#187) Three HBO Veterans appear in the ABT Framework Course: View their Sessions

The 7th round of the ABT Framework course wrapped up with a rather amazing triple play of HBO veterans (all three Emmy nominees) talking about the ABT dynamic in acting, producing and directing. Here, for your Thanksgiving viewing, are all three fascinating discussions — the ABT Framework course at its very finest.

ONLY THE BEST for the ABT Framework course of 2020.

 

THE AND, BUT, THEREFORE OF A RATHER FASCINATING YEAR

What a year, right? Sheesh. It’s been the worst of times (the pandemic), but in some ways … well, I just can’t say it — not the best of times, but definitely some interesting times.

In April, our Story Circles Narrative Training program was derailed by the pandemic. Having nothing better to do, we decided to take a shot at an online course.

Eight months later here we are, wrapping up the 7th and final round of the course. Each round has featured a half dozen or so guests. The last round culminated with this amazing triple play of HBO veterans, all talking about the central role of narrative structure in their work.

We’ve never shared the content of the course, but these three discussions were just so fascinating, high energy and substantive that it would be a crime to not make them available to a wider audience. Each one is about 40 minutes — like three episodes of a podcast. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them.

VIEW THE SESSIONS

CHAPMAN DOWNES

CHERYL HINES (and Brian Palermo)

PETER LOGRECO

 

HAVE A HAPPY AND SAFE THANKSGIVING

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, to the best of your abilities. There is definitely a better time ahead AND with the vaccines, things will return to normal by next summer, BUT for now, realize this is our COVID YEAR that requires sacrifice, THEREFORE do all you can to protect yourself and others, starting with one simple instruction which is to STOP SWAPPING AIR. You’ll be hearing more about this message in the near future.

 

THE ABT FRAMEWORK COURSE: A MEMORABLE YEAR

#186) The Banality of Evil: Stephen Miller has Lousy Narrative Intuition

Trump speechwriter Stephen Miller is not just qualitatively dull — you can actually see his dullness in the narrative metrics of the speeches he writes. It’s been on display since the start of his speechwriting for Trump. The Democrats should hope he continues to be the (uninspiring, confused and narratively amateurish) voice of Trump.

DONALD TRUMP’S RNC ACCEPTANCE SPEECH, just like all of his speeches that are written by Stephen Miller, was dull, flaccid, and devoid of narrative strength. This is not just me saying this — it’s the numbers.

 

NARRATIVE METRICS REVEAL ALL

Communication has two parts: CONTENT and FORM. Everyone talks about the content of Trump’s speeches, but it’s the form of speeches that determine whether they have lasting impact. Or not.

There’s a new book about Trump’s speechwriter, Stephen Miller, titled, “Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda.” The author, Jean Guerrero has an article in the NY Times yesterday discussing Miller’s speeches, but her focus is only on content. Which means there’s more to the story. Much more.

In 2015 I published my book, “Houston, We Have A Narrative” (University of Chicago Press) in which I first presented the ABT Framework. This led to two simple metrics for analyzing narrative structure which are:

NARRATIVE INDEX — the BUT/AND ratio

“AND” FREQUENCY (AF) — % of total words that are “and”

As a candidate, Trump’s values for the Narrative Index were exceptionally high (always above 20, frequently above 30) and his scores for the A.F. were impressively low (rarely above 3.0, sometimes even below the ideal value of 2.5).

I spent 2016 warning of the dangers of his communication skills. I teamed up with James Carville and we tried to explain this to the Hillary Clinton campaign, but hit the same brick wall everyone else did trying to communicate to them. Trump won. I ended up on Park Howell’s podcast, “The Business of Story,” telling about this which became one of his most popular episodes.

The poor communication skills of Clinton’s campaign were examined in painful detail in the 2017 bestseller, “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign.” In contrast, Trump communicated skillfully right up until March of this year when he finally ran aground with the problem of split narratives (economy vs health, which Dr. Dianna Padilla and I quantified in May in an article in Medpage titled, “COVID Leadership: Trump vs Cuomo).

So there’s been this shift in Trump’s communication dynamics, but it’s actually the second major shift. The first one took place back in 2016 once he secured the Republican nomination. It was the appointment of Stephen Miller as his main speechwriter.

 

STEPHEN MILLER: THE VOICE OF DULLNESS

In June, 2016 Trump secured the Republican nomination and two things occurred. First, he shifted to using a teleprompter for his speeches which previously had been wildly spontaneous and off-the-cuff. Second, he brought on Stephen Miller to write his more formal speeches.

From then on, his speeches fell largely into two groups:

FORMAL (written by Stephen Miller) – safe, boring, low N.I., high A.F.

INFORMAL (written by Trump or unscripted) – barn burning rants, high N.I., low A.F.

