If you’ve ever tried to communicate your big idea to your team, colleagues, or maybe even outside struggled with getting your ideas heard, you’ll want to watch my interview with story guru Tamsen Webster.
Tamsen’s the author of Find Your Red Thread: Make Your Big Ideas Irresistible, and shows us how to shift our ideas so that others can get onboard faster. These ideas are powerful even if you’re not a speaker or trying to sell your ideas—you’ll use these concepts every time you have to persuade, advocate, or ask something of someone!
Support these ideas & the author by buying Tamsen’s book here
(Note: Amazon links are affiliate links, which means if you buy here, Amazon puts a few cents in my account return. But please buy the book wherever you prefer.)
Here’s a transcript of our chat
It’s slightly edited for readability, but since we humans speak differently than we write, I’ll ask you to forgive errors of grammar or repetition.
Darcy Eikenberg, Red Cape Revolution:
Today I am excited to welcome to Red Cape Revolution Tamsen Webster. And her book, Find Your Red Thread: Make Your Big Ideas Irresistible, is on sale now. Tamsen, thanks so much for spending some time with me here today.
My pleasure, Darcy. I’m excited to meet you and your audience.
Yes. So, your book is all about helping us make our ideas irresistible. And maybe even making our ideas heard. But tell me, what is YOUR red thread?
Well, my red thread is this desire to help people close the gap between the potential that they see in their idea and the reality that people are experiencing it for right now. And what I found is that the best way to do that is to focus less on making your case for your ideas, and more on making your audience’s case for your ideas.
Throughout my whole career, that’s been where I started from, “Hey – how do we find the most powerful aspect of this organization? Or this idea, this initiative? Or how do we get people on board with this thing that we’re trying to do?” Now that we’ve done that, what is it that’s really going to work? And how can we replicate that process over and over again?
I don’t know anybody who’s not working in the field of ideas, even if they’re in IT or in something that seems structured, we’re all trying to communicate our points and influence somebody else. And what I just heard you say that I think was interesting and I’d love to hear a little bit more about, is that it’s less about what I’m trying to say, but more of making sure that I’m understanding how they’re going to hear it.
That is absolutely it. Yes. And I think that for a lot of us is a very unintentional challenge that we run into. We want to believe and in fact, there’s a known psychological loophole that we can fall into that, generally, we believe that other people see the world the same way that we do. So, it makes sense to us that when we start talking about our ideas, that we just start talking about our ideas the way that we look at it. And yet, we forget that there’s a couple of things in play here that make that not necessarily the best approach.
The first is that nobody knows more about your idea than you do, so there’s a big gap in expertise and knowledge. And if you talk to somebody who’s essentially a novice or they’re hearing an idea for the first time, from the perspective of you who knows all of its ins and outs, you’re very likely to lose them in the details. That’s something I hear from my clients a lot. They’re like, “I just get down on the weeds, and I lose people.” And that makes total sense.
A person’s knowledge.
Person knowledge writ large, it’s hard. I don’t think it’s impossible. But it is very, very difficult unless you’re consciously thinking about it, to imagine what it’s like to remember what it was like not to know everything you know.
So that leads to a second problem that often happens when we’re trying to communicate with people or persuade people or influence people. And that is that we oftentimes start from our point of view, which is we start from the point of view that what we’re talking about is correct, and right, and the best answer. We forget that that is not where our audience starts. They have to be convinced that it’s right. More importantly, or I find more effectively, they need to convince themselves that what you’re saying is right. And that’s where really that whole approach comes from. Okay, if that’s what has to happen, how can we build their case from the beginning, so that they don’t have to do as much work and that we can feel like we’re going to have a much higher probability of success in getting that person persuaded and having that influence and creating that change in thinking or behavior that we’re looking for.
So what I hear you saying is that finding a point of agreement or a point of common ground first. And I know you share a few examples in the book. You talk a lot about some of the DeBeers diamonds that the message that has now become pretty universal around a diamond is forever. But that story wasn’t as simple as just coming up with a tagline.
No, I think one of the reasons why I love that as an example is that it’s an example of a story that many of us have come to tell ourselves about why a diamond is, for some of us, the ideal symbol of a commitment between two people. And that is not the case. That absolutely is an invented story. And it’s a story that happened at the market level and not the individual level. But in order for it to happen at the market level, it had to be successful at the individual level first. So, I use that example because it starts from this kind of this shared goal, right? So the audience for DeBeers was people who would potentially be buying jewelry. But more specifically, it was people who had a goal of symbolizing their commitment in the best way possible. And people may not have articulated it that way, but these were people who were getting married, and they wanted to symbolize their commitment somehow. Then they’re not going to look for the worst thing, right? They’re gonna look for the best that they can, given their circumstances, right?
