Use influence to create positive new trends

Another example of how to use influence to create positive new trends is the work of a man named Amory Lovins, director of research at the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, Colorado, Lovins has been involved in alternative energy projects for several years. Today, many people believe that nuclear power is too costly, too in effective, and too dangerous to be used. Yet the antinuclear movement has made little headway because it’s just that. It’s antinuclear. Many people who move toward solutions wonder what the movement is for. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. But Lovins has been able to have enormous success with energy companies by being a skillful persuader rather than a mere protester. Instead of attacking nuclear power companies, Lovins is providing alternatives that are more profitable because they do not require huge plants with costs that can run billions over budget.

Lovins likes to practice what he calls aikido politics. It uses the same principle as the agreement frame to direct behavior in a way that maximizes conflict. In one case, he was asked to testify at a rating hearing for a utility that was planning a massive new nuclear plant. Construction had not begun, but the plant had already cost $300 million. He began by saying he was not there to testify for or against the plant. He said it was in everyone’s best interest – the utility’s and the customers to have a utility that operated on a sound fiscal footing. Then he went on to explain how much money could be saved by conversation and how much energy would cost if the hugely expensive new plant was built. In conservative financial terms, he discussed what that would mean to the company. It was a low key presentation. There was no effort to rail against the plant or nuclear power.

After he was through, he got a call from the utility’s vice president of financé. When the two got together, the official talked about the effect the plant could have on the company’s finances. He said the plant, if built, could cause the company to omit its dividend, a disaster for the company’s stock. Finally, the official said that if the interveners wanted, the company would be willing to walk away from the plant, taking the 300 millions dollar loss. If Lovins had begun in an adversarial manner, the company would have dug in its heels in a way that would have satisfied no one. But by finding common ground by trying to create a viable alternative, they were able to reach an agreement that benefited both sides. A new trend is beginning to occur as a result of Lovins’s work. Other electrical companies have now contracted him as a consultant to limit nuclear dependency and simultaneously increase profit.

Another case involved farmers in the san Luis Valley in Colorado and New Mexico. Farmers there had traditionally gathered firewood as their main energy source. But the landowners fenced off the area where they had gathered wood. These were very poor people, but a few leaders managed to persuade the farmers that the situation was not a setback but an opportunity. They began one of the most successful solar projects in the world as a result, and they gained a sense of collective power and good will they’d never had before.

Lovins cites a similar case in Osage, Iowa, where the small local utility cooperative decides it was not using its power efficiently. The result was a push for weatherizing houses and conserving fuel, a drive so successful that the utility was able to retire its debt. It had three rate cuts in two years, and customers in a town of 3,800 people saved $1.6 million a year in fuel costs.

Two things happened in both cases. People were able to benefit one another by finding a win-win frame that helped them all. And they were able to develop a new sense of authority and security by learning to take action to achieve a desired outcome. The secondary gains in goodwill and community spirit that came from working together and talking action were as important as the money saved. These are the kinds of positive trends that can be created by a few committed persuaders.