Tag Archives: Narrative

How to Change Habits: Jamming the “Flywheel of Society”

William James

William James

William James, father of American psychology and brother of novelist Henry James wrote in his 1890 The Principles of Psychology, “Habit is thus the enormous flywheel of society, its most precious conservative agent. It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance, and saves the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor.”

Though James seemed to look favorably upon the conservative element of habit, the drawbacks of thoughtless habitual actions are clear when people consume more calories than required to complete daily activities, purchase unneeded items, react with predictable emotions in contentious situations, and keep disadvantaged groups without advantages enjoyed by powerful groups.

Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg’s bestseller, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, argues that habits are a significant part of most people’s daily activities – about 40% – and that even brain injured people can form habits.

The Power of HabitHe outlines the A(ntecedant) – B(ehavior) – C(onsequence) model, initiated by a cue or a trigger that signals automatic or habitual behavior.
In a novel situation, the person shifts to a problem-solving mode to develop an appropriate response — which may require creative thinking .

However, in a more typical situation, the person executes the habitual physical, mental, or emotional behavior or “routine,” which is then rewarded — often with a reduction in anxiety or discomfort.

Duhigg shows how dysfunctional habits can be analyzed for the cue, routine, and reward, then changed by modifying the antecedent, behavior or reward.

Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis

The A-B-C approach was popularized by Albert Ellis in his Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (RET), and outlined in his more than 50 books including Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy  Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Duhigg provides examples from marketing campaigns for well-known consumer products in the U.S., including Pepsodent toothpaste and Febreze air freshener.

Timothy Wilson

Timothy Wilson

Like Duhigg’s model’s reference to earlier behavior modification approaches, Timothy Wilson of University of Virginia’s Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change, adapts principles of Aaron T. Beck’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to change habitual interpretations, attributions, narratives and personal stories that lead to social problems including alcohol and drug abuse, teen violence and pregnancies, and social prejudice.

Aaron Beck

Aaron Beck

Wilson extracts and renames three empirically-validated behavioral techniques:

  • Story editing, to craft a more optimistic, hopeful story or interpretation about a situation, often using writing exercises
  • Story prompting, in which another person provides alternate, more optimistic interpretations based on data or “social proof” from  experiences in a similar situation
  • Cognitive Behavior TherapyDo good, be good, by “acting as if” the new behavior is a well-established habit, often through serving others in volunteer work.

RedirectRSA talk

Another look at habitual, even unconscious thinking in daily life is featured in a related post, Pattern Recognition in Entrepreneurship.

Douglas Van Praet

Douglas Van Praet

This discussion shares Douglas Van Praet’s guidelines to capitalize on unconscious cognitive processing and automatic buying behavior in Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing 

BJ Fogg

BJ Fogg

An earlier post, Hacking Human Behavior: “Tiny Habits” Start, Maintain Changes showcased BJ Fogg’s work on “tiny habits” as hooks to behavior change.
His approach draws on many of the same behavior modification principles featured in Duhigg’s and Wilson’s recommendations to analyze habitual cues, routines, and rewards.

-*How do you analyze and modify habits?

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Memorable Business Stories: Ideas and Numbers

Chip Heath-Dan Heath

Chip Heath-Dan Heath

Chip Heath of Stanford and Dan Heath, Senior Fellow at Duke University’s CASE center, distill principles that make messages memorable in  Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Citing urban legends and advertisements as examples of tenaciously “sticky” messages, they argue that unforgettable ideas can be recalled with an acronym that means “success” in French:   Made to Stick

  • Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness, with many details to act as “hooks” to “stick” to  memory’s many “loops” (Velcro theory of memory)
  • Credibility
  • Emotion-laden stories.
Robert Cialdini

Robert Cialdini

The Heaths’ principle of credibility draws on the three elements of persuasive messages outlined by Robert Cialdini in his best-selling Influence: The Psychology of PersuasionInfluence