And so it’s a shared goal, because DeBeers wants that, too. They just wanted it to be a diamond ring. But the challenge at the time was that most people didn’t focus on the stones as being where that symbol of commitment came from. When people thought about, “Hey, our commitment is forever,” what they looked at as the symbol was the unbroken metal circle of the ring. Because a circle with no beginning and no end is, by the way, a perfectly good symbol of forever, wouldn’t you agree? And people did until they were presented with an additional option. What DeBeers wanted people to do is to focus not just on the ring, but the kind of ring. They knew that that was the shift that had to happen before people would buy and do something different. And that’s where that timeline comes in.
So when people heard for the first time back in 1947, that a diamond is forever, what they heard was something that many people agreed was literally true: that a diamond is a very difficult substance to destroy. For all intents and purposes, it lasts forever. Now you combine that with the fact that they want the best symbol, and they hadn’t been thinking about this kind of extra level of forever they could put in there—they hadn’t been thinking about that kind of ring—they hear a diamond is forever. Now their brain does that calculation, they’re like, “Well, if I want the best symbol, and a diamond is forever and so is the ring, well, I can double down on my forever and have like a “forever” forever symbol by seeing the stone is the symbol too.” And that, as we all know, ended up kind of turning into now the “best” symbol is a diamond ring, because a diamond is forever. It’s just such a fascinating example of how that can happen and how, again, sometimes one piece of information is enough to help build that story.
In your book, you have examples from a marketing point of view, and I know you’ve done work as a marketing and brand strategist. But also, you talk about how people can apply it to their own messages, and especially internal things in organizations. We often think, “well, that’s not very sexy,” or we’re just trying to tell people what they need to do. But obviously, we need to engage people. We need people to share in that story. For people that are watching who are in internal roles (HR, communication, internal marketing, consulting), I’m curious, what are some of the things that they can take away from finding your red thread? Find your red thread to help them get their points across more and be able to create change that they want to make?
Oh, absolutely. My first job out of grad school was a brief but enduring turn as a change management consultant. Well, I worked as a research associate at this consulting firm while I was still in grad school, and then I worked there for about a year afterward. But then I decided to go back to my first love, which was museums and is not where I ended up. But that’s a whole other story. I say enduring because I don’t think I ever stopped being a change management consultant, meaning I never stopped figuring out how is it that you can make change more attractive, easier. How you can raise the probability of success of a new idea, a new initiative, or something along those lines. It isn’t probably the most standout example in the book, but there is an internal communication example in the book where an internal team needed to persuade their executive team to invest in a new hire.
The thing is that a lot of times when we are trying to argue for something, whether it’s a new hire or a shift in policy or something like that, we tend to think that if we just actually explain everything enough that people will come to the same conclusion. But we forget that people already have these stories that they’re already telling themselves in their heads. The only thing that’s going to replace an existing story is a better story. What we need to be doing is not just explaining what our ideas are, or what the change is that we’re looking for, or the thing that we’re asking for, we need to find a really effective way to argue for it to make the case for it. And what’s surprising is that that’s really not something that most of us are taught to do. Yet it is critical, particularly for internal communications, for us to be good at that. Because if we’re not able to argue for our ideas, if we’re not able to argue for our team members, for ourselves, then we’re likely not serving either ourselves or our team or even our companies, as well as we could
I’m hearing the voice of some folks that are watching basically saying “Argue? I don’t want to argue. I don’t want to have to push things. I want people to hear. I want people to respond. I want people to see the world the way that I see them.” And you have this concept in your book and actually, a funny illustration called the Duck Bunny. Tell us a little bit about the Duck Bunny and about helping people see what you see or helping you see what they see.
Absolutely. Alright, so the first quick side point here is, and when I mean to argue, I think it is really tempting to think about the argument as a fight, right? Rather than argue is making a case for something, an explanation that is powerful enough to drive someone to action. That’s really what I’m talking about. To do that though, we have to do certain things. I found in my experience, we have to do certain things in a certain way. And this Duck Bunny, more officially known as the Rabbit Duck Illusion. Duck Bunny is more fun to say though.
I like Duck Bunny.
Duck Bunny is the mascot of a really important feature of that case that you make for your idea. The illusion is that it’s a drawing, and depending on how you look at it, and literally, it’s just how you shift your focus, it either looks like a duck, or it looks like a bunny. I think this is such a wonderful illustration of what really needs to happen inside someone’s mind in order for this kind of shift and thinking to happen. Because in my very unscientific experiments, a slight majority of people tend to see the duck first. So I describe the duck as people’s current perspective, the way they’re currently looking at a situation.
Just like in the story of the DeBeers diamond, how most people were looking at the ring as the symbol. What we need to do essentially is get people who have been seeing the picture as a duck, is to get them to start looking at the bunny. Instead, we need to start seeing not just the ring, but the kind of ring. The Duck Bunny is the mascot for this idea for three reasons. One is, no matter which one you see, whether it’s the duck or bunny, no matter which you see first, you’re right. This is important when you’re making the case for your ideas. Because it allows you to validate somebody’s current approach. That’s really important because most people are not going to be as open to listening to you if you start by rejecting their current behavior.
