The Make-Sense Mandate
Our brains are wired to try to make meaning— scientists call it the “make-sense mandate.” When researchers gave people three random sentences they would always try to string them together into some type of story.
The way we make our message makes sense is universal, so as message makers we need to see the patterns of how we find patterns. Those patterns are the things that drive a story or a narrative forward: things like a character’s motivations or actions.
The pieces of the Red Thread can help because they help you put your message in terms of story— a problem that gets in the way of a goal, an idea that reveals a new opportunity, and a change that results. Our brains are hungry for a story, so take advantage of that to make your message makes sense.
- “Your Brain on Stories” – Kendall Haven mediaX lecture for Stanford
- What happens in the brain when we hear stories? Uri Hasson at TED2016
Consider these three sentences. Jennifer keeps the milk cold. We called her the skinny singer. I found the box empty. What do those three sentences have to do with each other? What’s the story? Absolutely nothing! I’m Tamsen Webster of www.tamsenwebster.com and this is Find the Red Thread.
Those sentences came from a random sentence generator, so even though we try to make them into a story, we try to make them make sense, they don’t. There is no meaning behind it.
So researchers use a random sentence test like that to demonstrate what some call a “make sense mandate” that we have, an absolute need to make a message makes sense. As soon as we heard about Jennifer, then we were looking for more information about her so when we heard another sentence about being a skinny singer we assumed that was her. And yet, isn’t milk terrible for singers? I found the box empty which means she’s drinking it so why? And how is she skinny? Is that milk whole milk? Yet remember they have nothing to do with each other.
So what does this mean for us as people who put messages out into the wilderness? Well it means that the wilderness isn’t empty. It means there isn’t just a blank slate that our audiences and our readers are waiting to hear. There’s already something there.
Think of it like the classic question of whether the glass is half full or half empty. But as physicists will tell us, the glass is always full, just of half air and half water. The same thing is true here when we talk about meaning and making sense. That wilderness, that gap between where someone is and where you want them to be is already partly full, it’s already partly full of the way they make sense. The fact that they have a “make sense mandate” too.
So how do we solve this problem. Well, first we need to remember that the way we make things make sense is universal. We can see the patterns of these patterns. What are those patterns? Those patterns, as a recent study out of Princeton suggests, are those things that drive a story or a narrative forward. Things like a character’s motivations or actions: what someone wants, why they want it, and what they’ll do as a result.
Now if that sounds a little bit familiar, a little bit like pieces of the Red Thread, you’re right because you can simplify those concepts, those things that people find meaningful. The things that they need to make sure a message makes sense as the core elements of the Red Thread. A Problem that stands in the way of a Goal, an Idea reveals why the Problem is such a problem and also reveals a new opportunity and a Change that results.
If you’re wondering where the Goal and Action come in, well the Problem stands in the way of the Goal and the Change is affected by Actions. You create Actions, you take Actions in order to effect the Change.
So the next time you’re putting a message together remember that the glass isn’t half empty or half full it’s always full of your meaning and theirs. When you’re trying to put your Red Thread together, try downloading the Red Thread Worksheet at http://www.findyourredthread.com and if you need any help, contact me at http://www.tamsenwebster.com/contact