While things are not always easy in the business world, I can’t fathom what it would be like to make a living in politics. It’s fascinating as the presidential election nears to observe the lengths candidates and parties will go to in an effort to persuade voters to their platforms. Each election cycle, the methods seem to get louder and more outrageous, with listening and consensus-building a thing of the past. Can’t we all just get along and work for a common good? What’s stopping progress to that end? Recently I found a few articles that do a great job of explaining what’s going on. Interesting reading, whether you’re politically inclined or not.
- “Most arguments about politics never seem to get anywhere.” This lead sentence from How to argue better, according to science addresses the question of why intelligent, passionate people are rarely effective in convincing others to their point of view. It turns out that passion is not enough. Our moral foundations run strong and deep, and it’s difficult to move someone off a position that is congruent. This article does an excellent job of describing the moral foundations of the two major parties, and how arguments could be reframed to appeal to those of differing opinions. One timely example is regarding gun control.
- The Key to Political Persuasion echoes the same theme: “In business, everyone knows that if you want to persuade people to make a deal with you, you have to focus on what they value, not what you do.” The authors also see reframing messages as the solution, but it needs to be more than a parlor game to be successful: “Maybe reframing political arguments in terms of your audience’s morality should be viewed less as an exercise in targeted, strategic persuasion, and more as an exercise in real, substantive perspective taking.” Interesting results are reported from experiments on same-sex marriage, increased military spending and making English the official language of the U.S.
- NPR asks Is Arguing With Passion The Most Effective Way To Persuade Opponents? Nope. Reframing (again) is the solution. This brief article also gives the examples of gay marriage and English as the country’s official language.
Reframing can certainly be applied in the business arena. Too often we argue from our expert or authoritative position. How often do we think about the audiences we are trying to address and carefully articulate a rationale that more closely maps to their underlying concerns or perspective?
It’s challenging and takes time, but I believe would be more effective in the end.
I can remember a time when the only news programs on television were on CBS and NBC and late arrival to the game, ABC. Now, there is an explosion of news options, particularly online—and no two are alike. Here are a few of the newest providers that have captured my attention.
“Digg does curation: building products that make life smoother, simpler, and smarter. Re-founded in 2012, Digg now provides the most relevant and compelling content to millions of users a month. Using proprietary data sources and a crack editorial team, we cut through the clutter of the Internet and make sense of the noise so you don’t have to.”
Credentials: Digg was an early entry into this niche with its launch in 2004. After many stumbles, it shuttered in 2012, only to be reborn after its purchase by Betaworks (previously know for Tweetdeck, Chartbeat and Bitly).
What I like: Visually, Digg stands apart from other news curators. Its clean look is uncluttered by the onslaught of ads we’ve come to expect from other curators. Regarding content, it focused on the top stories gaining traction in cyberspace, going for quality rather than quantity.
“Medium is a different kind of place to read and write on the internet. A place where the measure of success isn’t views, but viewpoints. Where the quality of the idea matters, not the author’s qualifications. A place where conversation pushes ideas forward and words still matter.”
Credentials: Medium was launched in 2012 by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams as an invitation-only blogging platform. It has since opened up and evolved to include both professional and non-professional authors supplemented by talented editors.
“When we launched OZY, we had a big idea. Instead of bringing you yet another news site pulling together the latest stories from across the Web, we wanted to give you something better. We wanted to give you a news site you actually loved. From the start, we promised only original content, focused not simply on where the world is but, more importantly, where the world is going. And every morning, we set out to profile the people, places, trends and technology that are ahead of their time and worthy of yours.”
Credentials: Contributors include Bill Gates, Condoleezza Rice and Bill Clinton. Partners include NPR, CNN, USA TODAY, Huffington Post, PBS NewsHour, MSN and Axel Springer.
What I like: Stories are grouped into compelling themed sections: The Presidential Brief (a daily top ten list), Rising Stars, Provocateurs, Good Sh*t, Wildcard and more.
“Quartz is a digitally native news outlet, born in 2012, for business people in the new global economy. We publish bracingly creative and intelligent journalism with a broad worldview, built primarily for the devices closest at hand: tablets and mobile phones.”
Credentials: Quartz’s business focus comes naturally; its founding partners are Chevron, Boeing, Credit Suisse, Cadillac and GE. Their founding team has serious journalism pedigree and they have staff on the ground in key bureaus worldwide.
What I like: Obsessions. These are hot topics of interest to their writing staff, often those that might not make the front page of other outlets.
Last month two friends shared links to articles about the potential of a massive earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. This was news to me, as I had never even heard of the Cascadia subduction zone. Having a daughter attending college in the Northwest made the story relevant.
A well-written and engaging story in the New Yorker called The Really Big One by Kathryn Schulz instigated a flurry of reporting. What really set people off was this paragraph:
“…we now know that the odds of the big Cascadia earthquake happening in the next fifty years are roughly one in three. The odds of the very big one are roughly one in ten.”
The article went on to describe the massive amount of destruction and cited FEMA’s estimate of thirteen thousand deaths. The buzz in the common press was pretty significant, generating headlines like, “How to prepare for the big one” and “New massive earthquake projection is absolutely horrifying.” The response was so strong that the author wrote a follow-up article entitled How to Stay Safe When the Big One Comes, further fueling the buzz.
Residents of the Northwest are well aware that they live in an earthquake-prone area. Still, discussions have ramped up in the aftermath of the publicity. About a month ago, an event was staged at Oregon State University to inform the public and facilitate dialogue. All 560 seats in the large auditorium were full.
Coincidently, after seeing my friends’ posts, I was on a flight to the Pacific Northwest, and read The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail–but Some Don’t by noted statistician Nate Silver. One chapter is all about the science behind earthquake predictions and forecasts. What stuck with me was his simple and illustrative explanation: a PREDICTION is definitive and specific, with a clear when and where. A FORECAST is probabilistic statement over a longer time period.
There was something about the statistics and description in Schultz’s article that rubbed me the wrong way, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Silver’s definitions generated an “aha” moment: “prediction” and “forecast “are not synonyms, at least not in the field of seismology. The New Yorker pieces talk about the potential effects of this supposedly looming disaster as if it is a prediction. I believe the statistics weren’t clearly reflected, and, instead, it should have been treated as a forecast. Clearly, couching it as a predication makes for a more sensational story.
Let’s circle back to the data for a moment. The idea that the odds are one in three of a big quake occurring in the next fifty years is based on research led by professor Chris Goldfinger of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. Download a summary or the full report for further details. His explanation is that there have been 41 events in the past 10,000 years, or, on average, every 244 years. The last major event was in 1700, and therefore we’re “overdue.” This meets the sniff test for a reasonable forecast.
By the way, just to make sure this is clear, the one in three odds that is referred to does not mean that there is a 1/3 or 33% change in each of the next fifty years. It is a 33% chance for it to occur at any point within the 50-year span. This means that each year there is only a 1/150 or 0.66% chance.
The official position of the United States Geological Service is that earthquakes can’t be predicted. It’s easy to Google the topic and finds failures in both directions: predictions that say a quake is going to occur and it doesn’t, and large quakes that were not predicted even when signs were present. While the search is still on for a foolproof predictive model, perhaps speculators should stick to forecasts.
What I take from this is the realization that words matter. What may be considered good reporting isn’t always conceptually well grounded, even in respected publications. In today’s 24 x 7 media and social environment, stories expand and travel rapidly, regardless if their foundation is solid or not. As a consumer of media, it’s on me to verify and question what I’m ingesting.