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Weekly 3: Our need for narrative

Summary: Beware of your bias. Start with why. Choose the right frame. (~5 min read) Note: A different

Idea Journal Weekly 3

December 1 · Issue #115 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Beware of your bias. Start with why. Choose the right frame. (~5 min read)
Note: A different context can make the familiar seem new. Ideas #2 and #3 are taken from a previous issue because they serve as examples of this issue’s core theme: our need for narrative.

#1. “Even true stories are fairy tales”
Author Rolf Dobelli writes in his book The Art of Thinking Clearly that we find stories attractive, and abstract details unattractive.
This “story bias” can be seen clearly in how events are reported in the news.
For example, a car is driving over a bridge when the structure suddenly collapses. 
In the news the next day, we’ll hear about the tale of the unlucky driver, where she came from, and where she was going. We’ll learn about her biography: born somewhere, grew up somewhere else, worked some job. If she survives the bridge collapse and can give interviews, we’ll hear about how she felt as it happened.
But these stories overlook the underlying cause of the accident. 
Instead of focusing on the driver’s account, consider the bridge’s construction: 
  • Where was the weak point? 
  • Was it fatigue? If not, was the bridge damaged?
  • Was a proper design used? Where are there other bridges of the same design?
The problem with these questions is that, though valid, they don’t make for a good story.
In another example, below are two descriptions of the same event:
  • “The king died, and the queen died.”
  • “The king died, and the queen died of grief.”
Which one is easier to remember?
As Dobelli points out, most people will recall the second description more easily. The deaths don’t simply take place successively – they are emotionally linked.
The first description is a factual report, whereas the second one has “meaning.” Information theory suggests that it should be easier to remember the first description because it is shorter. But our brains don’t work that way.
Dobelli notes that our bias for stories has a downside: stories simplify and distort reality, giving us a false sense of understanding and affecting the quality of our decisions.
To view events more objectively, whenever you hear a story, Dobelli recommends asking yourself the following questions: 
  • Who is the sender? 
  • What are their intentions?
  • What are they trying to hide?
#2. Follow the "Golden Circle" to inspire others
Simon Sinek's Golden Circle
Simon Sinek's Golden Circle
Author and consultant Simon Sinek writes in his book Start with Why that most organizations use tangible features and benefits to build a rational argument for why their company, product, or idea is better than another.
The problem with this approach is that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
Sinek argues that the most influential leaders and organizations – from Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy to Disney and Southwest Airlines – have all followed a pattern he calls the Golden Circle.
As you can see in the above diagram, the Golden Circle has three parts:
  1. What: This is easy to identify. No matter the size of your organization or the industry in which it operates, you should be able to describe the product or service you offer.
  2. How: You might call this your “differentiating value proposition” or “unique selling proposition” – this describes how you do what you do.
  3. Why: Sinek notes that very few people and companies know why they do what they do. Why does your company exist? Why should anyone care?
When most people and organizations think, act, or communicate they go from the outside in, from what to why. As Sinek puts it, “they go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing.”
Not the inspired ones.
For Sinek, Apple is a prime example of a company that follows the Golden Circle.
Here’s how Apple’s marketing message might read without the Golden Circle:
We make great computers.
They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.
Want to buy one?
Instead, Apple’s actual messaging starts with why:
Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.
The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.
And we happen to make great computers.
Want to buy one?
#3. To get in view of your customer's biases, choose the right frame
In his book All Marketers Tell Stories, marketing guru Seth Godin writes that a person’s worldview is the set of assumptions, biases, and values that they use to determine whether they’re going to believe a particular story.
For example, when a furniture store runs a going out of business sale with banners on every street corner, they’re not talking about the furniture. They are “framing the story for people who need an excuse to get their cheap spouse to finally get up and go with them to shop for furniture.”
And while this frame works on some people, it’s unlikely to be effective with those who are willing to drive 200 miles to an antique fair, or others who take pride in building their own furniture.
As Godin points out, many marketers fail because they try to use facts to prove their case about their product or service, without sufficiently acknowledging the biases of their potential customers.
For Godin, frames are the words, images, and interactions that reinforce a bias someone already has – having a frame is the first step in telling a persuasive story.
If your message is presented in a way that conflicts with your customer’s worldview, “you’re invisible” – more money and time won’t help.
Quote of the Week
“Nothing can be clearer than that we require a story to explain to ourselves why we are here and what our future is to be, and many other things, including where authority resides … when people do not have a satisfactory narrative to generate a sense of purpose and continuity, a kind of psychic disorientation takes hold, followed by a frantic search for something to believe in or, probably worse, a resigned conclusion that there is nothing to find.”
- Author and media critic Neil Postman in his book Building a Bridge to the 18th Century
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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