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Archive for the ‘Communication is about relationship’ Category

The Lies We Love

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How to Believe the Preacher’s Story

Let us now name this category of lie: The Preacher’s Story.

We’ve all been here: sitting in church or a political meeting or even in class. The preacher/politician/professor behind the lectern tells a story that illustrates her or his point perfectly.

Too perfectly. And we think:

Wait-that sounds almost too good to be true. So then it must be… false. But who cares? I agree with the point and I’m in agreement with that way of looking at the world. I’ll just check the “true” box for that story.

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The Preacher’s Story is a quasi-factual tale the congregation wants to believe and will believe. The point of the story isn’t whether or not it is true, but whether the story advances our cause. We’ve gathered to stoke our fires and that semi-truthy story works just fine for that purpose.

I’m putting most Trump talk in the category of “The Preacher’s Story”: though demonstrably false, still believed because it stokes the tribe’s purposes. Trump’s not alone in this, of course, his preacher’s stories are just the most recent potent poison.

Writers continue to try to make sense of evangelical support for Trump.  The last few days have produced several articles citing similarities between the current batch of authoritarian presidential candidates and the authoritarian leadership style many megachurch pastors exhibit (for instance, Katelyn Beaty’s opinion piece from The New York Times). Authoritarian leaders depend on the willing to turn off their fact-meters as they absorb the preacher’s stories. Evangelicals are possibly more willing because of close familiarity with this rhetorical tool.

Can we now name the downside of “The Preacher’s Story”? It appears we’ve been groomed to be gullible.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

On Creating: “Hello Problem, Please Sit with Me”

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From Distraction to Focus

We stare at the problem until we can’t think straight. And when blood runs from our ears, then we have just begun.

This quote from a Minneapolis copywriter describes the creative process that drives his role in the industry. What does it take to come up with a creative solution that is beyond the first 5, 10 or 20 thoughts that pop into anyone’s head? What is creativity, anyway, and why should I care?

  • First the bad news: creativity requires deep focus.
  • And now the good news: you are capable of deep focus.
"Look Again: Expanding Feminist Possibilities," Groot Gallery, St. Olaf College

“Look Again: Expanding Feminist Possibilities,” Groot Gallery, St. Olaf College

In our age of near constant distraction, how does anyone slip into the focus-cave? How does anyone keep distraction at bay, apply sustained attention, and lose track of time in the process? It turns out there are solid answers to those questions. Those answers arrive from a mix of personal experience from people who create regularly, from a bit of theory, and then from experimentation with what works for you.

One thing is certain about focus: it can bring a healing wholeness with it. Just ask any person who regularly creates, and hear them talk about “flow” or the zone or getting into that space of just doing it.

Creating is not for the faint of heart. Because to create is to dwell with ambiguity: could be this. Could be that. If you change this piece—or flip the entire story or image—everything looks different and maybe even makes more sense. Very little is defined when creating and, in fact, you are doing your own defining

A group of students and I have turned a corner this week. We’ve gone from feeding the internet with content that builds communities to feeding creativity that can solve real-world problems. And just like when we work different muscles with cardiovascular versus weight training, this move from rapid creation to deep problem-solving wants a different set of brainwaves. We’re moving from intense listening and rapid creation to sitting with a problem and iterating our way out.

One of our bigger tasks is to train ourselves not be satisfied with the first, easy solution. We’ll learn how to bend time and write fast while you still know nothing, and how to lift and separate and how to map your way around a problem and how to start at the top again and again. And how to grind through to get to a better solution.

But all that needs focus.

And focus means not picking your phone up for 60 minutes.

And that is a struggle.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

How to Talk with a Republican

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Break with Talking Points: Talk about fears one by one

The Donald Trump phenomenon is fueled by fear—this we know.

Now that the Wait-This-Is-A-Joke period is over and the Fascists-In-Training period has begun, would we be better served addressing those fears head-on rather than pointing again and again to the incoherence of the candidate?

Mano a mano, as it were.Republican-20160304

What are the fears lodged in the Republican brain? We hear them from all the candidates: out of control immigration, an economic and political system rigged to benefit plutocrats, Christendom (as a geopolitical/cultural/social power) gasping for breath, whites are on their way toward being just another race if not minority status, the list goes on, of course.

One of the great early proponents of Christianity—a man not in favor with today’s Evangelical base—talked a lot about caring for the neighbor. Jesus said that after loving God with all your passion, the second most important thing was to love your neighbor. Could this thing Jesus said actually address fear without playing into the hand of an inchoate, would-be strongman?

A discussion about gut-level fears will descend into jobs and what it means to be treated fairly and irrational fever dreams about those we don’t know. It’s likely such talk would be politically incorrect—and we need to welcome that. On the other side of published Talking Points is a smoke-filled room where personal decisions get made even as friends and family hash out details. That’s where citizens need to hang out: telling truth as best we know it, from our perspective, not from the perspective of party bosses or mercenary haters, but from a hope-filled vision of people filled with neighborly love for all.

