September 29, 2013

Early-Autumn Dog-Blogging!

28 September 2013
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September 25, 2013

Don’t bring a data set to a food fight!

The takeaway message of the 2013 Sackler Colloquia on The Science of Science Communication, which I attended Monday and Tuesday at the National Academy of Sciences, was the importance of trust to being heard.

Much of Susan Fiske’s presentation confirmed how I approach communication for smart leaders:
  • “People are not idiots. It’s up to us to figure out what things mean to them.” Later, Dietram Scheufele pointed out, “The same information means different things to different people.” This is because all communication is contextual. And because “we process incoming information based on the ideologies we have.”
  • Trust is the neglected side of communication! Communicators are ineffective if they are not trusted.
  • People trust people who are like themselves. They are motivated to support these people.
  • We figure out whom to trust based on both warmth and competence.

Melanie Green, who is conducting compelling research on persuasion, built upon this last point: You will be perceived as an expert if you use statistics. You will be perceived as being a warm person if you use story. 

Given my own motivated reasoning, these points confirm my Heart, Head & Hand™ approach to communication: first, establish trust, often by sharing a story; then, share information; and be sure to invite your listener to apply or act upon your information in some way.

There was also a fascinating presentation by Noshir Contractor on the importance of leveraging social networks for the effective dissemination of information. He identified four kinds:

  1. Social networks – who you know
  2. Cognitive social networks – who they think you know
  3. Knowledge networks – what they think you know
  4. Cognitive knowledge networks – what who you know knows

Contractor said it’s impossible to leverage your networks if you don’t see yourself embedded in all of them. And that most people who accomplish anything do it because of what they know and whom they know.

He also offered research showing that new media helps people connect, but mostly with people just like themselves. There’s an echo effect. He suggested that to address this, we use network analysis and look at the bridges and the brokers who operate at the crossroads.

The final panel was on narrative, and Michael Dahlstrom proposed that stories, as a communication tool, are becoming a focus of attention because “people want to make things closer to human scale”, and stories accomplish that goal.

This was the first conference I’ve attended in a year in which I did not present, but had the simple joy of solely participating. I’m thinking about ways in which to make my work even more practical, and I’m interested in focusing my writing on audience-identified challenges. So, I spent a lot of time listening to the Twitter feed. And then I got sucked into Twitter participation. You can read many Storify compilations for the sessions here.

All of The Science of Science Communication sessions will be available for viewing on line, and I will post a link when that becomes available.

Despite the smart presentations and some enthusiastic reception of the science of effective communication, I left with the sense that many scientists shun responsibility for audience engagement. Many believe in only imparting information: in telling, not sharing. Many came eager to hear about what the audience must do, but repelled any onus on the part of the scientist to communicate empathetically. 

Public Relations Executive Peter Zandan provocatively noted, Businesses are spending $9.5 billion a year on research on the effectiveness of their messages. These methods come from the social sciences! Yet, when we work with the sciences, they do not have the appetite to use the very methods they developed!” As a marketer, however, I’m uncertain that Mr. Zandan had the trust of the audience to be heard, let alone for the scientists to act on his message. 

All communication is contextual. People hear only what they want to hear, from trusted sources who have demonstrated warmth. Perhaps this can be best remembered by Marty Kaplan’s admonition, Don’t bring a data set to a food fight!”

September 16, 2013

"How impressive you find modern pop Bumpology depends in part on whether you believe that there are a lot of people who still think like that."

"In the same way, even the neuro-skeptics seem to agree that modern Bumpology remains an important corrective to radical anti-Bumpology: to the kind of thinking that insists that brains don’t count at all and cultures construct everything; that, given the right circumstances, there could be a human group with six or seven distinct genders, each with its own sexuality; that there is a possible human society in which very old people would be regarded as attractive and nubile eighteen-year-olds not; and still another where adolescent children would be noted for their rigorous desire to finish recently commenced tasks."

-from "Mindless: The New Neuro-Skeptics" by Adam Gopnik in the September 9th issue of the New Yorker.

September 1, 2013


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