My brain is crap for details like lyrics to songs (remind me to tell you about the time I didn’t realize a song I sang around the house was about morphine… even though the word “morphine” was literally coming out of my mouth when I sang it), what Alexa JUST told me the temperature was (seriously, ask my husband, who wants to find a “two times” skill for our Amazon Echo so that says everything twice since I always get distracted and don’t hear what she says the first time…sigh), and how old I am (I have to do the math pretty much every time).
But I remember ideas forever.
Chicken sexing and perceptual learning
Case in point: five years ago, I saw game developer and horse breeder Kathy Sierra give a talk. In it, she told an amazing story about the world of chicken sexing.
Chicken sexing is the practice of figuring out if a baby chick is male or female. And it is, apparently, very difficult. It’s also very difficult to learn, namely because expert chicken sexers can’t explain how they know whether a just-hatched ball of fluff is male or female, “they just know.” In other words, they don’t even know what they know, they’ve done it so long.
You probably have something you’ve done so much or so often you have a similar level of expertise (it’s called unconscious competence, by the way).
Chicken sexers have “conscious competence,” as well, of course. They have known, and have been taught, chicken anatomy, etc. But chickens don’t have any explicit features (especially when just hatched) that makes any of that explicit knowledge useful.
Instead, the most common theory of how chicken sexers (and you!) become an expert is something called “perceptual learning,” or “perceptual exposure.” It’s repeated exposure to positive (“correct”) examples over a typically compressed period of time.
Why? As Cedric Chin says in his great summary of Kathy’s work (and related book Badass: Making Users Awesome [affiliate link]):
This means that the best way to learn to spot ‘bad’ examples is by learning the underlying patterns and structures that show you the ‘good’.
Putting perceptual learning to work
This is obviously a practice you could adopt, as well. Think, for instance, how you could use a series of “good” examples in your content so that you’re both showing and telling your audience how to do or think about things differently.
In fact, I decided to take that forever ago idea and put it into practice myself. Over the two years I’ve been recording and writing about messaging and related topics, I’ve spent most of the time transferring knowledge explicitly. Meaning, “here’s what I [know I] know, here’s how it might help you, here’s an example, etc.” All of that’s been based on my years observing, crafting, and refining messages…
But, much like chicken sexers, there’s a bunch of times when I just “know” a message works, or doesn’t, or just “know” what would make it better. That’s not magic or some special gift. That’s just lots and lots of positive exposure.
So, inspired by that long-remembered idea, I wanted to add another form of learning — something that shows you the “chicken sexing” of a message in real-time (or as close to it as I can manage).
And thus, after a year off, I’m relaunching my videos on YouTube, starting with a new feature: “What’s missing from this message?”
A few folks (some of you!) were kind enough to send some examples of high-level messaging they’re using now so that I could do a quick 5- to 10-minute review.
As you can guess from the title, my aim is to find what each person (and one company, so far) can do or add to what they have now to make their messaging even stronger. And, by watching and reviewing along with me, you’ll be able to see how to make your messaging stronger, too.
(I’m still figuring out the best way to record these, so thanks for your patience when things don’t always sync up!)
My hope is that those (and other) new videos, as well as these written noodlings, combine to give you as much knowledge as you need — both perceptual and otherwise — to build, refine, and share messages that people remember… well, forever.
Want me to take a look at your message? Email me, and you just may see it on a future episode!The best way to learn to spot 'bad' examples is by learning the underlying patterns and structures that show you the good. Click To Tweet
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