#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.

#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.