Sunday, December 27, 2009

Writing to be Read - Teaching to be Remembered

Some of the most memorable lessons I had as a kid came from stories.  Who doesn't remember the lesson that "slow and steady winning the race" from the Tortoise and the Hare?  I bet you have similar lessons you remember from Aesop, Uncle Remus, and the Bible.

Of course, that's just kid stuff.  Right?

Maybe not.  When I was working as a manufacturing engineer, I was given a copy of "The Goal" by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox.  The book presented the Theory of Constraints, not exactly the most exciting of concepts.  Yet, I read the book from cover to cover in one sitting.  It wasn't the concept that kept me riveted, but the story.  "The Goal" was written as a novel.

It turns out that millions of people liked the format.  A book about a manufacturing concept sold millions of copies.

I've noticed a lot of well selling books use the form of a narrative, including "The Richest Man in Babylon," "The Wealthy Barber," "Rich Dad, Poor Dad," "The Greatest Salesman in the World," most Ken Blanchard books, and the books ("Freedom From Fear" and "A Simple Choice") by my friend, Mark Matteson.  People like to read stories.  This is why fiction outsells non-fiction.

Erika Holzer wrote the following about Ayn Rand in a blog about the resurgence of the great book, "Atlas Shrugged."
“One evening back in the mid-60s, when my husband and I were Ayn Rand’s lawyers [and] the three of us took a break from business . . . Rand drew a fascinating distinction about the impact that . . . fiction, as opposed to nonfiction, has on readers. ‘Reading non-fiction,’ she told us, ‘is mainly an intellectual exercise whereas fiction involves the reader in a personal experience. It’s the difference between reading a technical manual on flying a jet airplane as opposed to experiencing the actual sensation of hurtling through space in one. The manual may be educational, even stimulating, but the plane ride is happening to you.’” (Emphasis Rand’s.)
If you want to write to be read, write stories.  If you want your lessons to your team to be remembered, use stories and parables to make them more memorable.  The way Jesus taught a couple of thousand years ago still works. 

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