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GRANTED: The value of forgetting and the future of work
Last year, I was preparing for the biggest speech of my career when a question from a coach stopped me in my tracks: “What do you want the audience to feel?”
At first I was offended by the question. I don’t want the audience to feel. I want them to think. My favorite definition of persuasion comes from Chris Anderson: “the act of replacing someone’s worldview with something better.” I was hoping to reason with the audience’s worldview, not emote with it.
But upon reflection, I can’t think of a more important question about communication. On issues that people hold dear, to change what they believe, you have to change what they want to believe. That means I had to appeal to passion and reason (if you’re a disciple of Hume), pathos and logos (if you’re an Aristotelian), heart and mind (if you’re a speaker of plain English).
So I sat down begrudgingly (only later did I lament that I was emoting) to decide what I wanted my audience to feel. Inspired? No. I’m a teacher, not a preacher. Leave inspiration to gurus leading people on spirit walks across hot coals and then trying to inspire their second-degree burns to heal in a flash. Confident? Definitely not; too Stuart Smalley. Moved? Nope, not comfortable with anyone breaking down into tears.
Eventually I settled on three emotions: surprised, fascinated, and amused. It’s probably not a coincidence that these are my three favorite emotions to feel when I’m sitting in an audience—we all want to deliver the talks we most love to watch. Surprise appeals to me because we learn the most when our assumptions are challenged, when our expectations are shattered. It also resonates because I used to be a magician (though my wife is fond of reminding me of a Family Guy mantra: magicians are on the second-to-last rung of the hierarchy of entertainers, right between ventriloquists and mimes). Fascination matters because it means we’re not just awake but jazzed to learn more. As for amusement, laughter is as much fun to give as receive—and it’s also the most audible and visceral cue that the audience is on board.
Anyway, I think this is a question we should all ask whenever we communicate something that really counts. What do you want your audience to feel?
Now let’s go back to the thinking. Here are some of the articles I enjoyed most this month:
1. Forgot Where You Parked? Good.
To remember something, read it twice with a long break in between. Forgetting leads to relearning, which improves retrieval.
2. Are You a Self-Interrupter?
After spending two minutes answering an email, it takes 68 seconds to get back on task. To stay focused, we need to stop interrupting ourselves.
3. The Future Is Emotional
Emotional work is undervalued. Skills in care, connection, and compassion have always mattered, but they're becoming increasingly vital.
4 Humor Is Serious Business
The cardinal rule of humor at work: make fun of yourself, not others. This article made me laugh out loud more than once.
From My Desk:
5. Christopher Nolan Wants You to Silence Your Phones
I had the chance to interview the filmmaker behind Inception, Dunkirk, Memento, and Batman Begins about his creative process. He highlighted the importance of intrinsic motivation (don’t worry too much about grades—in the real world, no one is even grading your paper) and being patient with yourself (don’t fret about what you’ve done in a particular day as long as you’ve made progress by the end of the week).
6. How to Be a Writer on Social Media
At its best, social media isn't about self-promotion. It's about idea-promotion: sharing your work and elevating the work of others.
Submit your own questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your first name and city, or ask to be anonymous, and I'll pick a few next month to answer here.