Home Forums Circularity RANDY OLSON: SESSION 1: “And” — Overall thoughts

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      Randy Olson


      Big thanks for a great first session — especially to Elizabeth, Jon, Linnea and Julia for being the first brave “volunteers.” The ABT build sessions will seem a little bumpy at first, but by the middle of next week I think they’ll feel routine and you’ll hopefully feel like you can guess in advance some of the notes I’ll give.

      ONE RECOMMENDATION: Do NOT take notes during the ABT session. None. Do only one thing, to the very best of your ability — LISTEN.

      The first half of the sessions — my presentation — is a good time for taking notes. But the ABT Build is a performance of sort, and an exercise in “puzzle solving” that you should be playing along with. You want the narrative part of your brain to be activated as you try to solve the puzzle of narrative structure on your own. Taking notes distracts from this.

      You may be thinking, “But I wanted to make a note of what he said about specifics.” Don’t worry, most of the basic notes will crop up over and over again, and you’ll learn them at a much deeper and more practical level if you’re experiencing it when it happens, rather than trying to figure it out later.

      If anything, hold off taking notes until the last few sessions. For now, try to be “in the moment” with what we’re doing.

      THE GOAL: keep in mind, the ultimate goal of the ABT Build session is have you develop the same ability I have to dissect these ABTs and strengthen them. The dream scenario is you finish the 10 sessions, then run the same exercise with your students or assistants or colleagues or whoever, where you’re the one helping them strengthen their narratives as you hear my voice echoing in your head because … you LISTENED so well.

      THE WORLD BANK “AND” FLAP: Here’s the report from Moretti and Pestre. Give it a good read when you get the chance, I find it so fascinating and a shame that it got so little attention in the non-academic world.

      THE DAVE GOLD ARTICLE: Here’s the great article I mentioned by Dave Gold, and here’s the paragraph about the Christmas tree analogy. It’s worth reading this article right now. We’ll talk about it next week in the session on the ABT and politics.

      Years ago, my political mentor taught me the problem with this approach, using a memorable metaphor: issues are to a campaign message what ornaments are to a Christmas tree, he said. Ornaments make the tree more festive, but without the tree, you don’t have a Christmas tree, no matter how many ornaments you have or how beautiful they are. Issues can advance the campaign’s story, but without a narrative frame, your campaign doesn’t have a message, no matter how many issue ads or position papers it puts forward.


      QUESTION FROM ANTONIO: Antonia Florio: Thanks for this. I’m curious if you ever found a case where writing in a format other than the narrative was more effective? Or have you always found narrative (or ABT) to be the most effective way to get points across?

      We’re going to dive into this on Wednesday. Yes, it turns out there are circumstances where the And, And, And structure is better than ABT. Tune in Wednesday to find out when!

      QUESTION FROM PAOLA: Paola Perez: what was the difference between lower case ‘and’ vs capitalized ‘AND’?

      I use the & to join together things that are just listing, versus the AND that joins together separate statements. Here’s an example from Jon’s ABT this morning:

      The University of Utah Seismograph Stations monitors earthquake activity in Utah & Yellowstone AND we’ve recently had a series of quakes in the Salt Lake Valley, some doing damage

      QUESTION FROM EUAN (FROM OZTRALIA!): Euan Belson: What is the power of inserting ‘questions’ specifically into your narrative?

      I think it’s best to avoid questions in the ABT — just keep things simple with the short, punchy phrases which can then be converted into questions in writing the full text. But that’s just sort of a guess on my part.

      QUESTION FROM CARA: Cara (Ricarda) Laasch: If the ratio between A+B to T in the ABT should be more heavily on the T, would reducing the A a singular statement cutting it too short? Example: Lithium-ion batteries are the most commonly used type of lightweight battery in everyday life, but they degerate quickly and are costly, therefore ….

      Yes, you don’t have to have the actual word “and” in there — it’s just what’s needed to set up the problem and solution effectively.

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