#162) John Oliver on Shaming: He Cites, “Agreement, Contradiction, Consequence” (= ABT)

They are the three fundamental forces of narrative.   Last night John Oliver, talking about a specific case of social media shaming, said, “ … but, at some point, it’s incumbent on everyone to consider both CONTEXT and CONSEQUENCE if you’re going to pile on in a shaming.”  He’s talking about the ABT dynamic.  He’s addressing what happens if all you present is the CONTRADICTION — the “but.”  He grasps the ABT Framework.  It’s the same thing I pointed out about Twitter in 2015 — presenting only contradiction ends up being non-narrative and won’t work in the long run.  Such are the brainless inefficiencies of a short attention-spanned society.

JOHN OLIVER TALKS ABT AND SOCIAL MEDIA.

 

THE THREE FORCES OF NARRATIVE

When I finished, “Houston, We Have A Narrative,” in 2014 I had not yet figured out that the ABT elements (And, But, Therefore) are simply manifestations of what  I have come to call the Three Forces of Narrative.  The three forces are:

AGREEMENT –  And
CONTRADICTION  –  But
CONSEQUENCE  –  Therefore

In the second appendix of the Houston book I made the prediction that Twitter wouldn’t last long at 140 characters.

My reasoning for that was 140 characters was too short to allow all three forces, and instead was selecting for mostly the most attention-grabbing element — contradiction.  My prediction came true in 2017 when Twitter shifted to 280 characters.

 

PILING ON EFFECTIVELY IN A SHAMING

Last night John Oliver, on his often-brilliant HBO show Last Week, made the same point.  He was talking about internet shaming, and the specific case of “Worst Aunt Ever.”  He synthesized his thoughts by saying:

But, at some point, it’s incumbent on everyone to consider both CONTEXT and CONSEQUENCE if you’re going to pile on in a shaming.

Truly effective communication, to have a lasting impact and not produce a society of lemmings chasing one source of contradiction after another, needs to make time for all three elements.  This is the inefficient brainlessness of social media — it’s largely non-narrative.  You can’t do that and expect to communicate well.  Our brains need all three elements of narrative to make proper sense of things.  They were designed thousands of years ago and are still the rate-limiting element for communication.

#161) Trump Went Off-Script at CPAC and (Predictably) Scored a Narrative Index of 36

For the Narrative Index (BUTs/ANDs), most speakers score in the teens.   A few reach the 20’s.   A very few reach the 30’s.  Trump scores in the 30’s when he goes off script.  It directly reflects that he is an angry, aggressive, and frustrated man.  With a sufficient sample size (over 1,000 words) the frustration is revealed by the use of the word “but.”  And so, for his recent crazed CPAC speech (which was a staggering 16,000 words), as could have been easily predicted, he scored a 36.  In contrast, the most recent speeches by Bernie Sanders, Elisabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke have scored, respectively, 18, 17 and 4.

CPAC ATTACK.  He spoke for two hours — over 16,000 words.  He’s a madman and a mad man, as revealed by the Narrative Index.

 

MADMEN AND THE NARRATIVE INDEX

The Narrative Index is the ratio of the words BUT to AND It’s amazingly consistent.  Definitely not precise (wouldn’t want to say there’s a real difference between someone who scores a 15 versus a 19), but definitely accurate (someone who scores double that of someone else is definitely drawing on the power of narrative).  Trump scores high when he’s not being constrained by speechwriters like Stephen Miller.  

Just think of a heated conversation — about that moment where the frustrated person shouts, “But, but, but …”  That’s basically what you’re looking at.  The word “but” is at the heart of narrative.  People who are in attack mode are forced to use it to make their arguments — “The establishment says this, BUT I say this …”

President Trump was in crazy attack mode at CPAC.  The Washington Post called it “unhinged,” the Atlantic called it, “bewildering.”  But … what they should actually be calling it is “narratively powerful for his base.”  That’s what the 36 shows.

