K Street Newsletter :: Directions

November 2018    |    VOLUME 16, ISSUE 11

Where Ideas Come From

They say nothing ever goes away in the age of the Internet, and a good example came to light a few years ago. Science fiction luminary Isaac Azimov died in 1992 and more than 20 years later a new essay of his was published for the first time. Aszimov worked in the 1960s as a consultant to what was then the Advanced Research Projects Agency, and in that context put down his thoughts on creativity and innovation. It was nice to read his words again, and realize how prescient he was at the time.

Azimov's primary contention is that new ideas are generated by people who both have the requisite background knowledge, and the ability to make cross-connections between apparently unrelated concepts. Once the cross-connections are made, they seems reasonable or even obvious. Before, not so much. In Azimov's words, "it seems the height of unreason to suppose the earth was round instead of flat." He also endorses the idea of innovation as a team sport, something that's central to much of the thinking around Knowledge Management. He suggests that an element of isolation is necessary because "the world in general disapproves of creativity." But for maximum return, creative people need a place to share ideas, as long as it's a place of "ease, relaxation and a general sense of permissiveness." He was ahead of his time.


How Ideas Spread

We know what it means to say something has gone "viral" even though it's a relatively new idea. Whether you're a marketing professional or a casual blogger, it's exciting to see something take on a life of its own and spread further and faster than you expected. It's hard to anticipate, though. This article considers that mystery. Why do some things become wildly popular and others never really take hold? In academic circles this area is called the science of social transmission, and it's a function of individual psychology, social influence and social networks.

The article mentions a number of principles for creating "sticky" content. Content is more memorable when it's simple, unexpected, concrete, credible and emotive. And content that has those qualities is even better if it's wrapped in a story. (You may recognize a theme running through this issue of Directions.) It's a good read. The author's closing advice is to consider your communication program holistically, developing messages that have cultural currency and supporting them with assets that are easily shared. That's how you develop something that has good viral potential.



Street Smarts 181: Be a stronger storyteller.

Everybody likes a good story. Stories can provide a context that makes raw data easier to understand. They also help in retention, and people will remember a story they heard in a presentation when the PowerPoint bullets are long forgotten. Some people see this gift for narrative invention as an innate skill, which you either have or you don't. But that's not true. You can learn how to incorporate stories into your presentation tool kit, and it's something that's well worth the effort. Once you start looking for them, you'll find there are stories everywhere.

A good story can tie concepts together at the end of a presentation, but it can also be effective right at the beginning. It's a better way to warm up your audience than talking about the weather or going over your own credentials. This article offers five tips for being a better storyteller, from presentation coach Tim Wackel. Tip #1 is don't tell stories about yourself. It might be relevant and even interesting, but it won't hold the audience for very long. Focus on what the audience needs to hear, rather than on what you want to say.



Explanations Make a Difference

There's a great deal of churn in today's workforce, and it's happening all over the world. Whether it's a result of mergers and acquisitions, technological shifts or regulatory factors, it can be very disorienting for the workers themselves. One survey found that almost a third of employees don't understand why the changes are happening. That makes it even worse.

So, it's important for managers to explain changes with particular emphasis on the reasons behind them. People want to understand why changes that affect them are important, and want to have a clear view of the future. One good way to package those ideas is with a story -- a fundamental building block of Knowledge Management. Start with where your company is today, and where it wants to be in the future. That will help people make sense of things. As David Weinberger wrote back in the day, if you can tell the story of something it's a good way to demonstrate that you understand it. And remember the importance of regular, ongoing communications. You need that at every step of the process; studies have shown that clear and consistent communications is a leading success factor for organizational change initiatives. You'll find more advice on managing change in this article at the Harvard Business Review.


Bolder Brand Stories

The conventional thinking is that companies should stay away from controversial topics to protect their brand identity. It's so easy for people to slam a company on social media that taking a stand on anything may appear to carry an unacceptable level of risk. In fact, studies show that two-thirds of consumers prefer brands that take a position on social and political issues. They appreciate the transparency, and that means bolder brands have an opportunity to pull ahead.

This article notes several companies that did just that. The key is to pick positions that are aligned with a company's mission and core values. For example, Airbnb developed a campaign in early 2017 in response to the Trump administration's travel ban. With a short video staring its many diverse employees, and a statement from the company's founders, it stressed the importance of inclusion. Supported by the hashtag #WeAccept, it showcased Airbnb's commitment to provide short-term housing for over 100,000 people in need, starting with refugees, disaster survivors and relief workers. As a result, #WeAccept was the most tweeted hashtag during Super Bowl LI and the news of it was covered in 60 global outlets.




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