Look at the formal speeches — routinely below 10 for the N.I., often above 4.0 for the A.F. What that shows is the “And, And, And” structure which is largely non-narrative — just expositional.

Then look at the informal rants — rocketing up in the 40’s for the N.I., with the sparse use of “and” producing A.F. scores below 3.0. That is Trump at his most powerful when it comes to mass communication (and I’m not talking about communicating to the academics who are nauseated by him — I’m talking about the masses of America). The prevalence of the word “but” reflects the ABT (And, But, Therefore) narratively structured form.

 

THEREFORE … MY ABT STATEMENT ON STEPHEN MILLER

It’s very cut and dried. The bottom line is that when Stephen Miller is involved, there’s little narrative structure, just a lot of “And, And, And” (I had several friends text me during Trump’s RNC speech asking, “Doesn’t this seem like a lot of And, And, And?”)

But when Trump sidelines Miller and takes control, he’s very ABT — punching away, producing the version of him that his followers love. Which leads me to my own ABT about Stephen Miller:

Stephen Miller is indeed the voice of a lot of unpleasant content in Trump’s speeches AND those speeches are offensive to Democrats, BUT he’s not good — he has no grasp of narrative structure, THEREFORE Democrats should hope Miller continues to write Trump’s speeches.

BUT … watch out if Trump eventually stops using a speechwriter and reverts back to doing it all by himself. If that happens, it will not just be offensive content, it may be delivered in a dangerously powerful way.

Which means things will get ugly … -er.

#185) BIDEN: The Amorphous Narrative vs the SINGULAR Narrative

Look … (I hate it when politicians use that word, but sometimes I guess it’s needed) … this stuff isn’t that complicated. It’s about the ONE THING. It just needs to be a CLEAR one thing — not some vague statement about “building back.” Cuomo knew this in March when he began his daily press briefings (as Dianna Padilla and I pointed out in MedPage). Sadly, it’s still the same story. Why don’t Biden’s people realize this? This is THE DOBZHANSKY TEMPLATE for him: NOTHING IN AMERICA TODAY MAKES SENSE, EXCEPT IN THE LIGHT OF THE PANDEMIC. nothing. nothing. nothing. #NarrativeIsLeadership

WHICH OF THESE SLOGANS LOOKS MORE LIKE A CHRISTMAS TREE???

 

THE ONE THING

It just isn’t that complicated. There is ONE single overriding, over-arching story in this country right now — THE PANDEMIC.

Yes, the economy is a mess, but it clearly is not going to recover until the pandemic is dealt with properly. This needs to be the message. It needs to be the ONE THING (which is the title of the best selling book from 2012).

It’s the CHRISTMAS TREE that Dave Gold referred to in his important Politico article of 2017.

Biden needs to be running on ONE CLEAR SIMPLE MESSAGE — that he’s going to focus the entire nation’s effort on one top priority — returning this country to a HEALTHY state.

It needs to be his NARRATIVE, plain and simple. Narrative is leadership. “BUILD BACK BETTER” is … what? Build what back? And better than when? And what does that vision of the future look like?

HEALTHY is as much of a vision of the future as is needed.

Come on, Biden people, FIND THE SINGULAR NARRATIVE that everyone can rally behind (and know that more than a decade ago Nicholas Kristof pointed out the overriding importance of the singular narrative). Tell the public a STORY about how there will never be a vibrant economy until PROBLEM #1 — THE PANDEMIC — gets solved.

It … is … not … that … complicated.

 

#184) Business Meets Science: What Scientists Writing Proposals Can Learn from the Business World

In our ABT Framework course we hit a moment where two of the team members — a marketing expert and a scientist — realized the similarities in the communication dynamics of what they do. Here they match notes on three topics: 1) PERSUASION, 2) CONTROLLING THE NARRATIVE, and 3) THE NARRATIVE SPIRAL (as developed by Park Howell). There is great wisdom for scientists in these parallels.

THE COMMUNICATION OF BUSINESS, THE COMMUNICATION OF SCIENCE — not really that different in the end.

 

THE SYNERGY SPIRAL

We’ve run the ABT Framework course four times since April. In the second round marine scientist Dr. Dianna Padilla listened to the presentation from Park Howell who is a business/marketing guy, and host of the popular podcast, “The Business of Story.” He has no science background, but she heard things in his presentation that resonated with her years of writing research grant proposals as well as having served a year as a rotator at the National Science Foundation headquarters in Arlington, VA.

They talked a bit further, then I asked them to address these three similarities in communications dynamics for business versus science. Here’s their parallel takes on three aspects of narrative.

 

1) PERSUASION

We all know that business is about persuading people to buy your product, but grant writing is also about persuading — as in persuading the funding source to fund your project. We can actually use the Dobzhansky Template to say it concisely like this: Nothing in Business and/or Proposal Writing makes sense except in the light of Persuasion.

