Phew! We made it!
Yes, you read that right.
What does Avengers: Age of Ultron have to do with my new book? Well, on the surface… not a lot, since, sadly, I’m no Avenger. But one of the deeper messages of the movie is one of the main lessons of the book:
When it comes to driving action from your ideas, how you think is just as important as what you think.
The quick (non-Ultron) version
- GOAL: Talk (or write!) about your idea in a way that drives agreement—and action.
- PROBLEM: When it comes to articulating your ideas, there are actually two things in play: what you think and how. The challenge, of course, is that people can agree with one but not the other (e.g., they may decide that the “ends” don’t “justify the means.”)
- TRUTH: That’s an issue for our ideas because, long-term, what doesn’t work internally will never work externally. We as humans will not act in a way that violates our worldview, at least not consistently. Over time, actions are always consistent with outlook.
- CHANGE: The solution, in this case, is simple: Tell your audience both what and how you think (or at least be ready to!).
- ACTION: The fastest way I’ve found to do that is, of course, to find your Red Thread. Your Red Thread is the story your brain built to arrive at your idea in the first place. So, when you find it and tell it to others, they can find themselves in the story—and your idea—too.
- GOAL REVISITED: Will you “lose” some people that way? Yes. But, because of that quirk of human consistency, anyone who doesn’t agree with your approach probably wasn’t your audience to lose in the first place. By understanding and articulating your idea and its Red Thread, you ultimately help the right audience find you—and help yourself find, and serve, them.
If you want to go deeper…
I may have mentioned before that I have two boys, who, as of this writing, are 11 and 13. That’s prime superhero-movie-watching age, which means I watch a lot of superhero movies. A lot a lot. Ergo, Avengers: Age of Ultron.
The Avengers are a group of superheroes. Ultron is a (bear with me here) “surprisingly sentient” artificial intelligence defense program that one of the Avengers (Tony Stark, aka Iron Man) secretly built to protect planet Earth.
Two things happen that create the conflict of the movie. One, Ultron builds itself robot bodies, which allow everything it “thinks” to be carried out in the real world (and destruction inevitably ensues). Two, it interprets its instruction to “protect planet Earth” in a way its builder never intended: Ultron decides that humans are the greatest threat to Earth and, logically, decides that humans must, therefore, be eliminated.
But you see where this is going, I hope. Most people would agree with the “what” of the idea to “protect planet Earth.” Most people would say that’s a great idea. But, Ultron fans, aside, many people would not agree with the “how” of that idea.
And this brings us back to your ideas, and how you message them.
You’d love to think that just telling people about our great ideas is enough. You’d love to think that as soon as they hear them, they’ll think it’s great, jump on board, and start taking action.
You also know that’s not usually the way it happens. I believe this difference between “what” and “how” is why.
Let’s define some terms. In this case, “What you think,” is usually your idea itself—the answer to a question people haven’t yet answered for themselves. “How you think” is why and how you decided your answer was the right one—how you arrived at that conclusion. But, as Age of Ultron shows us, people can agree on the “what” of an idea (“protect planet earth”) but not on the “how” of it (separating Earth from the humans living on it).
And, in my experience, the how is just as important as the what.
See, humans are very consistent creatures over time. We tend to do the same things over and over again. What’s more, that consistency in behavior is driven by something called “behavioral congruence“—”there is consistency between the goals, values, and attitudes projected and the actual behavior observed.” In other words (and as I say in the quick version, above) our actions are consistent with our outlook on the world, on the stories we tell ourselves.
That also means that, generally, people won’t behave in ways that are inconsistent with those goals, values, and attitudes. Even if someone occasionally acts against their beliefs, over time it’s beliefs that drive their behavior.
The implication for you and your ideas is clear. If the story someone tells themselves about your idea doesn’t align with the other stories in their heads, then your idea, no matter how “good,” isn’t going to be good for them.
Sure, you can leave that story up to chance, as Tony Stark did with Ultron. You can just say, “here’s the idea,” and let them figure the rest out.
But I’m not a big fan of failure. Maybe you’re not either. And when an idea is so good or so important, I want to give it the best possible chances of survival. That means supplying the story behind the idea, so people can hear it and understand it so they can decide if they agree and ultimately act on it.
The best way I’ve found to do that, as you know well by now, is to find the Red Thread of the idea and to include that Red Thread whenever you talk or write about your idea. As I say in the book, “every idea has a story because every idea is a story,” the story your brain built to come up with the idea in the first place.
When other people hear the elements of your idea’s Red Thread, their brain not only processes that story, it uploads the code of where that story came from—from your goals, beliefs, and perspectives. With that information in hand, people can then decide whether or not that story (and those goals, beliefs, and perspectives) suits them.
And no, they won’t always decide that it does—and that’s okay. More thank okay, actually. Because your idea isn’t for everyone—it’s for everyone who sees the world the way you do, or who could. But just like Ultron didn’t ever change his mind on his story (the Avengers just blew him up and all his bodies, and thus the sentience driving them in the first place), some people won’t change their minds on yours, either. Some values and beliefs exist at the most primal levels, and just don’t change, or at least not quickly.
But the sooner you, and they, know that you see the world in fundamentally different ways, the more quickly you can focus on those with whom you share those most core values and beliefs, and the more quickly you can achieve the impact you want with your idea.Even if someone occasionally acts against their beliefs, over time it's beliefs that drive their behavior. Click To Tweet
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