Credibility is enhanced by liking, authority, and social proof in Cialdini’s model:

  • Liking – Appealing public figures or personal friends endorses
  • Authority – Well-respected role model or respected authority provides testimonial
  • Social proof – Others like me endorse it, and others provide justification: “because…”, though the actual reason is immaterial
  • Reciprocity – “I know you’d do the same for me,” recommended by Guy Kawasaki to convey that “You owe me…”
  • Scarcity – “While supplies last…”, “Limited time offer!”, “Act now, don’t wait!”
  • Commitment, consistency – Draws on people’s desire to appear consistent, and even trustworthy by following through on commitments: “I do what I say I will do…”
  • Contrast principle – Sales people sell the most expensive item first so related items seem inexpensive by comparison: Real estate transaction fees may appear minimal in contrast to a large investment in a house.

Both memorable messages and persuasive messages take advantage of habitual reactions to typical situations.

These automated and sometimes unconscious processes are a heuristic to help people to deal rapidly and efficiently with routine activities and tasks.
However, “auto-pilot” reactions  may lead to being persuaded to act in ways that might not be helpful, such as excessive eating, drinking, spending, or engaging in risky activities.

Jonah Berger

Jonah Berger

ContagiousWharton’s Jonah Berger formulated an acronyn, STEPPS, to describe narrative elements that increase the likelihood that a story, idea, or product will spread like a contagious virus: 

  • Social Currency – Passing along the information makes the sender appear “good” – knowledgeable, helpful or other   
  • Triggers – The message evokes a familiar, frequent situation
  • Emotion – The story evokes emotion, so will strengthen the emotional between the sender and receiver   
  • Public – Similar to Social Currency, passing the message reflects favorably on the sender
  • Practical Value – The sender provides actionable value in sharing the message
  • Stories –  Memorable, surprising elements increase the likelihood that others will convey the message
Randall Bolten

Randall Bolten

Finance executive Randall Bolten draws on similar observations about human cognitive and perceptual processing to recommend ways to tell a memorable and motivating quantitative story.

His Painting with Numbers: Presenting Financials and Other Numbers So People Will Understand You, discusses “quantation” as another type of business storytelling that affects  “personal brand image.”Painting with Numbers

Edward Tufte

Edward Tufte

Even more practical than Edward Tufte’s breathtaking examples of effective “information architecture” in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information, Bolten provides coaching on designing memorable, persuasive presentations and “pitches” featuring quantitative information as “proof points.”

His book demonstrates the Heaths’ principles of simplicity, concreteness, and credibility while drawing on Cialdini’s proven approaches of authority, commitment, consistency, and contrast. The Visual Display of Quantitative InformationEnvisioning Information

-*What principles do you use to tell stories that motivate others to act as you hope?

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Biases in Unconscious Automatic Mental Processing, and “Work-Arounds”

Leonard Mlodinow

Leonard Mlodinow

Leonard Mlodinow’s Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior reviews evidence of automatic, out-of-awareness brain processing that handles emotional experience and routine task execution, in the same vein as  best sellers by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman (Thinking, Fast and Slow) and writer Malcolm Gladwell (Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking).

Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman

All three authors outline the potential costs of rapid mental processing: error and bias in perception and decision-making, which are less present during mindful analytic problem-solving.

Mlodinow, a Physics Professor at CalTech, has collaborated with Stephen Hawking on two books, and like Kahneman and Gladwell, is a talented storyteller who explains implications of laboratory-based research on cognition and brain functioning.

Carol Tavris

Carol Tavris

Psychologist Carol Tavris discusses the cost of similar biases in cognitive processing in Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, 

Numerous studies of erroneous eyewitness testimony demonstrate that memory is constructed of fragmentary elements “stitched” together to form a cohesive narrative.
This contrasts the notion that memory is a “snapshot” replica of an event.

Opportunities for cognitive error are apparent in this Constructivist view of perception and cognition.

