The Rosetta Stone, The Marauders Map, and Connections

In a recent post Mark at Fouroboros reminded me of the 'Connections' series of television shows by James Burke. I loved them, and speculated in the comments section of his post that 'lots' of bloggers would feel the same way. I was certain of it (as in 'hit me with a blunt object and I'll still answer the same'); but why?

A while back Fouro introduced me to something William James wrote many years ago: The Change Management Rosetta Stone

Late one night I pondered: Why does the 'Connections' series appeal so much to bloggers? And how can the 'Rosetta Stone' help explain about this?

For a while there was nothing but silence - and then an argument popped into my head:

According to James, a person cannot form a new opinion until he or she can rationalize it with the entire body of opinions that they already have. This doesn't mean that the new idea has to be in perfect alignment with every single existing opinion. Very few of us have a completely consistent set of opinions. The key is that the new idea has to be anchored strongly enough to some existing opinion(s) to resist the repulsive force of any conflicting ones. If the new idea closely aligns with a strongly held core value, it will withstand the internal conflict with lesser held contradictory opinions. The new idea could be weakly anchored to lots of other opinions and will take hold because it doesn't strongly conflict with any others.

The beauty of this theory is that these anchors are actual bioelectrical connections somewhere inside our skulls. There is a vast, pulsing web of them behind every smile or frown you encounter. Of course, most of them are not part of our conscious thoughts at any one time, but they all are there to facilitate or negate any new idea. Wouldn't it be great if we had a map of all these connections and anchor points so that we could speed opinion formation - especially one that worked at that subconscious level.

In the book Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry is given a magic map of Hogwarts that shows all the secret passages in the school (among other things). This Marauder's Map allows Harry to quickly get to wherever he wants to go without fear of detection. Wouldn't it be great to have a Marauder's Map of all the connections and anchor points in someone's head, especially one that worked at the subconscious level. Even better would be a map that worked on a vast majority of people. A sales and marketing director's dream! Or treasure map. Does such a map exist? Sure. There's a link to it on a previous post. Can you guess where I'm going with this?

Of course you can! I'm referring to Robert Cialdini's "Influence - The Psychology of Persuasion". In the book Prof. Cialdini reveals 6 'secret passages' for new opinion formation/anchoring. Like Harry's map, the secret passages of opinion formation were originally charted for nefarious purposes, but can also be used for good. In the audio version of Influence Cialdini admits as much.

The six 'secret passages' are:

  • Reciprocation

  • Commitment and Consistency

  • Social Proof

  • Liking

  • Authority

  • Scarcity

While each of these opinion-forming tools is powerful on its own, they're even more powerful in combination. That's why advertisers will use lines like:

Four out of five doctors [Authority AND Social Proof!] who chew tobacco recommend Sure Shot spitoons.

Wow! I feel the urge to buy one and I don't even chaw! [See, anyone can do it and your conscious mind may not even know what I'm they're up to. But your subconscious mind is busily cementing those connections. As long as the new opinions don't trigger a conflict with a critical mass of existing opinions, the Marauder's Map does work like magic.]

Learning is a process of opinion formation, and teachers can use the Marauder's Map, too. The theory and practice of Accelerated Learning heavily leverages the influence tools, particularly Social Proof and Commitment/Consistency - which just happen to be two of the strongest influence tools. AL strongly encourages course designers to devise activities where groups of learners [social proof] go out and discover ideas, and then bring them back for small group annealing followed by larger group presentation [commitment and consistency, since we have commitment to the ideas we created, and the multiple presentations reinforce and strengthen those opinions].

Of course, the secret passages of Influence aren't the only ways to accelerate learning. AL theory also stresses the SAVI model of learning:

  • Somatic - physical activity

  • Auditory - sounds and talking

  • Visual - pictures and drawing

  • Intellectual - reflecting, analyzing, internalizing

AL stresses using all of these modes, because each of us responds has different sensory preferences, and as a course designer I want to make the largest number of connections in the largest number of learner brains as possible.

Which brings us back to 'Connections'. Why does it appeal to bloggers - among many other people? If you've ready this far you can probably answer the question better than I can. Take a minute to guess what my answers will be.

What 'secret passages' will I identify?

What SAVI modes will I highlight?

Why am I asking these questions?

Two reasons:

1) To introduce one additional element, the draw of narrative tension. Have you ever experienced reading a book that you couldn't put down? Sure, we all have. Why was that? Sorry, answer left to the student so I can finish this post, but you know the power narrative tension has.
2) I'm using the Commitment/Consistency influence tool. If I can get you to think about the ideas I've expressed, they'll be much more strongly cemented in your brain [bwa ha ha!].

So here's my opinion on why 'Connections' has such a special appeal:

  1. Narrative Tension - I already gave this one away to you. Burke always started the show by asking how seemingly unconnected events were indeed connected, which engaged the Intellectual learning mode of our brains. They want to fill in the gaps.

  2. Authority and Liking - I'm not sure what it is about the British accent, but in America it both projects authority and appeals to the ear. Burke was a wonderful narrator, with command of the material and a genuine joy in sharing it.

  3. Social Proof - the stories were about people and their discoveries and opinions. As we see the people in the stories making connections, our brains want to do the same.

  4. Commitment and Consistency - Okay, I'm stretching here, but I think that as we begin to accept these connections, our brains become more receptive to additional ones. Each new one more easily grafts onto the ones preceding it, and our brain - having accepted all the previous ones - feels compelled to accepte the new one, unless it causes a significant conflict with something in the existing opinion set.

  5. SAVI presentation - The segments combined a rich combination of sights and sounds, which triggered emotional responses (if not physical activity). These factors facilitated connection-making across the entire range of audience sensory preferences.

  6. Sound research and narrative - because the show's content was well researched and presented in a logical fashion, the new connections were unlikely to be in conflict with an audience member's existing opinions. Even better, because the new connections were clear and consistent, they were easy for us to share with others. We got to feel smarter, and the sharing of the stories [Commitment] only made us more avid propoents/fans of the show.

Brilliant on so many levels it boggles the mind.

posted by Mike at 5:35 AM


Blogger John Eric Pollabauer said...

Hello Mike

Your blog post is well thoughtout and concisely written. Congratulations on a job well done.

1:52 AM  
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