Why don’t we do the things we imagine? The simple answer: because they’re not yet real enough for us to understand how to actually do them. While that can be what gets in the way of you making a change in your own life, it absolutely gets in the way of people acting on your ideas. The good news: it’s totally fixable — all you need to do is make the conceptual concrete. After all, as the saying goes: Imaginary mills grind no flour. So let’s talk about what to do instead.
The quick version
There’s a whole chapter in my book about this very topic, so I’m going to paraphrase the Red Thread straight from there:
- GOAL: Make sure your audience actually acts on your ideas.
- PROBLEM: For a message to drive action, it needs to explain not only why a change is necessary, but also how to make that change.
- TRUTH: Details make the conceptual concrete.
- CHANGE: Use details to give your audience enough information to act on your idea.
- ACTION: Draft your Action sets (follow that link on “Action” at the start of this bullet to jump to another post that explains those Actions in detail in detail).
- GOAL REVISITED: Not only will your audience be capable of making the change—and taking action on your idea—they’ll likely feel much more confident about it, as well.
If you want to go deeper…
The last job I ever had taught me one of the most important lessons I ever learned about making sure your audience actually acts on your ideas. (I say “last job” because it was the last time I worked for someone else. As of June 8, I’ve been a happily “self-employed business owner”—to quote my friend Jeffrey Shaw and his great new book—for five years now! Woohoo! Happy incorporativersary to me!)
But here’s where the lesson came in: The company I was working for, a boutique sales messaging and training practice called Oratium, had a super-smart approach to thinking through what kinds of information to include in a presentation. They called it the “Pyramid of Planned Outcome™,” and it’s based on a psychological theory known as the “ladder of inference.” The theory describes how we move up a mental “ladder” from experience and observation, through meaning-creation and belief, to action.
The fine folks at Oratium simplified it further to “Know > Believe > Do,” (knowledge leads to belief; beliefs leads to action) and encouraged people to work backwards down the ladder, with a series of questions:
1. What do you want people to DO as a result of this message?
2. What will they need to BELIEVE before they will do that?
3. What will they need to KNOW to believe those things?
After teaching and using that approach for several years, though, I noticed something.
The beliefs the audience needed to have before they’d act almost always worked out to some version of these three:
• It’s possible for this action to create the outcome I want.
• It’s possible for me or my organization to take this action.
• It’s worth it for me to expend the cost or effort the action (and outcome) requires.
And so that got me wondering, since the beliefs were almost always the same, what kinds of “knowledge” would satisfy those beliefs?
As it turns out, the knowledge someone needs to believe something is possible in theory is pretty straightforward: before they’ll act, people need an explanation that makes both logical and intuitive sense to them. They need to see—yep, you guessed it—the “red thread” that connects the action to the outcome. That can be a literal explanation like the Red Thread my book helps you construct, but it can also be a story or a case study. Either (or both!) of those options help explain why to take an action: because it will deliver a specific and desired outcome. As a bonus, that “why” knowledge also helps—but doesn’t fully!—satisfy the belief that something is worth doing at all.
For someone to believe something is possible for them or their organization, though, they need a little bit more than just a good explanation or example. People also need to know how to make the change and how to know if they’re “doing it right.” They need to understand exactly what making the change or taking the action actually looks like, what it involves.People need to know how to make the change and how to know if they're doing it right. Click To Tweet
And for that, you need to provide details.
Why? Because details make the conceptual concrete. The more detail you add to something the more real it becomes in people’s minds, and the more they can picture what taking that action looks like and requires.
If the steps are unclear or feel totally unrealistic? They won’t act, because it doesn’t feel possible for them, even if it’s possible for someone else. Without detail, people don’t know enough, or aren’t confident enough, to act.
That’s why coming up with specific actions to take, and even a variety of them, can be so helpful, both for you and your audience. For you, it can help give you even more clarity about what your idea really is and the kind of impact it can have. For your audience, it gives them the knowledge and the confidence to move forward. Even better, that knowledge and confidence are what helps your audience determine that taking the action is worth it! They’ll have enough information to weigh the cost and effort against the promised outcome (if you’re playing along with my Red Thread method, this promised outcome is what I call the “Goal“).
No one wants to fail, ever.
Even when an outcome is otherwise irresistible to them, that fear of failure will keep people from acting just about every time. A “no”—even a subconscious one—to any of those three beliefs will mean your message, and your idea, are both dead in the water.
So show people they can succeed—and how.
Show them they have what it takes to make a change and achieve their goal. Yes, of course, show them how you can help, but the most important thing for someone to feel is that they could do it without you… but that you’ll make it a heck of a lot easier for them. Because you’ve been there before. Because you’ve seen it before. Because you can show them the way.
When you give people the details they need to succeed, you don’t just tell people to go confidently in the direction of their dreams (to paraphrase Thoreau), you show them exactly how to get there. That gives them confidence and control—the two things people most need to make changes, both big and small.Details make the conceptual concrete. Click To Tweet
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