Retail Observer

January 2020

The Retail Observer is an industry leading magazine for INDEPENDENT RETAILERS in Major Appliances, Consumer Electronics and Home Furnishings

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Page 45 of 67

RETAILOBSERVER.COM JANUARY 2020 46 I f the stories you're telling seem to be falling flat, it may well be that you're cursed. Whether the story you're telling is about the value of your business, the innovation you've dreamed up, or the unique talents that make you the perfect candidate for that great job, you're undoubtedly clear on the message you want to convey and the impression you want to make. Why, then, is it so hard to deliver a story that opens the door to engagement and impact? What are you doing wrong? The problem may not be what you say, but rather what you fail to say. It's called "the curse of knowledge," and it's a thief. It robs your stories of their most vivid details and powerful information. And, worst of all, it leaves no trace – only a vacuum of confusion and disengagement. Neither you nor your audience may ever even notice the crime. The "curse" here is a kind of cognitive bias – a flawed way of thinking that leads us to make mistakes in our judgements and assumptions. Specifically, we assume that other people know all that we know and share our knowledge. It's perfectly logical. And it can make even the smartest people look like fools. AN OVERCONFIDENT MINDSET In 1990, Elizabeth Newton, a PhD candidate at Stanford, asked a group of undergrads to play a simple game. She put them in pairs, assigning one to be a "tapper" and the other to be a "listener." The job of the tapper was to finger-tap a basic song that everyone knows, such as "Happy Birthday" or "Silent Night." Critically, the tapper could not sing or hum or nod along; just tap, tap, tap on a desktop. The job of the listener was to name that tune. Beforehand, Newton asked the tappers to predict if their songs would be recognized by the listeners. The tappers were understandably confident; they were, after all, smart Stanford students and these were simple songs. A solid 50 percent expected their listeners to clue in. But once the tapping was done, only three of 120 tunes were identified. Just 2.5 percent of the listeners heard anything more than an indecipherable Morse code. "One of our greatest mistakes," Newton reflected, "is to believe that others see the world as we see it." It's hard to be too critical of Newton's tappers. Try it for yourself, and see how richly the melody plays in your head as you tap. Now try to imagine what it would be like if the soundtrack was silent. CURING THE STORYTELLING CURSE The curse of knowledge can rob your stories of their greatest impact. In many cases, people become so immersed in an organizational subculture, a profession, or a group of insiders that they lose awareness of the people outside of it. They not only lack the language to connect to anyone beyond their rarefied domains, they see no reason to try. And so they relay information to the uninitiated on the same terms as insiders, and then they wonder why it fails. More typically, people don't recognize that they're failing to deliver certain essential information while they're telling their story. The experience is so vivid in their own minds that they assume everyone else sees, hears and feels it. As Newton's tappers discovered, it can be hard to comprehend that the most important details aren't obvious to everybody. Here are three simple ways to keep the curse of knowledge from robbing you: • Capture the details. In my workshops, I require my clients to label every concrete, sensory descriptor, including the names and vivid depictions of every important character and location. These details are the most commonly neglected – and potentially the most evocative. • Identify your assumptions. What pre-existing knowledge do you expect your audience to have? What context do they require? What language or terms will or won't resonate with them? You must define these in advance, then test them well. • Engage the audience early and often. Build strong relationships and use them to validate your messages and ideas. Then rinse and repeat. Remember, empathy is a permanent practice, not a tax. THE CURSE THAT CRIPPLES YOUR STORYTELLING Mario Juarez Business Mindset RO Mario Juarez is an organizational consultant, coach, and motivational speaker. He focuses on helping organizations and individuals achieve better business results through strategic storytelling. An award-winning former journalist, Mario led a series of innovative communications initiatives at Microsoft before founding his company, StoryCo, which serves clients across a range of industries.

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