Naïve? Yes, of course. But sometimes naïve wins—just ask that pariah Jesus.

But look—this is gonna be messy. Let’s do this before we all start wearing yellow badges to stand with whatever group is in the crosshairs of Trump In Chief.

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Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

Why Honesty is Catnip for Collaboration

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In Class Today: Here’s Where I Failed

I first encountered “fail faster” in Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody. In that book it started to make sense to me that getting something right was a goal, but perhaps not the first goal. Maybe I saw traces of “fail faster” in The Cluetrain Manifesto. As a writer I knew I had to write many (verily: many, many) drafts before I started to approach the thing I really wanted to say. I also knew that the work of moving toward that thing I wanted to say was built on failure after failure, and that each failure left me with something closer to what I intended. Each step in the work shaped the next step in the work And each step in the work also shaped the one doing the work.

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motivational pictures

In our Social Media Marketing class last week students presented their critique of their community-building activities (we publish content to define and attract the student’s desired target audience). Midway through these presentations I remembered why I love this day so much. There is an honesty to it. Students describe what they’ve used blogs and Twitter and Facebook (and Instagram and Pinterest and Reddit) and other tools to create for the past six weeks. They show successes. They describe failures. They talk about what they would do differently. In some cases they reimagine the entire exercise for themselves and their team. And sometimes I can see the seeds of a much larger purpose. Sometimes it is quite clear that this person’s passion will push them toward building this community for a long, long time.

And then we discuss failure. Truly, these are fascinating moments in the Q&A that follows each presentation. The great news: everyone fails. Not the course, but in building the grand vision they set out to build. Six weeks in they realize how they could have adjusted their purpose, how they could have set more clearly defined metrics to reach very specific goals. Some realize they did not give it their best shot but instead rushed through and sort of wasted their moments of contact with their target audience. Some realized they could make a solid point with 350 words when they came into the class needing at least 1000 words. Some realized their target audience lived over in an odd unlit corner of the Interweb and this other particular tool would have faithfully delivered them to this audience.

The Big Reveal: It isn’t until you try to actually build something real, with real people  and real purposes toward a real end, that you realize life doesn’t not just coalesce around your pet purpose. In fact, this shouting into a crowded, noisy concert hall that is social media must be very deliberate for even the smallest thing to happen. And I mean even the tiniest purpose to move forward.

And as we detail our failures together (I have my own dozens of examples to share), new ideas pop to the surface and classmates who had not talked with each other are now offering ideas and are engaged in the purposes of this other community.

It’s the honesty bit that pulls in collaboration—the telling it like it is. The missing the high mark in a major way that when shared, evokes collaboration rather than pity.

That seems like a solid life lesson to me.

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John Clease: How to Make God Laugh

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“Tell Him Your Plans”

Listen to the entire interview here: http://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/02/12/john-cleese-business-creativity

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Via MPRQuotesGram.com

 

Written by kirkistan

February 13, 2016 at 5:00 am

Is it Better to Sound Smart or to Communicate?

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Please stop me before I commit an act of literature.

We had this discussion in class. A literature student was talking about how writing for social media was different than, say, literature. Popular writing—so our discussion went—is aimed at a different audience (here we picked our way around classist terms), and is not as, well, interesting, as literature. All her other classes required a compacting of ideas into sentences that grew rather long. Sentences that required a fair amount of attention. Sentences that required grappling with theologically heavy terms, or the whimsy of philosophers who felt compelled to make up words for their new ideas. Or writers who committed acts of literature in the most tortured fashion.

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I maintain that writing for social media requires that we let go of jargon and the complex sentences that shout “College!” or “Graduate School!” At our best, our writing is nearly transparent: leading right into the topic without stopping to say “Look at me.” Does that mean we use dumbed down ideas and language? I’ve said no to this several times. Erasing our jargon so smart people from different disciplines can understand us is not the same as dumbing down. And, in fact, when we do the work of translating our tribe’s jargon into regular English, we are poised to find a certain elegance and cadence that sounds more human, more fresh and less like the forced and predictable tribal language.

Respecting the reader is central to this project of communication—this bridge-building activity. If you think the reader is an arse, that comes through in your word choice. If you think the reader cannot be trusted, that shows. If you think the reader is intelligent and can handle the topic in words any human would understand, your reader will know.

One irony of the discussion is that many of the writers we celebrate as having written literature were themselves seeking for the simplest way to say things. Countless writers talk about kill your darlings and omit needless words and how nearly anyone can write to confuse. But the real artist takes a meaningful notion and makes it clear to someone else. And this: we are more likely to say something memorable and possibly even elegant the farther we get from our tribe’s insider language.

Will you commit an act of communication today?

 

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Hershey’s: Not a Super-Bowl Spot

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“Hi Ted.”