 

PRESIDENT STRANGELOVE

You know who scored the highest Narrative Index that I’ve ever found in a political speech?  Who was the most pent-up, frustrated, vindicating-feeling president to ever be elected?  Here’s a hint — he was humiliated by the handsome Jack Kennedy in his previous effort.  He scored a stunning 47 in his first inaugural.  

He wins the award for most portentous opening statement of a political speech ever as he began with, “Each moment in history is a fleeting time, precious and unique. But some stand out as moments of beginning, in which courses are set that shape decades or centuries.”  Yeah, he shaped a few decades, big time.

I can tell you right now, assuming a smoking gun doesn’t emerge in the investigations of Trump, he is going to win re-election if the Democrats don’t find someone who can reach above a 30 for a Narrative Index score.  I called the last Trump victory, I’m calling the next one based on this.  

In a media society, it’s all about communication, which means narrative structure.    

#160) AOC Does Something Democrats Aren’t Good At: “Advancing the Narrative”

This is how you actually defeat Trump in a permanent way.  Not by endlessly, angrily whining about things not being fair, and chasing after his narrative (meaning MAGA), but by advancing your own narrative — meaning The Green New Deal.  You advance the new idea, and when the ankle-biters start pointing out that you haven’t worked out every detail or that some of it is unrealistic, you explain back that movements have to start in the gut with intuition before the analytical folks can move things to the head with consistent, logical explanations.   Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a true leader — something the Democratic party has lacked since Obama.

FROM THE NEW YORKER TODAY

 

OCCUPY THE PLANET

Occupy Wall Street began in September, 2011 as a vague notion that the time had come to address income inequality.

It was soundly criticized, not just by the rich, but by the over-thinking eggheads of the progressive left who said it wasn’t “well thought out” or “realistic” or didn’t have a clear “plan of action.”

They were right — indeed it wasn’t well thought out or realistic, but it sowed the seeds of a movement that eventually found their candidate in Bernie Sanders who has taken the demands from marginal pipe dream to mainstream agenda. These things have to start in the gut with intuition, then eventually move to the head for the more specific, analytical elements.

Now the same thing is happening with the recently introduced “Green New Deal.” Rising Democratic party superstar Alexandria Octavio-Cortez has locked onto it. She is being criticized from both sides, but it doesn’t matter. She is also commanding all the attention right now, and that’s what is important in the “attention economy.”

More importantly, instead of burning up countless hours being incredulous over the lies Trump tells, she is moving forward with the Green New Deal. That is the eventual path to victory. You have to be the one who is advancing the narrative — that is what draws attention and support.

#159) This is how the CONVERSATIONAL ABT works and why it’s important

Mythologist Joseph Campbell pointed out we are all telling the same basic stories, around the world, in all different cultures.  The CONVERSATIONAL ABT reveals this.

A STORY THAT EVEN A SHOE SALESMAN MIGHT RELATE TO.  The speaker is Bob Chen of University of Massachusetts, Boston, at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in Puerto Rico this week.

 

ABT THIS

My good friend and longtime ABT fan Bill Dennison at University of Maryland forwarded me the photo above from the Ocean Sciences Meeting right now in Puerto Rico.  Let’s take a look at this, using the CONVERSATIONAL ABT, which is one of the three forms of the ABT I outlined in, “Houston, We Have A Narrative.”

First off, imagine you’re talking to someone from Soul Man shoe corporation who tells you the following basic ABT for their company:

International shipping for Soul Man Shoes has suffered for years from inefficiency AND everyone has known the solution to the problem BUT for some reason no one has ever managed to implement it THEREFORE we are starting a new project that will study that solution and hopefully implement it.

For the Conversational ABT you strip out all that makes it compelling, making it as concise as possible, like this:

CONVERSATIONAL ABT:   We have a problem AND we know the solution, BUT we’re not implementing it, THEREFORE we’re starting a project to study it that will hopefully make it happen.

