Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Learning to fly

I've just been reading Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, and I've realised that we have something in common. It's not, unfortunately, a highly successful writing career, fame & fortune, but the use of a device when explaining a concept. What Gladwell does very well is intrigue his reader by explaining in simple terms a field he is dealing with, then pulling you into his story by making you feel that you are now an initiate of a secret club - one of the few who understands this area. He then drives the point he wants to make by building on this new understanding with a good stroy. For example, the bit I was reading last night was about pilots and air crashes, allowing him to use the excitement and intrigue along with the limitless jargon to engage the reader. As I was reading, and deconstructing, it occurred to me that I do the same thing, although not as lucratively, nor probably as elegantly.

When I communicate ideas to clients, I'm often trying to get them to think differently about an issue, or to understand a new concept. When doing this, it helps to start by teaching them something, perhaps a theoretical framework, or the results of some research. I then build on that to get my point across. The human desire to learn is deply ingrained, and so by giving them something new you capture their interest, and get the right part of their brain working. They take their new tool and look for somewhere to use it, so when you then hit them with the good stuff, it sticks. I've already told two people today about the effects of cultural norms on air safety, so I know it works!