BUSINESS GUY (Park Howell): Persuasion is everything when it comes to business. Here’s my Dobzhansky Template: Nothing in GROWING A PURPOSE-DRIVEN BRAND makes sense except in the light of PERSUASION. If you can’t connect with and convince your internal, external and partner audiences to buy into your vision and participate in your mission, then you will not make the impact in the world you seek and your organization will suffer.

SCIENTIST (Dr Dianna Padilla): This is where I made my first connection with what Park had to say about business. As in business, the key to a successful scientific research proposal is persuasion. The job of a proposal writer is to persuade critical reviewers and a program director that the work you propose is the best, most exciting, will advance science the furthest, and/or is the key piece of information we need to make important advances. Furthermore, you and your team not only have the skills to get it done, you are in a position to really move things forward, answer important questions, and fulfill the goals and mandates of the granting agency. Just as Park is saying about business, you need to pursued the client (granting agency) to buy into your goals and project.

 

2) CONTROLLING THE NARRATIVE

BUSINESS GUY (Park Howell): CONTROLLING THE NARRATIVE means tell a true story well, and then supporting it with the facts and figures you need to become THE trusted source. You sell to the heart through telling a story on purpose to get the head to follow. I mean, when was the last time you were bored into buying anything? I use the terms audiences and customers interchangeably because in every audience you are trying to get them to buy into your way of thinking and with every customer, you are trying to sell them something. Both interaction is a transaction. Audiences/customers show up with their own stories; perhaps stories about you, your industry, your competition and their own baggage. Sometimes these stories are true, but mostly they are false because they are made up by your audience from current beliefs built on past experiences. Therefore, if nothing in business makes sense except in the light of persuasion, then you MUST control the narrative. I’ve learned that if you don’t intentionally tell a story, your audience will leave with a story you did not intend. They’ll make something up because you didn’t control the narrative.

SCIENTIST (Dr Dianna Padilla): Again, this is similar to the dynamic for writing of a successful research proposal. You are presenting your narrative, and you need to do your best to keep reviewers following along. But reviewers are scientists, each with their own background, ideas of what is important (their research, of course), and will read your proposal through their personal lens. YOUR JOB is to keep the reviewer following your narrative, and not get distracted or allow them to pull away to their own interests, and wonder why you are not trying to answer another question they find more interesting. With a well crafted narrative, you can pull the reviewer to follow your path of logic, and see that your questions or system are the only ones to follow, and you are proposing something that should be funded. As with business, if you don’t provide a compelling narrative for readers to follow, they will find another path that will not result in success for your proposal.

 

3) THE NARRATIVE SPIRAL (SEE FIGURE BELOW)

BUSINESS GUY (Park Howell): So here’s how it all comes together. To be persuasive by controlling the narrative, you need a system to organize and guide your communications. This is where I found the Story Cycle System™ narrative spiral to be invaluable to guide long-form communications and presentations. It is inspired by Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey but is mapped to business and intellectual pursuits versus just dramatic storytelling. In my book Brand Bewitchery, I describe the organizational device of the Narrative Spiral. The Story Cycle is distilled from the timeless narrative structure of the ancients, inspired by the story artists of Hollywood, influenced by masters of persuasion, guided by trend spotters, and informed by how the human mind grapples for meaning.”

SCIENTIST (Dr Dianna Padilla): This is where I also see amazing similarities between the path of developing a narrative for business as Park describes it and the writing of scientific research proposals. There are direct parallels. Applying his Narrative Spiral concept to a research proposal, the process begins with the background state of knowledge, putting your proposed work in that context. You lay out how your work will advance knowledge, and what is at stake (if we knew x, then we could….), but we do not know this, some approaches will not get us the answers, etc. Then you use strong narrative to lead the reader to your path of logic on what you are proposing to do and why it will solve those important problems. You then move to the research you want to do, experiments to conduct, data and then how you will interpret the results of your work. The journey ends with how your work will advance science, answer a critical question, or provide essential data that moves science forward. And then, of course, you repeat the whole cycle, only you’re now at the next level up as our knowledge of science continues to spiral upwards.


Story Cycle System™ Narrative Spiral developed by Park Howell in his new book, Brand Bewitchery. It’s Joseph Campbell’s Heroes Journey model, but with a twist — or actually a spiral structure instead of circular. Read his book for the specific details.

#183) Go with the Flo: A Great Discussion of Improv Acting with Two Major Improv Veterans

It was 17 years ago that improv actor Stephanie Courtney (better known as “Flo” from Progressive Insurance) was one of the winners of our Shifting Baselines Stand Up Comedy Contest. It was 10 years ago that I first stood in shock and awe as I watched Brian Palermo teach improv to ocean conservationists with a level of energy I had never seen before in any instructor. Both of them are veterans of the world famous Groundlings Improv Comedy Theater. On Friday they joined a session of our current round of the ABT Framework course with the National Park Service. Check out the video of the session, it’s fun viewing.