Via Adfreak

Written by kirkistan

February 7, 2016 at 10:08 am

The Alchemy of a Thought Remembered

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Follow the Instinct to Say Again

We talk endlessly about the question “What is remarkable?” in my social media class. I am convinced that the bits of life that we remember to tell someone else are the very things that make for great conversations. It is that instinct that also powers engaging social media.

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Say I run into an old friend and remember I finally read that book she told me about two years ago. Why did I wait so long? “The chapter about the train ride through the Alps was unbelievable and may have changed my life,” I say. I just remembered all this when I saw my friend and she said “train.” I can see that she is happy I read and enjoyed the book—one of her favorites.

Curiously, it is the running into the friend that pulls the trigger on the remembered thought. That instinct to pull from memory a thought stored for a particular person is one to follow. But maybe I did not store a thought for a person. Maybe I just registered a reaction to the book and I’ve been telling anyone who will listen—simply because I think they might find it interesting

Three things about this instinct to remark:

  1. We often remember for someone—we know they will like this thing and so we tell them.
  2. In a simple remark, we break complex thoughts into pieces and parts that can be verbalized. We want to be heard so we anticipate the questions our friend will say and pepper our talk on the fly with the answers they seek.
  3. The connection powers the thought and the communication. And so this memory or thought that becomes a remark goes on to cheer or enlighten or delight our friend.

The answer to “What is remarkable?” has its roots in a mystical intersection of connection, remembering and communicating. We might wish for such connection in our social media practice. The model for true connection is our plain old remarks to friends.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Forget Content Strategists: We need Village Storytellers.

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Begin the Begatting!

“Content strategy” has such a corporate feel to it. Such strategized-promotional-content-puzzle pieces, dreamed up in isolation, will move forward whether or not anyone cares. But here is exactly where strategy and art must date, marry and get busy begatting fecund stories.

No human will be interested otherwise.

No amount of strategizing can actually make that happen. Art must take over. Art connects with emotion. Art is a human meaning-making activity not easily controlled by a corporate agenda. If controlled too-tightly, art quickly becomes something less than art.

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I’m working with a group of writers who need to understand this. Their task is to pull people into the causes they have begun to champion. They will identify their mission and purpose, complete with telling details about their target audiences. They will strategize about content and assemble editorial calendars, but in the end, it is the art of storytelling that has the power to pull anyone forward.

My theory is that strategy works best as a beginning point. You do your best to get a strategy in place, but then you move forward. As a writer, I know from experience that stories and strategies grow up best together. Each talking to the other. That is because the weaving of the story actually makes new strategy elements available (and vice versa). Elements appear that would not be apparent except that the artist has accessed that deep subconscious, chaotic place where connections are made and much foolish talk swirls around very bad ideas before anything worthwhile appears.

Sometimes when I get stuck in the analytical side of strategy, I set it aside to tell stories just to open possibilities. I am not alone in that practice.

There is a push for strategists today. But I would rather work with their more human cousins: story-teller strategists.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

“What Will I Be When I Grow Up?”

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Start Your Process Early to Answer Life’s Recurring Question

This question will not go unanswered.

As a kid you quickly volunteer answers: firefighter, ballerina, basketball player, scientist, pilot. It’s right that action-jobs attract kids. You may defer answering it as a college senior. You may say, “I’m not sure. We’ll see what comes up.” You find yourself saying it in your first job, hinting that “This is OK, but it’s not quite the right fit.” In fact, you may think it through a career.

I’ve had two different conversations recently with people suddenly seeing the horizon of retirement off in the distance. Both said some variation of “I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up.”

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The question is tricky because it sounds like an all or nothing deal: you do this or you do that. Binary. One or the other. But the truth is more like life is filled with all sorts of opportunities that are concurrent. You must pick. You must choose. If you don’t pick and choose, chances are good you’ll simply slide into being entertained. That’s not bad, it’s just that being entertained generally pacifies the urge to create.

And yes, I am talking about creating. Because one assumption behind the “What will I be?” question is “How will I take action in the world?” I argue that the sooner we find ways to address that question, the better off we’ll be at every stage of life. One old model of retirement was that you put in your time for 30-40 years (at something you hate or just tolerate), and then head to the golf course in Florida or Arizona to be entertained until you tip over into the grave. Today people approaching retirement are looking for ways to keep making a difference. The lucky ones have both their health and some sense of the art or craft or service they simply cannot live without doing.

I’m thinking about this today because one central piece to my social media marketing class asks students to pursue their passion publicly using every social media avenue open to them. This is a difficult question and commitment for these students to make. I like the exercise because it forces them toward the larger life question. I like the exercise because it initiates a process that, if they follow it, will begin to answer that question.

Locating that thing we are passionate about involves experimentation, of course. And if your work does not leave any time for locating your art/craft/serve/tribe, is it possible that in 30 years you might still be asking, “What will I be when I grow up?”

I hope not.

 

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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