If you start by saying “no, no, you’re doing it wrong,” it’s an extraordinarily natural human reaction to be like, “No, no, you’re wrong.” By saying to someone, “oh, you see it as a duck, I see why you see it as a duck.” Dr. Robert Cialdini talks about this as reciprocity for them to say, “Oh, well, you just saw it my way.” “Tell me about your way and maybe I can see it your way. It doesn’t mean I’m going to go there. But tell me.” So, it opens people up to that.
The second reason why I love the Duck Bunny as a mascot for this is that you can shift. Once you know that the other one exists, you can agree that both are there. If you say saw the duck first, and when you tell people there are two animals there to see, or if you say, “Alright, here’s the duck, do you see the bunny?” They agree that the second one is there, right? Not only are they more open by presenting and validating their current perspective, but the second thing we’re really trying to do is find another perspective that they would agree, again without much convincing, it’s just a presentation of information, that there’s another way to look at it.
And then the third and last, reason, why I love this as a mascot, is to have all of that happen, you don’t manipulate the image at all. It’s existing information. This is a lesson that I’ve learned over and over again, both in my official jobs in marketing and brand strategy, but also, as a person working in organizations trying to get my job done. That the more efficiently you can do that, the less effort you have to engage in someone, in order to get them over to your side, the better. What I’ve discovered is that the least effortful way for somebody else to make a change and it turns out to be the more the most effective way, is to anchor your change in what they already want and believe to be true; to not say, “I know you’re seeing a duck right now. But don’t look at that picture, look at this picture.”—translating that to somebody else. “I know you want this to happen at the organization, but I need you to want this to happen instead.” That is a very difficult and effortful shift both for the people that you’re talking to, to have happen and for you because you have to do that much work.
So the last reason why I like the Duck Bunny so much is that it really helps anchor people in that reminding them that you’re trying to base your argument fully within someone’s current worldview: what they already want, what they already believe, what they’re already seeing in front of them.
I think that’s so powerful to be able to meet people where they are. In my old consulting days, we have a saying called: match, pace, lead. But in order to be able to be on the same page and to connect with somebody, it’s where are they? and be able to match them. Then being able to set the pace with them, as opposed to, fighting them to be able to bring them to where you need to go.
I also think it’s an interesting concept. I run into this a lot and it’s actually one of the chapters in my book. It’s around rewriting your story for yourself because so often, I find, we might only be seeing the duck in our lives and our work, and yet being able to step outside enough to say, “you know what else is really happening here? I’m not just this or just that, but actually, what is that bigger thing that I’m connecting to? As we think about telling our stories, and about influencing others for opportunities, or for just being able to take control of our careers. I think being able to learn how to find not only the red thread and the things that you’re trying to influence but also in what your own personal story is, can be hugely powerful.
That’s the kind of secret bonus prize of the book. Because it’s the thing that I see over and over with my clients, and it shows up a little bit differently, depending on whether it’s individuals or organizations. But for individuals, oftentimes, they’re coming to me, because there’s a specific manifestation of their message they’re trying to get out. They are trying to create a pitch for investors, or they’re trying to outline a new keynote or draft a book proposal or something like that. For organizations that are often trying to get their go-to-market messaging or something like that. But in each case, even though they come to me because they’re looking for a very specific deliverable and a manifestation of this idea, almost always they come out realizing that this actually helps them, not just understand their brand better, but understand why their brand is the way that it is. Why is it that they do what they do, the way that they do it.
Or for individuals, why have all those twists and turns that they’ve taken with their career, or all these different interests that they have, that in fact there is something, a red thread, that connects them together. That knowledge and that clarity that can come from that is extraordinarily powerful because what had been kind of an unconscious manifestation, unconscious processing, unconscious actions, becomes a very, very conscious and focused one. And you’re right! There’s always an opportunity, once you know what it is to say, “Oh, well, that piece actually isn’t consistent with the core things that I want to be about. So, let’s take this piece off, let’s bring this piece in.” It can just be a real transformational moment for both individuals and organizations.
The intentionality of it, again goes back to taking control and being able to help other people see that message and you be able to do the things you want to do. Tamsen, I think this is great. The book is called Find Your Red Thread. It’s available anywhere that you go pick up your books. So Tamsen, where else can people find out more about you and your work?
Sure! I am literally the only Tamsen Webster in the universe. So it’s not hard to find me…
Welcome to Darcy Eikenberg!
So great. As you can see, I have my pages marked, Tamsen, as I continue to work on my ideas and make my ideas stronger. I love having your guidance here in the book and you here today at Red Cape Revolution. Thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it.
You’re so kind to have me on. Thank you.
Find out more about Tamsen here.
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