You can see that ABT says nothing about the world it is taking place in.  It’s totally generic.  It is the core STORY that is being told, devoid of context.  And you can feel it’s the sort of story anyone from anywhere might tell.

 

WE’RE ALL TELLING THE SAME STORIES

Now take a look at the ABT on the slide above.  It is the same story, told in the world of ocean science.  That speaker could have started with the exact same sentence as a speaker from Soul Man Shoes speaking at a corporate conference.

He could have opened his talk by saying, “I’m going to tell you today about a situation where we’ve got a problem, we know the solution, but we haven’t been able to implement the solution, so we’re now starting a project to study how to make it happen.”

That exact same text could open either presentation.  Two completely different worlds, connected through narrative structure.

The fact is, if someone from Soul Man Shoes happened to be in the audience for the ocean science talk — maybe just accompanying a scientist friend — that person would sit up and say, “Whoa, this sounds like the same thing my company is dealing with!”

That person would be instantly drawn into the presentation, even with zero interest in Boston Harbor.  That is the broad, universal power of story structure.

#158) Trump’s Embattled Rose Garden Speech vs Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (His Narrative Match)

As could have been predicted, in his defensive/combative speech last Thursday about invoking a national emergency, President Trump scored a Narrative Index (BUT/AND x 100) of 30.  He then stepped up the combativeness another level for the Q&A.  But he’d better watch out — AOC is his narrative match.

TRUMP SLUGS AWAY AT REPORTERS AND FAKE NEWS.  Almost nobody scores over 30 for the Narrative Index.  It reflects his rage.

 

THE CAGED ANIMAL

President Donald Trump last Thursday gave a speech in the Rose Garden defending his decision to declare a state of emergency on the border.  It was predictably combative, which means I would predict heavy use of the word “but” and a Narrative Index of over 30.

His speech scored exactly 30, but the Q&A — where the beast gets poked and prodded by the journalists bringing out even more combativeness — scored 36.

I put a high degree of confidence in those two numbers.  Both texts were over 4,000 words.  I usually say you need about 1,000 words to feel like the score is reliable.

I’ve also got his AF (AND Frequency –  the percentage of all words that are the word “and”) scores above.  There’s an established baseline of 2.5% for well edited material.  His speech was a tiny bit flabby at 3.0%, but once he came under fire, his brain (or whatever reasonable facsimile that he possesses) tightened it up to 2.6%.

For comparison, speeches almost never score above 25 for the Narrative Index.  Elizabeth Warren gave four speeches last fall that I was able to find the transcripts for and analyze using the Narrative Index (But/And x 100).  Her scores were 17, 18, 21, 23.  

Bernie Sanders State of the Union reply was 18.  His speech in Burlington in November was 22. 

Also, the two speeches I found for Amy Klobuchar (DNC speech and recent announcement of presidential candidacy) scored 14 and 15 for the NI, 3.5 and 3.4 for the AF (yawn).

But here’s a ray of hope … last fall, just after her election victory, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scored a 38 in her very lengthy interview (over 4,000 words) with Jacobin Magazine with an AF of 2.0.  And in a shorter interview with Chris Hayes of MSNBC she scored NI: 32, AF: 2.3. 

Those are Trump level scores.  She’s the real deal.

103) Democrats, Messaging and Monty Python

“Right, our polls show the public doesn’t want candidates who pay too much attention to the polls. So let’s do a poll to see what they do want.” The Democrats are in such a quagmire. Here’s an article this morning in The Hill that confirms Democrats aren’t gonna win with no message. In “Houston, We Have A Narrative,” there are narrative tools that can help with structuring a message, but the problem is they can’t work if there is no message to start with. Everyone should get comfortable with the Republicans for a long road ahead. Narrative is everything. The Democrats, at present, have nothing, aside from “we hate that guy” which polls show isn’t enough.

How the Romans didn’t get voted out of office.

How the Romans didn’t get voted out of office.


