Upgrade, don’t discard: The melodrama

Some students in Bob Sutton’s class on “Creating Infectious Engagement” wanted to persuade people to upgrade, not replace, their computers, for the sake of the environment. But where’s the emotion? Where’s the story? Well, voila: “Love the one you’re with.” With a star turn by Dan Wilson as the computer. (Doesn’t he worry about typecasting?)

“Canoe Man”

There are 6 principles of sticky ideas, and folks, Canoe Man has all 6. It’s no wonder why this bizarro tale has captivated the UK public.

Robert M brought it to our attention with this introduction: “Man vanishes at sea in 2002, only his battered kayak is found. Wife and two sons mourn, then wife claims life insurance 13 months later. Wife sells house and moves to Panama at the beginning of 2007. In Nov 2007 man walks into a police station, claiming to be the missing person who has lost his memory. Then, a photo turns up which shows man and wife in 2006 in Panama talking to a property developer. Sons are outraged because they were under the impression their father was dead.” And there’s more uncovered every day…

If someone doesn’t have the movie rights to this saga, I’m gonna make the first bid. In the meantime, go kill an hour and read up on the whole thing.

The Partition of Africa

Here’s a story we received from Peri Chinoda, an AP & Honors World History Teacher at Hume Fogg Magnet High School in Nashville:

Background Information: In 1885 the Chancellor of Germany, Otto Bismarck, convened a meeting attended by 13 European colonial powers including the USA and the Ottoman Empire. The Africans whose land was to be divided among the Europeans were not invited. The Europeans agreed on a number of things to ease colonization and prevent fighting among them.

Activity:Two or three students were asked to volunteer to bake cakes in the shape of the African continent. On the day of the lesson, I convened the conference with all other students representing European colonial powers and those who baked the cakes representing the Africans.

The “Europeans” gathered around arranged conference tables. The Africans were either sent outside the room or made to sit at the corner of the room.

The Europeans cut the cakes and divided the pieces among one another. The “Africans” who baked the cakes were not allowed to eat the cakes. They just watched other students eat the products/fruits of their labor.

After this activity: (a) The Europeans/students were to write down how they felt about eating the cakes while the people who baked the cakes were watching. The Africans/students were also to write how they felt when other students ate their cakes and they did not. (b) They were to read about the colonization of Africa, and write an essay reflecting on European Colonization of Africa.

Students talked about this experience for a long time. The lesson stuck on their minds for a long time. Even parents called the school expressing their appreciation for the experience their children went through to understand the process, effects and the moral issues involved in colonization.

Research: Stories make your brand stronger

Readers of Made to Stick could have predicted this outcome, but it’s interesting nonetheless: Brandweek reports on a research study that concludes stories work better than product positioning in advertisements. [Thanks to Francois at Zoommedia for the link!]

From the article:

One such pattern was that a campaign like Bud’s iconic “Wassup” registered more powerfully with consumers than Miller Lite low-carb ads that essentially just said, “We’re better than the other guys.” Why? Because Bud told a story about friends connected by a special greeting.

Tammy Is a Quitter

Here’s a story from Dave Rendall, who has a blog called the Freak Factor. (I love his post that argues that if you’re getting rejected, you’re doing something right.)

I hadn’t seen Tammy in almost a year, when she approached me in the hallway. I was there to teach an evening class for non-traditional students. She told me that her cohort was about to complete their last class and invited me to join the celebration. When I arrived, she was anxious to share some news.

Tammy had taken my course in Organizational Behavior the previous fall and one of the topics is change management. The classic model for this concept is Kurt Lewin’s force-field analysis, which helps managers to envision the driving forces pushing change and the restraining forces acting against change. By understanding and manipulating these forces, effective changes can be achieved. However, this is a relatively abstract concept and can become very complex in the context of an organization.

In order to make this concept stick, I use a few of the SUCCES principles from MTS. I start by keeping it simple. Instead of applying this model to an organization, I start by asking students to choose a meaningful change that they’ve been wanting to make in their own life, but haven’t started yet. Selecting a change that matters to them also creates an emotional link to the activity.

They write this change in the middle of a piece of paper and then I ask them why they want to make this change. These reasons are the driving forces and are listed on the left side of the paper on arrows pointing to the right. We then consider the barriers to making the change. These restraining forces are listed on the right side of the paper on arrows pointing left.

To make the activity more concrete, I try to physically illustrate the action of the two forces. I stand in front of the class with a chair and ask for a volunteer. The chair signifies the change, I am the driving forces and the volunteer is the restraining forces. I push the chair and the other student pushes back. The chair doesn’t move. It is “frozen.”

This illustrates the importance of “unfreezing,” which is the first part of Lewin’s change model. “Changing” occurs when driving forces are strengthened or added and when restraining forces are weakened or removed. Before explaining this, I ask the students how I can get the chair to move. The suggestions usually include the four options listed above. Without even reading the text, students can figure out how the process works in the physical world. In fact, during one class a student’s 10 year-old son was in the room. When I asked how to move the chair, the room was silent. The first person to respond was the young boy. He said, “Add more force!” He was exactly right and I was very pleased. I had made Lewin concrete and simple enough for a child to understand.

The activity is also credible because it offers a testable credential. Students are asked to assign numerical values to the strength of their driving and restraining forces. The cumulative scores for each set of forces shows why they haven’t made the change yet (not enough driving force and/or too much restraining force). We then work to increase driving forces and decrease restraining forces. The students always come up with creative ideas that they can apply to their own life. We discuss these as a class so students can see for themselves how it can work in their situation and those of their classmates.

I also share stories of how I’ve used this model to create change in my life. Each time I teach this concept, I choose a change that I want to make and work through the exercise along with the students. This creates a growing list of stories of success and failure, which brings us back to Tammy.

She wanted to start her own business. During the course of the exercise, she explained her driving and restraining forces. I asked if it was possible that her current job might also be a restraining force. Since she liked her job and was paid well, she did not have a lot of natural motivation to go out on her own. Even though she had a good job, it might actually be a barrier to achieving her change. I don’t recall her response at the time and I didn’t think much about it or hear anything from her until ten months later.

When I went to her classroom, she explained that she quit her job shortly after class and started her own business as a Spanish language interpreter. The business was even more successful than she anticipated and she was very happy. She credited the Lewin exercise for giving her the necessary insight and motivation to make a major change in her life. Needless to say, this is a story that I now share with classes to demonstrate the potential power of applying Lewin’s force-field analysis.