Wow, I can’t believe it’s been so long since I first posted my first video answering the question “What is the Red Thread?” I put a shiny new 2020 update on this original video, and you can read all about it here.
What is the Red Thread? Whether we’re trying to create change, or simply feel in control of all the change that’s happening around us, the first step is that we must make meaning of what we see.
As humans, we have an innate desire to make things make sense. The meaning we create dictates the thoughts that we think, which dictates how we see the world and the role that we see ourselves playing in the world.
In this episode of Find the Red Thread, I share the template for meaning-making, how the path to meaningful change is like Mad Libs, and why learning to identify the way that we make meaning is the key to making changes that lead to big action.
- The Goal: The drive that determines everything else
- The Problem: Why we’re not achieving the goal
- The Idea: The diagnosis of the problem
- The Change: What we must do to achieve our goal
- The Action: The specific set of things that we need to do to make change happen
What is the Red Thread? Think about it like Mad Libs, but for how we make meaning. All right, I’ll explain the Mad Libs piece in just a minute, but let me talk about the meaning part first.
Why is that important? Well, the meaning part is important because, whether we’re trying to create change or simply to feel in control of all the change that’s happening around us, there is one step that always has to happen first. And that first step is that we must make meaning of what we see. We must make it make sense.
And this, this need to make meaning happens before conscious thought, we don’t think about how we make meaning. We just make it. And that’s important, because how we make meaning, the meaning we create, dictates the thoughts that we think, which dictates how we see the world, and importantly, it dictates the role that we see ourselves playing in it.
What’s interesting about all of this is that how we make meaning, we do that in predictable ways. They’re called schema, a fancy word for a pattern or a template for how we think. What’s even more interesting is that there’s recent research that suggests that this template for meaning-making, in particular, is shared; that it’s the same from person to person.
This is where the Mad Libs piece comes in. Mad Libs is a pad of paper filled with pre-written stories. But the stories have holes in them, and you have to come up with words—nouns, verbs, adjectives—that fill in the blanks. But you have to do that without knowing what the story is ahead of time.
When it comes to this shared template of meaning-making, we do know the story. And that story of how we make meaning is the Red Thread.
I’ve named the five specific blanks that we have to fill in order for that information, in order for that story, to make sense. The first is the goal. What is it that someone’s trying to get? What’s the drive that determines everything else?
The second piece of the Red Thread is the problem. A problem you are going to discover is the real reason why that goal isn’t being achieved, why we’re not getting it, or why it’s not happening already.
The third piece of the Red Thread is the diagnosis of the problem. We’re gonna call it the idea. The idea the explains both why the problem is such a problem and why the change that we’re asking people to make is the only one that makes sense.
That change is the fourth pieces of the Red Thread, a high-level shift in direction that is what we must do, given what the problem is, and the diagnosis of that problem, in order to achieve our goal, by solving our problem.
The final piece of the Red Thread is the actions. The details of the change, the specific set of things that we need to do in order to make that change happen that we’ve talked about.
Now, while the template is shared, each of us fills in those blanks in a different way. Which means each of us, every person, every organization, every idea, everything, has its own unique red thread. And when you know both of these things, your red thread and the general template for the Red Thread, you’ve got a lot of power in your hands.
First, you understand what’s the filter through which you see the world. How is it you uniquely make meaning of it, and particularly, your role in what’s happening around you. Because this template is shared, by understanding the Red Thread, what you get is a way to make anything make sense to somebody else. Because they have the red thread too. So that’s what the Red Thread is. What’s yours?