NO MEANS NO

It’s official — you aren’t going to get elected through hate alone. Here’s a simple article this morning reporting polls that basically show that the “We Hate That Guy” message is not enough to take over leadership of the nation.

It didn’t work for the last candidate. It won’t work for the next.

You gotta have a positive, constructive message. The ABT can help tremendously once someone knows the message. The Dobzhansky Template can actually find the message. But until the Democrats get more analytical about narrative and realize there’s more to it than just gut feelings, nothing will change. THEREFORE … everyone might as well get comfortable with the behemoth that the Republican party has become.

And in the meanwhile, they need to take to heart this quote from a New York Times editorial on January 17 that still holds true:

Post103Graphic2

#102) Winner of “The Moth” Storytelling Competition Gives Textbook Demonstration of the ABT Dynamic

Listen to this story from last year’s winner of The Moth storytelling competition. It’s a beautiful story that she tells AND I hate to ruin it by suggesting you analyze it (like a bunch of scientists — and keep in mind this is coming from the guy who wrote the book “Don’t Be Such A Scientist”), BUT … it really is a textbook example of how the ABT works, THEREFORE …


To HEAR STORY scroll down to button that says 'Listen Now'



AS SIMPLE AS ABT

Mary Kate Flanagan is from Ireland and is a former student of Frank Daniel, the screenwriting guru who in the 1980’s first pointed out the And, But, Therefore (ABT) dynamic. Last year she won “The Moth” storytelling competition with this perfectly delivered story about her father’s funeral.

If you listen close in the first 1.5 minutes you’ll hear the ABT structure plain as day. She says AND 7 times, she says BUT 6 times, she says SO (the more common equivalent of THEREFORE) 4 times. That’s a LOT of structure. I have developed the Narrative Index (the BUT/AND ratio) in the past. A value of 30 for the N.I. is exceptional. Her ratio for that first minute and a half is 86.

These things matter.

Furthermore, if you consider her overall structure, you see she follows the MONOMYTH to a tee. She begins by introducing her theme — that there are 6 strong sisters who together can do anything. The Ordinary World is set up (that the father dies and they’re all set to bury him with the sisters carrying the coffin), BUT THEN the funeral director says they’re not strong enough which takes us into the Special World and off on the journey.

The problem is eventually solved, then notice where she concludes the story — full circle, back to what she said at the start with her THEME (that the parents gave them all they ever needed in the world — six strong sisters).

Not surprisingly she teaches screenwriting and is a member of The Frank Daniel Institute. Kind of helps with the understanding the power of the ABT when you see it so effectively on display like this.

Here’s her very impressive website: http://www.adramaticimprovement.com

#100) The Atlantic demonstrates the ABT

It’s here, it’s there, it’s everywhere you look. Like this article in this month’s issue of The Atlantic. As Aaron Huertas says, it’s like the arrow in the Fedex logo — once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

ABTsville. Plain and simple — two opening clauses which could be connected with an “AND” (though would sound clunky), then the BUT, and SO which conveys the same force of consequence as THEREFORE.

ABTsville. Plain and simple — two opening clauses which could be connected with an “AND” (though would sound clunky), then the BUT, and SO which conveys the same force of consequence as THEREFORE.



YES, IT IS THAT SIMPLE AND COMMON

I continue to wage war against all the old farts who say “it’s not that simple.” Yes it is.

We’re definitely making progress. We’ve now run or are running 26 Story Circles. Yesterday we had an “ABT Build Session” with about 20 USDA veterans of Story Circles. It was 90 minutes of discussing and editing about 10 ABTs of the participants. It’s a standard aspect of Story Circles training which is both interesting and productive for everyone involved.

And then this morning I open this month’s issue of The Atlantic and there it is, plain as day — the ABT in the form of the little teaser at the start of an article about a psychiatrist written by David Dobbs who obviously has good narrative intuition.

It’s everywhere you find good communication. Yes, it is that simple.