Most authors suggest “mindful” practices to counteract inherent biases in cognitive short-cuts, consciously focusing in present perceptions and experiences.

Mlodinow’s previous book, The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, demystifies the use of statistics in everyday life, and prepares readers with considered questions to avoid mis-judgments based on seemingly convincing quantitative data.

He demonstrates the prevalence of chance influences in life outcomes, and the pervasive illusion that people have control over many more outcomes than they actually do.

Mlodinow reminds readers that “success” and “failure” contain random influences, and “success” is more dependent on persistence and maintaining an optimistic outlook than raw ability.

-*What practices have helped you mitigate potential cognitive bias associated with rapid mental processing and cognitive “short-cuts”?

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Why and How of Business Storytelling

Jonathan Gottschall

Jonathan Gottschall

Jonathan Gottschall’s book, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, adds to the burgeoning number of volumes that analyze the meaning, mechanisms, and impact of storytelling in business settings.

He argues that stories help people navigate life’s complex social problems at work and home, by helping develop empathic understanding and “trying on” solutions through observational learning in a virtual “experience simulator.”

The Storytelling AnimalGottschall discusses dreams as “night stories,” focused on a protagonist’s quest to achieve goals, and he acknowledges dream researchers’ definition of dreams: “intense sensorimotor hallucinations with a narrative structure,” including literary elements like plot, theme, character, scene, setting, point of view, perspective.

He considers psychotherapists as “script doctors,” who help individuals revise personal narratives to restore efficacy as protagonists in one’s life story.

HBR Guide to Persuasive PresentationsNancy Duarte provides guidance on best practices to tell compelling business stories using literary and graphic elements in her latest book, HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations, published by Harvard Business School Press.

She is well-known for producing Al Gore’s original slides that formed the foundation of his Academy Award-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth.

Nancy Duarte

Nancy Duarte

Duarte gained wide-spread recognition for her first book, a business best-seller, slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations 

Her second book was well-received and built on the principles she articulated in her original book. Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences 

-*When have you been able to “try on solutions” to life’s challenges by telling or hearing relevant stories?

-*When have you served as an informal “script doctor” to help someone modify a problematic personal narrative?

Related posts:

Lessons from Business Storytelling in Constructive Personal Narrative

Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins Five Elements to Construct a Good Story

 Business Stories as Narratives 

Business Storytelling = Trance Induction?

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Lessons from Business Storytelling in Constructive Personal Narrative

Business Storytelling books and resources have proliferated, drawing many lessons from Hollywood’s storytelling business and from advertising, public relations, and marketing.

David Epston

David Epston

Michael White

Michael White

Yet business readers may be less aware that more than two decades ago, Australia-based family therapists Michael White and David Epston asserted that people experience personal problems when the stories they tell about their lives do not represent their actual experiences.

They offered ways for people to “re-story” of “re-author” their personal narratives in their now-classic Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends

Michel Foucault

Years after White and Epston built on French philosopher, Michel Foucault’s Post-Structuralist/Modernist analysis of narrative, Paul John Eakin integrated literature, cognitive science, ethics and social criticism in his intriguingly-titled books, Living Autobiographically: How We Create Identity in Narrative and How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves 

Eakin echoes Foucault’s view that cultural and social “discourses” influence the narratives people develop about themselves and others, and he, like White and Epston, suggests that personal narratives can be modified to reduce subjective discomfort. How Our Lives Become Stories

Though White and Epston led their clients’ introspective analysis of personal narrative, philosophers like Foucault, and perhaps even Eakin, would argue for the viability of self-guided introspection.

-*When have you used stories to help others solve problems?
-*When have you heard stories that helped you resolve issues?

Related Resources:
Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire

Whoever Tells the Best Story WinsWhoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact

The Elements of Persuasion: Use Storytelling to Pitch Better, Sell Faster & Win More Business 
Tell to Win

Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story

The Leader's Guide to StorytellingThe Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative

Winning the Story WarsWinning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future

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