THE POWER OF AFFIRMATION. Friday’s session of our ABT Framework course (this round with National Park Service) featuring veteran improv actors Brian Palermo and Stephanie Courtney (“Flo” of Progressive Insurance).

 

YES, AND …

I’ve been working with the legendary Groundlings Improv Comedy Theater for nearly two decades. In 2002 I formed a partnership with one of their most talented comic actors, Jeremy Rowley as part of my Shifting Baselines Ocean Media Project (Jeremy’s enormously popular and hilarious Dating Video shows a bit of his comic brilliance).

That eventually led to recruiting Brian Palermo as a workshop co-instructor, which in 2013 produced our book, “Connection: Hollywood Storytelling Meets Critical Thinking.” Brian has gone on to build his own business teaching improv acting to scientists over the past decade, now working with everyone from JPL to AGU and the Ocean Sciences Meeting.

On Friday I had Brian and Stephanie Courtney (whom I’ve known since 2003, before she was “Flo” of Progressive Insurance, when she won our Shifting Baselines Stand Up Comedy Contest) as guests in our ABT Framework course. The session was so energy-packed and fun that we’ve decided to share it with everyone (above).

It gives you a sense of Brian’s energy, plus you can hear Stephanie talk about what it’s like to be the most popular corporate representative ever.

#182) Climate “Contrarian” Marc Morano, 13 years later: Winning?

It’s 13 years since I first interviewed Marc Morano for my movie, “Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy.” Last year Nature quantified his media impact and found him to be #1 (by a factor of almost 3) for the climate “contrarians” (the descriptor they chose, rather than “deniers”) and almost as widely covered as the #1 climate scientist. I’ve spent a decade warning about the media power of this guy. Did anyone listen? Perhaps a little. The good news? Maybe he’s slowing down in his speaking speed, from auctioneer to used car salesman.

NOT WINNING? Marc Morano starts off making you think maybe he’s changed, but eventually hits full “Gish Gallop climate contrarian speed. What is perhaps most fascinating in this 13.5 minute interview I did with him last week is his answer to my question of, “Are you winning?”

 

SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE, MUCH

What’s different about Marc Morano? In 2007 when I first interviewed him for my movie, “Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy,” he only had a handful of appearances in major media under his belt.

Now? When I asked him how many times he’s been on Fox News (in the video above), I expected him to say a couple dozen. Look at his answer — hundreds. He’s truly “a regular” there.

Who, among the climate movement, can be called “a regular” on any television network? Being “a regular” on a TV channel is media power, pure and simple.

In 2010 I launched my blog of 4 years, The Benshi, with a lengthy interview of Marc. Two weeks later I offered up my bottom line analysis — that no one should debate him, other than a major comedian like Bill Maher.

Of course, media-obsessed Bill Nye ignored this warning. He was on the board of the Union of Concerned Scientists at the time. My friends there tried to talk to him about this but they told me, “He’s just gonna do what he’s gonna do when it comes to media exposure — he can’t get enough.” In 2012 he debated Morano on CNN with Piers Morgan as host. It wasn’t good.

 

INTERVIEWING MARC MORANO FOR OUR ABT FRAMEWORK COURSE

We’re in the 5th round of my new ABT Framework Course that my team of 6 associates from our Story Circles Narrative Training program and I put together in April. It’s been popular, running twice with open participation, once with USFWS, once with Park Howell and the business community, and now with the National Park Service, as well as booked into the fall.

The course is 10 one hour sessions. I bring in a series of “likely suspects” as guests in the second half (scientists, filmmakers, actors, political strategists, business consultants, journalists, etc.). But this time decided to spice things up a bit by bringing in an inconvenient guest.

The powers that be got a little nervous at the possibility of a scene. The sessions include a chat log where the participants can type in comments and questions live. We all know the climate issue can get heated, so I opted to avoid potential drama by doing only a recorded interview which was 30 minutes. I cut down the interview to the 13.5 minute clip above which we showed to the course then discussed in depth.

 

MARC MORANO, THICK-SKINNED VETERAN

When I made my movie, “Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy,” I ended up trading emails with legendary techno-thriller author-turned-climate “skeptic” (the term of choice at the time), Michael Crichton. He warned me in his first email that what I had experienced for criticism and trolling for my movie “Flock of Dodos,” about the attacks on evolution science, would pale in comparison to doing a film on climate.

