Home Forums Circularity RANDY OLSON:  SESSION 4: “The ABT in Business” – Overall thoughts

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      Randy Olson


      First off, huge thanks to my buddy Park Howell for joining us.

      How much fun is that video montage of all the Pandemic commercials.

      Read some of the comments — they’re hilarious.  As Park pointed out to me, the guy who put this together intended it as a somewhat insulting portrait of all the manipulative advertisers, which it is.  But for us, it’s a pretty good educational tool showing clear as day the basic three part template of Agreement, Contradiction, Consequence.

      Which leads me to my first point and semi-concern.

      The goal of all that I do is SIMPLICITY.  I’m talking to you Dean Pentcheff and Evelyn Wight (and lots of others).  Keep in mind, complexity is easy, simplicity is really, really hard, yet very, very important in communication.  You’ve got to keep pushing yourself for it.

      I get a little concerned when I read through the chat log from the session that at times there’s a feeling of everyone adding on, “And there’s this — and this — and this — and this …”   Which is great, but … everyone, please, keep trying to bring things back to these three fundamental forces and seeing the core SIMPLE elements.

      Remember that quote from Joseph Campbell:

      Think deeply about what he was saying there — notice the part I put in red — OF COURSE there are differences, BUT … don’t get distracted by the differences.  It’s fun as a fan of everything cool in the world to marvel and wallow in the differences — it’s what makes the world interesting, BUT … if you’re looking to make sense of the world, the path to that lies in the similarities.

      This is basically what science is — looking for the simple commonalities — the theories and formulae that underpin all the variation.  That is what you want to be searching for, just as Joseph Campbell did, so brilliantly.

      Which takes you back to the video of the pandemic commercials.  You could watch all of the commercials that the clips come from and find yourself fascinated by how different they all are.  OR … you could look for similarities and eventually hit the realization of, “Hey, wait a minute — these things all have the same basic three part structure.”

      And by the way, if you’re not familiar with this iconic commercial from Apple in 1984, it is regarded as one of the greatest television commercials in history.  Have a look — you’ll now see the three part structure:



      Park is such a great guy, as you could see.  I was terrified for he and his brother a month ago when he texted me the news that his brother had the virus.  This is a really powerful episode for which you’re welcome to consider that really heartless comment, “Just because it happened to you doesn’t mean it’s interesting.”  This did happen to Park, but it is indeed interesting because, first, it’s painfully timely, and second, it has a clear narrative structure with the problem-solution dynamic at it’s core — his brother developed the problem of the virus, the doctors finally solved it, but ugh, it is a really painful journey he had to undergo.  And is worth everyone listening to — especially if, like me, you don’t yet know anyone who has been hit this hard by the virus.

      Here’s a few more items I’ve picked out of the chat log.



      MARISSA METZ:  How do we address the issue of “just because it happened to you…” when writing things like cover letters and personal statements? They are supposed to be about ourselves, but I often find these types of pieces VERY boring to read.

      This is the absolute place for the ABT.  The challenge is “get to the but as quickly as possible” (or as Park put it, “nail the but”).  Remember what Jerry Graff and I have both concluded — that “but” is THE most important word in the English language.  Therefore … imagine a cover letter that begins with, “Look, I like rich kids just as much as the next rich parent does, but let me tell you about where I grew up and how it influenced my view of the world.”

      That’s maybe a little too much attitude, but compare that to the standard And, And, And structured essay — “I grew up i the suburbs of Chicago.  I went to Aurora Hills High School where I developed an interest in … Zzzz …”

      Bottom line, practice nailing the but.  Liz and I nominate that as the official slogan for this course.  “The ABT Framework:  Nail Your But.”



      VANESSA KOLLMAR:  I’ve been told that “we dont care about the process you took to get your answer”. I always thought that the meat of the story was in the failures. good to hear its ok to talk about the process

      As you know by now, there’s a lot of simplicity and repetition in my answers.  This one fall under the simple note of, “Have good narrative structure.”   If you’re prone to fall into the And, And, And structure, then by all means, pleeeeeease don’t tell us about the process you took to get your answer.

