Communicating impact requires not only metrics, but also words, experiences, and imagination.
Metrics and measurement helps us count and compare. They enable us to ascertain the size, amount, or degree of something. They help us take some of the guesswork out and help us filter the many choices available to us.
Words and story-telling helps us imagine the situation. They evoke a memory, a feeling, or an emotion of something we may have experienced before. Empathy with the words and stories we are told enable us to understand and share the feelings experienced by someone else.
Experience puts us in contact with an actual situation. Encountering an event or participating in an occurrence enables to feel and experience emotions in the moment.
Imagination lets us form a mental image or concept of something that hasn’t yet happened or that we have not yet experienced for ourselves. Imagination requires an open, free, and clear mind. Take the limits off, let yourself go to creativity, and allow yourself to craft a vision of the future.
The heart of the issue regarding impact is one of communication. Is it that we are trying to communicate impact to influence, persuade, or convince others to join our cause? Or is it to communicate our awareness of our own feelings and beliefs as a signal to find other like or aligned minds?
Communicating impact must first start with awareness and empathy. Awareness about what is impactful to you and empathy towards what is impactful to others. It is an iterative and shared process of learning and awareness building.
Let’s use Jay and Kay as an example. Firstly, there is something that Jay feels is very impactful. Next, he seeks alignment with Kay. Jay wonders if Kay actually shares the same thoughts, feelings, experience, and vision of impact (could it be education, food security, waste reduction, access for people with disabilities, access for the elderly, etc.)? To figure that out, both Jay and Kay need to be aware of what is impactful to them and also be empathetic to what is impactful to others. Jay communicates his story of impact using words and numbers. Kay listens to this information and starts to develop her awareness. Kay communicates her story of impact back to Jay, in words and numbers. Perhaps Jay will show Kay what he means by impact and tries to help her experience it. Later on, Kay goes for a walk or meditates or does whatever she usually does to clear her mind and make room for creativity and imagination. She creates a vision around the impact that Jay has shared with her. Jay reflects upon the story of impact that Kay shared with him. Their awareness about the impact builds. Jay may ask Kay to join his team or make an investment in his enterprise or cause. Kay takes in all this information – the story in numbers and words, the experiences, and her vision and she makes a decision about whether she wishes to collaborate with Jay.
The myriad of information – numbers, words, experiences, imagination – appeals to both our rational and emotional brain, but it is the emotional brain that makes the final decision whether we become more aware of the impact and what our feelings are about the impact (see also research by Antonio Damasio about how emotions direct decisions).