He was pretty much right. Lots of scientists and environmentalists said rotten things to me because I gave “screen time” to climate skeptics (though by 6 years later when Robbie Kenner did the same thing with “Merchants of Doubt” where I guided him to Morano, the critics had gone silent — btw, wanna see one interesting detail — look at the Wikipedia page for this film — the two photos are of Oreskes and Singer with Morano getting only a trivial mention as one of the cast — then look at the trailer for the movie — it opens with, has quotes throughout, and ends with one guy — Marc Morano — what does that tell you?).

Some of my critics suggested I was somehow giving climate skeptics a big break. I wasn’t — my film never went much beyond the science world, and having accomplished all the goals I had (made back the money I spent on it, did over 100 public screenings at everywhere from NASA to the Smithsonian, had huge fun, and verified how utterly, utterly, utterly humorless so many environmentalists can be — the number of times my crew in Hollywood sat in our office shaking our heads at angry emails was tragic) I opted to never release it.

But yes, climate is an ugly, intensely polarized issue, that is not helped by the poor communication style of so much of the climate action crowd (exemplified in recent years by their decision to label their opponents as “deniers” in an effort to associate them with Holocaust deniers). Over the years, they have chosen to spew hatred from a distance while failing to ever engage in any sort of sophisticated analysis or experimentation when it comes to communication.

And they wonder why they fail.

 

MAYBE HE’S AT LEAST SLOWING DOWN

If you watch the video, you’ll see by the end I fall into pretty much of a “here we go again,” routine with him on each issue. I’ve heard it all before. His science on the ocean acidification issue is wrong (there are not as many winners as losers for this issue). His science on the California wild fires is wrong (there’s not much of a climate signal for the fires, but the experts agree there’s at least some). His science on coral bleaching is WAY wrong — trust me on this, I used to be a coral reef scientist, he has zero legs to stand on for this one.

The bottom line is that there is no point in engaging a climate skeptic on CONTENT. The engagement needs to be about FORM. If this isn’t clear to you, take our ABT Framework course.

The climate crowd never did show one ounce of communications savvy. If there’s one core principle to the legendary text, “The Art of War” which has been the bible for Hollywood players for a generation, it’s “Know your enemy.” I’ve seen no evidence of climate activists attempting to know their enemy.

Marc and I have chuckled for years at the complete absence of his opponents knowing much of anything about him. That’s part of why one of my initial questions to him was how much does he make. From the very start of my first getting to know him I’ve listened to environmentalists tell me with complete certainty that if you “follow the money,” you’ll see he’s making millions off of payments from the oil industry.

No, he’s not.

Anyhow, here’s your one silver lining. I timed his WORDS PER MINUTE rate of speaking for my interview with him from 2007. It was 225 WPM. I did the same thing for part of the last bit of this interview, 13 years later. I was a mere 210 WPM (normal conversation is about 150 max).

Maybe he’s slowing with age. Which might mean that some day, the age old “strategy” of climate activists of “Ignore him and he’ll eventually go away,” might finally happen. Maybe sometime around 2050.

#181) WORKING CIRCLES: How Story Circles Graduates Can Keep in Shape

Remember our philosophy of, “the narrative part of the brain is like a muscle that needs to be conditioned over time”? For years we’ve had groups ask how to keep the dynamic of their circle going. Now we have a way.

 

NARRATIVE IS HARD WORK — YOU NEED WORKING CIRCLES

You’ve got a project, it has a narrative, you need help shaping it, who ya gonna call? Maybe some expensive communications consultant? How about you pull together 3-4 people who have been through either Story Circles Narrative Training or the new ABT Framework Course?

Graduates of either have enough familiarity with the basic tools (the ABT, the Dobzhansky Template, the Logline Maker) to give you substantial help. Furthermore, what you really need is not one self-proclaimed expert, but rather a group of 3-4 “ears” who can listen to your ABT and help you strengthen it.

This is what our new WORKING CIRCLES concept offers. For now it’s intended only for graduates of the training, but eventually we may open it up to let outsiders take a shot as well. We’ll see.

 

HOW A WORKING CIRCLE WORKS

It’s a one shot deal. Someone with a project, proposal, presentation, pitch, whatever, is the “host.” The host announces a set Date and Time for the WORKING CIRCLE. The announcement goes up on the Google Group page. Graduates of the training sign up. When 3 sign up, it gets the green light. If 4 sign up it’s full.

The group meets for a half hour, only. The discussion begins with the ABT then goes from there. Maybe the host has a major breakthrough, maybe the group wanders off topic into a detailed discussion of baking brownies during the pandemic. Either way, something good comes of it — communication.

We’ve just launched the first 5. There’s another 5 on deck. We’ll see how it goes.

The new ABT Framework Course is awesome, BUT … the one thing it lacks (that Story Circles has) is the group dynamic. This is both a way to add that bit of experience, as well as provide a resource that can be drawn on for a long time to come.

The Bottom Line: Everyone needs to be developing the narrative dynamics of their work in a WORKING CIRCLE, sooner or later.