      BUT … if you’ve developed a good eye for narrative, then you’ll be able to seduce us into listening to “the process you took to get your answer,” without our even knowing it.  Think about what I was saying about STAGE 6 – the Darkest Hour.  That is the sort of way that you can draw us in.

      “Let me tell you about how I almost had to quit graduate school because I made such a mess out of my dissertation research.  I thought the best way to study the cold water physiology of fishes was to go observe them in the wild in Antarctica.  I wasted an entire year of my life before I realized that I could address what I was interested in by never leaving my laboratory …”

      There are lots of ways to tell a good story about how the research was done, you just need to develop the ability to spot good story elements in the middle of a bunch of stuff that might otherwise look dull.



      ALBERTHA JOSEPH-ALEXANDER: How does the situation, conflict and resolution business framework link to making the customer the hero, the business the facilitator and the business overcoming failures?

      I don’t know anything about linking them.  I only know what I heard at Deloitte, which is that they use the template to analyze case studies of businesses.  For example, SITUATION:  A company producing widgets successfully for 30 years, CONFLICT:  A new product threatens to take over their market, RESOLUTION:  Rapid research on their widgets produces a new, more effective design that regains the market.

      That’s all I know about that template.



      ANTONIA FLORIO: Can you explain a bit more about what it means that science communication doesn’t exist? do you mean it shouldn’t be a separate field?

      This is a fairly terrible thing for me to say, but we’ve got 10 sessions here for me to keep making the point so hopefully everyone is fairly clear on it eventually.  My point is that the core principles that dictate how to communicate science effectively are universal principles that underpin the communication of economics, medicine, sports, entertainment, politics — everything.

      Things like the basic “know your audience” — that’s true for the communication of everything.  Remember my story about the old guy showing his photos of surfers to the group of activists.  Half of the audience had little interest in surfing.  That was an exercise in the communication of a sport, but it was the same dynamic as science.

      All the basic principles of communication (like “arouse and fulfill”) are universal to all subjects.  Narrative is the hardest part of the challenge.  It turns out the people of Hollywood have figured out more about the practical side of narrative than any other profession, so it’s important that people open their minds enough to be able to learn from outside their profession.

      I got a dose of this when I did a workshop with diplomats at the State Department.  Most of them got a lot out of it as I presented them the ABT Framework.  But one person left halfway through the day, telling everyone, “This guy knows NOTHING about our world — he’s from the science world — this is a waste of our time.”

      There’s a LOT of people I’ve encountered in the “science communication” world with the same attitude — “Your not from the science world, what could you possibly know that could be useful to us.”

      Don’t be like that.  There is no such thing as “science communication” in the real world.  Only communication principles applied to science.



      EVELYN WIGHT:  Current best practice/research is that positive messaging is better than negative messaging (in environmental field) – thus the success of ocean and earth optimism. It certainly FEELS better. But does it actually do a better job of getting people to act/change behavior?  Can you share some thoughts about how or whether success stories impact behavior change?

      This is a VERY deep topic at the moment.  Did you hear about the documentary Michael Moore produced and released last week for Earth Day titled, “Planet of the Humans”?   It set off a firestorm of anger on Twitter over the weekend.  It basically poops on all the positive messaging of the green renewables movement.  It specifically addresses the “win-win” idea of business and environmentalists partnering and pretty much says, “Nope, sorry, doesn’t work.”

      Lotta people are very angry about the movie, but there’s a lot of truth to it.

      The problem with positivity alone is that it gets numbing, and it glosses over the complexities of the real world.  We’ve had a horrible dose of it for the past two months with a president who feels passionately that it is his job to “maintain morale” with constant positivity, even it if involves a massive amount of lying.

      We can talk a lot more about this.  I’ve had a big dose of it in my ocean conservation work with my Shifting Baselines Ocean Project that I ran from 2002 to 2005.  People love success stories, but should the truth be compromised to deliver them?  I don’t think so.

      Tough issue.

      Here’s the Michael Moore movie.  Watch at your own risk and peril.

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