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99's On the Go
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Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2014 Brian Remer
Updated Mar. 2015
99's on the 9th
based on 99-Word Stories that
come to you on the 9th of every month.
Read this story aloud or make copies for your group or team members.
Standing in line at the Batman Rollercoaster for 45 minutes, we were hot, sweaty, and brain numb listening to the Joker's theme song over and over. A few people began to leave. What was happening? Should we stay in line, get a return on our time investment? Should we leave and cut our losses?
"It'll be closed for hours," my daughter speculated. That was it. Instantly we were at the tail of a long line in the opposite direction as her words spread and people began to leave.
Rumors, whether true or not, spread faster than actions!
You can build upon the theme of this 99-Word Story by using some of the following questions for your own reflection or to spark a discussion within your team or organization.
There are many ways to understand this story as the discussion questions suggest. If you or your group would like to compare or contrast your interpretation with an outside viewpoint, consider this analysis.
"We're a curious species, and sometimes a sad one, chasing knowledge only to deny it."
That's the observation of Frank Bruni, writer for the New York Times, in an article titled, "The Vaccine Lunacy" (Sunday, February 1, 2015). In his article, Bruni references the outbreak of measles cases traced to children who recently visited Disneyland in California. He notes that 2004 saw 37 reported cases of measles in the U.S. but in 2014, there were 644. Bruni blames parents who have chosen not to vaccinate their children in spite of overwhelming evidence of the vaccine's safety. People, Bruni says, select the truths they want to believe. "The size and sway of the anti-vaccine movement reflect a chilling disregard for science - or at least a pick-and-choose, cafeteria approach to it - that's also evident, for example, in many American's refusal to recognize climate change."
Why would people cling to a mistaken medical study about the measles vaccine that was eventually retracted by the journal that published it? Why would people ignore the research of thousands of scientists on climate change? Why would reasonable people believe the off-hand comment of a child in line for the rollercoaster?
An answer to these questions begins to emerge in the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. The authors argue that messages that are remembered - ideas that really stick - employ a combination of six key characteristics. To varying degrees, these messages are…
- Simple - Less is definitely more
- Unexpected - Surprise counts
- Concrete - As tangible as possible
- Credible - The messenger is believable
- Emotional - They touch the heart
- Story - Related to people
The more these elements are included, the more the message will stick. And this applies whether the message is true or whether it's the most outrageous urban myth. Advertisers, politicians, and sales representatives use these techniques but they can be used by anyone with a message to share: teachers, managers, preachers, trainers, team leaders, keynoters, parents, and - you!
But knowing how to make a message sticky doesn't help us decide whether that message is true or whether it's just a rumor. Stickiness helps explain why we might believe a message but how do we decide whether we should believe it? After all, don't rumors always have some basis in fact? Otherwise what could their origin possibly be? Rumors gain traction when they are sticky but the rumor mill moves in high gear when there is an information vacuum, when we believe the source, when the rumor reinforces what we already believe, when we distrust the authority or expert, when we want to promote our own agenda.
So, once the rumor mill is running at full speed, how can we keep from being ground up in its gears? Some suggestions are buried in what makes rumors sticky in the first place. If we look again at the elements of a message that sticks, some "test questions" emerge:
- Simple - What information has been left out?
- Unexpected - Is someone using "shock and awe" tactics?
- Concrete - Is the message based in reality?
- Credible - Is the messenger a recognized authority?
- Emotional - Is our heart being manipulated?
- Story - Who benefits if this message is believed to be true?
To sum up the test, if I repeat this rumor, how will it benefit the mission of our organization, the functioning of my team, or the effectiveness of my relationships?
The next time you encounter a sticky message try these test questions and see whether you can put the brakes on the rumor rollercoaster.
For More Thought
Relate what you have learned about the truthfulness of sticky messages to the equally important topic of trust. Read the Firefly News Flash for May 2010 where you'll find a review of Steven Covey's book The Speed of Trust as well as an interview with Kurt Nemes, Senior Ethics Program Officer at the World Bank Group.
Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Random House, New York, © 2007, ISBN-13: 978-1-4000-6428-1.
Did you use this 99-Word Story and the discussion questions or interpretation in your work or personal life? If so, about your experience! If you would like help using 99-Word Stories in your organization, please me.
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