#180) ABT FRAMEWORK COURSE, ROUND TWO: The Course So Nice, We’re Running It Twice!

Welcome to the most fun and rewarding teaching experience of my entire career.  We’ve had such a great time with the first round that we’re doing it again.  AND … at least 13 of the participants are joining us as members of The Platinum Club (elite status for the mileage they’ve accrued) to do the entire course for a second time.  Why?  Because they got the message — you don’t master narrative in a one day workshop.  Or even one course.  It’s a long term commitment, BUT worth it, THEREFORE …  

THE ABT FRAMEWORK COURSE IN ACTION.  To the right is the Chat Log that allows for continuous comments and questions which we reply to later in the day on the website.

 

MEMBERSHIP HAS PRIVILEGES

Who knew an online “course” could be so interesting and fun.  

Notice I’ve put the word “course” in quotes from the start.  It’s not your basic hour online lecture.  Half of each session is our ABT Build sessions where each of the 50 participants in the course get their 5 minutes to share their ABT with the others, then have me do our “build” process where we poke and prod it with a series of questions and suggestions.  

So how good has the course turned out to be?  We’re running it again — immediately — starting next Monday.  We’ve already filled 38 of the 50 slots (will probably be full in the next few days), AND, most incredible of all — we’ve got 13 members from the first group — a quarter of the participants — coming back to do the entire course a second time.  

I can’t think of any better endorsement than that.  Second time is going to be even more fun than the first!  If you want in, here’s the link, enroll now before it’s full again. 

And here’s the basic outline of the course.  It’s the same course as the first time, which you can read about in the last post.

#179) It’s Time for The ABT Framework “Course”

Want to climb into the ABT sandbox and build some narrative sand castles?  We’re about to do it in a big way, for the first time ever, starting next Monday, April 20.  This will be an online “course” but I say the word in quotes because it’s going to be so PARTICIPATORY.  And fun.  Here’s the details.  You can ENROLL HERE — it’s open to everyone — and I do mean EVERYONE.  It’s cheap and I sincerely promise, it will expand your mind.

TIME TO BUILD SOME NARRATIVE SAND CASTLES!

 

DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE MEASURES

We’ve had a wonderful run with Story Circles Narrative Training 1.0 over the past 5 years.  We’ve completed roughly 100 circles of 5 (or more occasionally) individuals each, producing over 500 graduates.  The proof of how powerful and effective it has been is visible in the results of our Survey of Graduates last year.

Now it’s time to “advance the narrative.”

It’s also time for a little synthesis.  I started assembling what we’ve learned last year with the book, “Narrative Is Everything.”  Now we’re all stuck at home, so why not have some fun sharing the knowledge.

 

DON’T CALL IT A “COURSE”

This is going to be something more than just a “course.”  It’s going to be a participatory journey.  And not just for the participants, but for me, as well.  

I formulated the ABT Narrative Template in 2012, gave a TEDMED Talk about it in 2013, laid it out in detail in my book, “Houston, We Have A Narrative,” in 2015, then began implementing it with our Story Circles Narrative Training program ever since.

The whole concept is still a work in progress, as the participants in this “course” type thing will realize.  There are no textbooks (yet) on the ABT Framework, but at this point, there are countless people putting it to work in trying to figure out the narrative core of their work, which means the AND (the context), the BUT (the problem being addressed), and the THEREFORE (what needs to be done).

There is so much to the ABT Framework that it’s definitely time to pull it all together into a “course” that in part is an argument along these lines:  The ABT is a powerful communications tool AND lots of people are beginning to see how ubiquitous it is in our culture, BUT I’m going to argue even further — that it is everything, THEREFORE … I hope you’ll join us and hold my feet to the fire because … I might be wrong.

 

WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT …

Each hour session will begin with a 25 minute lecture, followed by 25 minutes of my working with 5 individuals LIVE on their ABTs as the rest of the group listens in and offers up comments and questions in the CHAT BOX.  At the end I’ll address a few of the questions in the 10 minutes of Q&A, but then later (probably that afternoon) I’ll also address other comments and questions from the Chat Box in writing, in an online forum we’ll be maintaining along with the “course.”

Here’s a little bit of teaser material for what each of the lectures will be about.

1 INTRO:  AND (Agreement)

Seriously?  An entire 25 minutes just for the one word, “AND”?  Yes, starting with the 2015 study from the Stanford Literary Lab that documented the frequency of the use of this one seemingly meaningless word in the legendarily boring annual reports of the World Bank.  Sadly, it’s a word with a big future, if we don’t realize how boring it is.  And … tune in to hear lots more, about this, the most common word of agreement.

