I don’t actively seek business or people. I mean everything like jobs from NBC, the University of Washington, my clients, they tend to fall into my lap and that sounds very arrogant, but I feel like it’s almost like it has to be that organic thing. I cannot actively seek these things out because it doesn’t work out.
Erica Mills Barnhart 52:54
It doesn’t sound arrogant, Hanson. It sounds like you are somebody who is so true to who you are. You stay in your zone of genius. And people are attracted to you for that. And that’s a gift. It’s amazing.
Hanson Hosein 53:06
Well, thanks for being so charitable with these eccentricities.
Erica Mills Barnhart 53:09
It’s true. Well, at least it’s my it’s my version of what’s true about you. So, thank you for taking the time Hanson. I really do appreciate it.
Hanson Hosein 53:17
Erica, thanks for such provocative conversation.
Erica Mills Barnhart 53:19
Alright, take care