Imagination Connects the Dots
Writers, speakers, CEOs, politicians, prophets, and stand-up comics want to be heard. Each message starts with inspiration—a flash of a story that must be told. Or the sudden need to address a downturn in stock price. Maybe the message started with a dream of things to come or simply observing a ridiculous social practice.
That initial inspiration must be fleshed-out. The professional communicator wants to expose every vein of meaning in their message. But they know too much detail will numb the ears of their audience.
Listen to Your Hunch
Intellecting our way through developing a message is a good place to start. But that method falls short if that is the entire process. Even scientists will agree that data gets you only so far before you need to fall back on a hunch. The hunch is a weird thought plasma that surprises you as you wait for the WALK light to flash. The hunch comes after the hard work of processing data.
If you are only developing communication by logic, I’m here to tell you that you will be surprised at the dots you can connect by falling back into your dream state.
Is there room for imagination in business communication? I argue, “Yes,” and I’ll give you three reasons. Whether you are developing an immediate response to a crisis, planning for next year’s work, or just trying to get this year’s work done, sometimes our subconscious has things to say that our conscious minds know nothing of. Sometimes that subconscious message has a way of shouting to our audience when our conscious words are pared back.
#1 Analysis Has Limits
For many corporate communicators, we’ve trained ourselves to truss up that inspiration/need/vision/observation and take it to the lab for dissection. We use claims matrices, brand guidelines, editorial calendars, and focus groups to optimize clarity. We intellect our way through our communication to put together the final message to deliver to our audience.
Our over-emphasis on logical connections may weaken the parts of the message that need to link to an emotive experience or subconscious need. Logic has a hard time reaching that place of unspoken desire.
#2 Forward Starts with a Story
The writer’s work of creating a story from a bright bauble of inspiration is another way to build out a message. For some of our clients, I will tell myself a purpose-driven fictional story that pulls their themes into a small town peopled with flesh and blood characters acting “as if” they were in on my client’s value proposition—each character with their own story arc. In this way, my fiction becomes a heuristic that tells me what my subconscious suspects but has not voiced.
I typically do not show those stories to my client, but the story’s value is in widening the aperture to show the grand avenues, side streets, and back alleys of the entire message. From there, I can see connections that my logical brain missed. Adding story to logic can be very productive indeed.
#3 Imagination Brings a Uniquely Human Perspective
A snippet of purpose-driven fiction can enliven corporate communication and beat back the cold, omniscient, slightly infuriating voice of corporate know-it-all-ism. Story has the power of embedding a message into a context so that the reader can also hear what is not being said. Especially what is not being said aloud.
A bit of purpose-driven fiction may not be the final communication, but it can inform the final communication and provide a human-shaped entry into connecting with, well, humans.
David Lynch, For Example
Eleanor Morgan, writing in The Guardian (“David Lynch’s musical magic”), makes the point that the unspoken (or, in this case, unplayed) in this scene from the hallucinatory film “Mulholland Drive” is very different from what the audience actually picks up:
At a pivotal point in the film, lovers Betty and Rita visit the ghostly, near-empty Club Silencio. A performer announces “No hay bander”: there is no band. And yet we hear one. Then Rebekah Del Rio performs her Spanish, a cappella version of Roy Orbison’s Crying (renamed Llorando). I have watched this film more times than I’d ever care to admit but Del Rio’s voice, a cloudburst of emotion, always knocks the wind out of me.
Story can sometimes sing better than our logical mind and can help us hear what has not been said.
Watch the clip here:
Where do fiction and the process of storytelling fit in your communication toolbox?