2 INTRO:  BUT (Contradiction)

Is there a more important word in the entire English language?  You might think so, BUT … I would argue not.  The word “BUT” is the most common word of contradiction, and contradiction is at the center of narrative structure.  AND … narrative structure goes back thousands of years — it’s how we communicate.  I’ve got hours to say about this one word, BUT …  

3 INTRO:  THEREFORE (Consequence)

This is the real meat of what you’re here to hear.  By the end of the first week of the course, everyone is going to want an answer to the basic question of, “So what’s the THEREFORE of this course?”  It’s basically the old, “Where’s the beef?” question.  And it turns out to be the real substance of the ABT — basically, enough with the A and the B, we want to know the T.  THEREFORE, what are we going to learn with this course?   

4 The ABT in Business

Business is branding, and branding is ABT.  Yes, it’s that simple.  It’s what makes your product sell.  “Lots of companies make widgets that do this AND this, BUT nobody makes a widget that does this, THEREFORE, you need to buy my widget.”  Yes, there’s a million more facets to the elusive art of branding, but at the core, it’s as simple as ABT because business is argument, and argument is ABT.   

5 The ABT in Politics

From the iconic Gettysburg Address onward, where you find great speeches, you’ll find the ABT at work.   Narrative is leadership.  People don’t follow leaders who are boring or confusing.  From MLK, Jr to Richard Nixon’s megalomaniacal first inauguration address, every great speech is built around the ABT elements.  In this lecture we’ll use the Narrative Index (the BUT/AND ratio) to reveal this.

6 The ABT in Entertainment

This is where it started.   Aristotle and the Greeks first recognized the 5 part (which was essentially 3 part) structure of their plays.  The rest … as they say … is … you guessed it — history.  From Joseph Campbell to George Lucas to Oprah Winfrey delivering a Golden Globes speech for the ages.  We live in a media society.  Media is ABT.  Today, narrative intuition is obligatory for success in all facets of life.

7 The ABT in Science

A century ago scientists “got it” on the ABT.  They came together and established a structure for their communication that came to be known as the IMRAD Template (standing for Introduction, Methods, Results, And, Discussion).  Today … a lot of that collective consciousness of narrative intuition has been lost in our information drenched sea of obfuscation.  Guess what the result is for the communication of science in today’s world (not good).

8 The ABT in Medicine

For a teaser of this lecture read my article in Scientific American last month titled, “A New Tool for Humanizing Medicine:  It’s called the ABT Template, and if you want to talk to patients simply and clearly, it’s ideal.”

9 Narrative Selection

It’s a big concept, but by the time I get here, you’ll hopefully be right there with me in the realization  that this is the most important shaping force of our entire culture.  The brain is narrative.  The brain selects what persists.  Our culture is made up of what has persisted.  Narrative is our culture.

10 Narrative is Everything

In the end, it’s not about the ABT.  It’s about the three forces that underlie the three words — Agreement, Contradiction, Consequence.  These are the forces you see at work in all communication.  They are the elements that ultimately determine whether humans compete or cooperate.  They are everything.

 

AND … THE PARTICIPATORY PART

The “course” will be limited to 50 participants because that’s the maximum number of 5 minute time slots we can fit.  When you enroll, you have to submit your one sentence ABT (a one sentence statement using the words And, But, Therefore that is the narrative core of a project you’re working on).  

For each session, 5 individuals will be chosen for the “ABT Build” part which will be 25 minutes in length.  For each person, they will join me on screen to read their ABT once or twice or more, then I’ll start to work, dissecting it, using the set of tools we’ve developed in Story Circles to poke, probe, revise and hopefully ultimately strengthen it.  

All the while, the rest of the group will be listening in, adding comments, questions and suggestions to the Chat Box.  Eventually everyone will get their 5 minute session, which is always fun.

 

LAST NOTE:  SORRY, THE SESSIONS WON’T BE RECORDED

Yeah.  Bummer.  I know.  You were hoping you could sign up, go for a walk during the time slot, then listen to the session that evening.  Not gonna happen.  You miss it, you miss it.

I want all participants present for every session.  Even if there’s only ten people who enroll, it’s going to be about EVERYONE taking part — listening, thinking, contributing. 

And all “of the moment.”  Experiential.  You’ll want to be listening with every neuron in the narrative part of your brain, and then some.

#178) Play Along at Home: Our Story Circles Demo Session

Yesterday, to enjoy 90 minutes of escapism, we ran a Story Circles “Demo Session” with 5 of our recent graduates.  It was fun, interesting, and a valuable thing to do in a time where the communication of science has never, ever been more important.  You can listen to the audio of the session here, and “play along” using the four abstracts and one narrative below to get a feel for how the training works.

STARS OF THE SHOW:  Clockwise from top left:  Michael Bart (National Park Service, Colorado), Andrea Taylor (School of Psychology, University of Waikato, NZ), Alison Mims (National Park Service, Colorado), Randy Olson (scientist-turned-filmmaker), Mevagh Sanson (School of Psychology, University of Waikato, NZ), Elizabeth Stulberg (Agronomy, Crops, and Soil Science Societies).