#99)  The Great Barrier Reef:  If only “most people” were thoughtful

It’s the old Adlai Stevenson line from his 1952 Presidential candidacy.  A woman shouted to him, “All the thinking people are with you.”  He replied, “I’m afraid that won’t do — I need a majority.”  A tour operator in Australia says he’d like to think “most people” would like to know the truth about the decline of the Great Barrier Reef.  I’m afraid my experiences with the Florida Keys and elsewhere goes against that.  As our President would say, “Sad!”

NOT JON BRODIE.  Sorry, NPR, you might want to get your photo ID’s straight.  This is Terry Hughes.

NOT JON BRODIE.  Sorry, NPR, you might want to get your photo ID’s straight.  This is Terry Hughes.



GIVE ‘EM WHAT THEY WANT


Here’s yet another tragic article about the staggering levels of climate-induced coral death on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.  The news rips at my heart given the number of years I spent studying the reef back when coral bleaching was just a curiosity almost never seen on a broad scale.  Those days are long gone.

In this article a tourism operator offers this final, sadly idealistic comment:  “If you’ve got a fantastic product, but there’s a negative aspect of it, how do you deal with that negative aspect?” Edmondson asks. “It’s best, I think, to explain it because most people are understanding.

Sorry.  “Most people” actually aren’t understanding.  I’m afraid any publicist worth their salt would say, “DON’T SAY A WORD ABOUT THE NEGATIVE ASPECT!!!”

FLORIDA’S CORAL REEF FACADE


I saw this principle up close and personal in 2005 when a group in Florida brought me in to possibly run a “shifting baselines” campaign for the Florida Keys.  The idea would have been a public relations effort in which we would try to instruct the public on how beautiful the coral reefs of the Keys used to be, how impoverished they are today, and how we need their help to get them back to the old days (the baseline conditions).

I spent a week driving up and down the Keys talking to everyone on both sides of the conservation dynamic.  What I learned was that the Tourism Development Council (TDC) of the Florida Keys had a $10 million budget to produce brochures and TV commercials showing the most beautiful, healthy and colorful images of coral reefs … even if the materials had to come from the Bahamas or back in the 1960’s (because you can’t see those sights in the Keys today).

Literally.  That’s what one of the TDC commissioners confided to me.  He also said, “You’re not planning to show ‘the old black and whites’ are you?”

What he meant was the old black and white trophy photos of the 1920’s showing massive game fish on the docks of sizes that have not been seen in the area for decades.  He assured me they would run me out of town if I did.  (Loren McClenachan published this great example of the problem)

I left there telling my hosts who had invited me that unless they had a comparable budget (which they didn’t — their budget wouldn’t have been even one percent of TDC) it was hopeless.  It’s nice to dream of viral videos and communications miracles, but the truth is you mostly get what you pay for in communication (which is the biggest reason why science, being such cheapstakes with communications budgets, sucks at communication).

NOBODY WANTS TO WATCH DEAD CORAL REEF FOOTAGE


Combine that with what we heard in 2002 at our Round Table Evening in Santa Monica for Shifting Baselines.  We had two underwater cinematographers who talked about sending in their coral reef documentaries to Discovery Channel and National Geographic and having the producers chop off their part at the end where they show dead coral reefs and kvetch about the declining state of reefs.

Nobody wants to watch dead coral reefs on TV.  Actually, a few very smart people do — but they’re the same ones that Stevenson said aren’t enough of a resource to win with.  It’s a huge, sad dilemma.

Disneyland and Superheroes win in the end.  And as Bill Maher pointed out earlier this year in a brilliant monologue, when you have a nation that’s addicted to the fantasy nonsense of super heroes, you end up with a President like the one we now have.

And yet, the situation is not hopeless, it just needs greater focus on communication and marketing than the science and environmental worlds are willing to give.  And more importantly, it needs a deeper understanding by all of the eternal power of narrative.  End of story.