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Weekly 3: Presentation matters (sometimes)

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

February 21 · Issue #179 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.


Summary: How an idea or issue is presented can affect its meaning. In psychology, this phenomenon is called “framing.” But there are limits to the importance and impact of presentation.
(~3 min read)

#1. Be aware of framing: it’s everywhere
Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky write in Science that framing is the use of context, images, and words to manipulate how people think about something. 
You can present information in a way that emphasizes the positive (e.g., the glass is half-full) or the negative (e.g., the glass is half-empty). 
For example, when you’re presenting an important issue to a colleague or friend, you try to frame it in a way that helps them understand your perspective and leads to a beneficial conversation.
Say that you want your company to pursue an innovative but expensive project. 
You’ll probably frame the project as an opportunity to beat the competition or deliver more value to clients, rather than something that will require excessive time and resources. 
Framing matters. 
And it works both ways: remember that others use framing when they present some explanation or situation to you
Whenever someone presents a decision or a new idea, pause and consider other ways that same information could be framed.
#2. Dig beyond euphemisms
Researcher Rolf Dobelli writes in The Art of Thinking Clearly that: “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.”
If a message is communicated in different ways, then it will be received in different ways.
Dobelli writes that a popular type of framing is called “glossing.” 
Here are some examples: 
  • A plummeting share price or market becomes a “correction.” 
  • An overpriced acquisition price is branded “goodwill.”
  • A person who’s been fired is “reassessing their career.”
  • Genocide translates to “ethnic cleansing.”
Dobellie reminds us that every fact is subject to framing – “even if you hear it from a trusted friend or read it in a reputable newspaper.”
#3. But sometimes presentation matters less than you think
Marketing maven Seth Godin writes on his blog that if you make something people want to buy, then presentation matters less. 
He tells the following story from the year 2000, after he sold his company to Yahoo (and long before Google and Facebook dominated in online advertising): 
“… when I first got to Yahoo, I was excited. All my life I’d been selling media… sometimes I failed slowly, other times I barely succeeded. I was pretty good at it, if you compared me to everyone else in the field, but it was by no means easy.
The Yahoo guys were different, though. Where it took my staff and me months or even years to make a million dollar sale, Yahoo’s salesforce was doing five or ten million deals every week or so. They knew the secret. They were supertalented, highly trained and very, very motivated.
So, now I was at Yahoo, playing for the winning team, and I was invited to go along on a sales call. I was vibrating in my shoes in anticipation.
You’ve probably already guessed the punchline. It was one of the single most inept sales presentations I’d ever seen. A lousy powerpoint. A non-charismatic, non-empathetic salesperson who faced the wall and read the fine print on the slides aloud. At the end of the presentation, he mumbled something about being able to take a check.
A few minutes later, the prospect handed over four million dollars.”
For Godin, the lesson is that sometimes presentation and salesmanship are overrated. 
Sometimes what matters most is making the right product, not hyping it.
Quote of the week
“Being always transcends appearance – that which only seems to be. Once you begin to know the being behind the very pretty or very ugly face, as determined by your bias, the surface appearances fade away until they simply no longer matter.”
Writer William Paul Young in his novel The Shack
Idea Journal
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