 

THE STANDARD ONE HOUR STORY CIRCLES SESSION

Story Circles Narrative Training consists of 10 one hour sessions of five people meeting, usually once a week.  The goal of the training is to strengthen your “narrative intuition” — a term I coined in my 2015 book, Houston, We Have A Narrative, which provides background on all of the concepts presented in the training.

The first half hour is Narrative Analysis where they are given 5 texts to analyze using the ABT Framework (for this demo session we only used four).  The second half of the hour is Narrative Development where each participant has an assignment.  For this session the assignment were as follows and the materials analyzed are below.

MODERATOR – Michael

NARRATIVE – Mevagh

WORD TEMPLATE /ARGUMENT – Andrea

SENTENCE TEMPLATE –  Elizabeth

PARAGRAPH TEMPLATE – Alison

 

NARRATIVE ANALYSIS

Abstract 1

Neuron:glial ratios were determined in specific regions of Albert Einstein’s cerebral cortex to compare with samples from 11 human male cortices. Cell counts were made on either 6- or 20-μm sections from areas 9 and 39 from each hemisphere. All sections were stained with the Klüver-Barrera stain to differentiate neurons from glia, both astrocytes and oliogdendrocytes. Cell counts were made under oil immersion from the crown of the gyrus to the white matter by following a red line drawn on the coverslip. The average number of neurons and glial cells was determined per microscopic field. The results of the analysis suggest that in left area 39, the neuronal:glial ratio for the Einstein brain is significantly smaller than the mean for the control population (= 2.62, df 9, < 0.05, two-tailed). Einstein’s brain did not differ significantly in the neuronal:glial ratio from the controls in any of the other three areas studied. 

Abstract 2

Tumor cells can spread to distant sites through their ability to switch between mesenchymal and amoeboid (bleb-based) migration. Because of this difference, inhibitors of metastasis must account for each migration mode. However, the role of Vimentin in amoeboid migration has not been determined. Since amoeboid, Leader Bleb-Based Migration (LBBM) occurs in confined spaces and Vimentin is known to strongly influence cell mechanical properties, we hypothesized that a flexible Vimentin network is required for fast amoeboid migration. Tothisend,here we determined the precise role of the Vimentin intermediate filament system in regulating the migration of amoeboid human cancer cells. Vimentin is a classic marker of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and is therefore an ideal target for a metastasis inhibitor. Using a previously developed PDMS slab-based approach to confine cells, RNAi-based Vimentin silencing, Vimentin over-expression, pharmacological treatments, and measurements of cell stiffness, we found that RNAi-mediated depletion of Vimentin increases LBBM by ~50% compared with control cells and that Vimentin over-expression and Simvastatin-induced Vimentin bundling inhibit fast amoeboid migration and proliferation. Importantly, these effects were independent of changes in actomyosin contractility. Our results indicate that a flexible Vimentin intermediate filament network promotes LBBM of amoeboid cancer cells in confined environments and that Vimentin bundling perturbs cell mechanical properties and thereby inhibits the invasive properties of cancer cells.

Abstract 3

Thirteen-year-old Kayla hosts a YouTube series called “Kayla’s Korner” where she gives advice to an imagined audience of her peers. She picks topics like “Being Yourself” and “Putting Yourself Out There” and stumbles her way through a pep-talk peppered with “like” and glances at her notes. A glimpse of the subscriber count shows that Kayla’s Korner hasn’t exactly taken off. Kayla airbrushes out her acne, and swoops on heavy eyeliner. This is a young girl trying to understand what she is going through, and she does so by positioning herself as an expert and a helper to others.

Abstract 4

Four male friends who live an ordinary existence in Kentucky come up with a scheme to make their lives more interesting. After a visit to Transylvania University, they concoct the idea to steal the rarest and most valuable books from the school’s library. As one of the most audacious art heists in U.S. history starts to unfold, the men question whether their attempts to inject excitement and purpose into their lives are simply misguided attempts at achieving the American dream.

 

NARRATIVE DEVELOPMENT

This is the narrative from Mevagh Sanson (a brief description of her dissertation research) that is the focus of the second half hour of the session. 

Narrative:

We can be mentally whisked away from the present, back to re-live our past, or forward to “pre-live” our hypothetical future. Re-living our negative past too intensely and frequently can impair us in the present, as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. But PTSD is conceptualised only as a disorder in which people are haunted by their past. Given that re-living and pre-living are closely related abilities, I propose that pre-living our hypothetical negative future too intensely and frequently similarly impairs us, as “pre-traumatic stress disorder.” I will investigate the ways in which people are haunted by their future.