There is a great chasm in our culture. This is the reason fifty-five-year-old bosses are clueless when it comes to motivating and dispatching their younger workforce. This is why parents feel adrift when communicating with their pre-teen and teenage children. This is why we don’t get along.
What causes this? It is the cultural divide between Modernists and Post-Modernists.
In case these are terms with which you’re unfamiliar, let me give you the basics.
The facts are these. If you were born before the latter twentieth century, you grew up in the age of Modernity. By definition, you are a Modernist. You were born in a time that was influenced by the Age of Reason (or, Enlightenment) that dates back to the early 1700s. This was an era that put high value on reason and promoted the idea of liberty. Modernists grew up believing that if one stacks enough facts on top of one another—one will come to a clear and incontrovertible conclusion. And what’s more, it doesn’t really matter how one feels about that conclusion. Modernists believe in absolute values.
On the other hand, for those born in the late twentieth century and beyond, you have grown up in the Post-Modern age. Post-Modernists reject the beliefs of the Modernists. Instead, they embrace the belief that there is no absolute truth, “if it feels good—do it.” They say to Modernists, “If you really do have the truth, why don’t you act more lovingly and gently toward others?”
Frankly, I believe both sides are right…and both sides are wrong. I do believe there is such a thing as absolute truth…absolutely! However, I am sensitive to Post-Modernists who criticize Modernists for what they perceive to be an attitude of arrogant self-righteousness.
One Critical Concept
With that as our introduction, here is an important (spelled c-r-i-t-i-c-a-l) concept: If we Modernists ever hope to touch and impact the Post-Modern mind, we need to lead with the story.
This has been a tough learning curve for me. Like so many other leadership and motivational speakers, I have stood before many audiences and said, “The longest 15” trip in the world is from our heads to our hearts.” I believed it. That’s why I said it. After all, it had always been true in my experience. In my world, the facts (or mind) led. Then, it went south to the emotions (or heart).
But, I don’t believe that anymore…especially when it comes to communicating with Post-Modernists. These younger people aren’t wired the way their parents were. As a matter of fact, many don’t want the data, facts, or truth until they first see the purpose, benefits, and meaning.
Frankly, I believe they actually have something here. As the old saying goes, “If you want them to build a boat…begin by creating a love for the sea.”
So, here is a different (but I believe, far more effective) way to get between the ears of our younger cohorts: Lead with the story.
In other words, touch their hearts before you share the facts. After all, when one is emotionally and philosophically bought-in, they will naturally want the facts, details, and data that confirm what they have grown to believe.
I call this the G.B.E. I coined this phrase many years ago when I was teaching college-level advertising and marketing. My point was that no advertiser is going to sell a lot of product until he touches the audience’s hearts. Once you touch their heart and give them Goose Bumps (G.B.E. stands for the Goose Bump Effect), they are much more likely to listen to your message.
I frequently illustrate this concept when I speak to audiences with my McDonald’s story. It goes like this:
I didn’t see the McDonalds’ TV commercial this past Christmas, but something I bet you didn’t see was some middle-aged guy in a white lab coat standing there holding a hamburger and saying, “Hi. I’m from McDonald’s and we want you to eat more of our hamburgers. They taste great. Never mind the triple-bypass. Remember, we make a profit on every burger sold. Eat more of our hamburgers.”
No you didn’t see that. But a TV commercial the hamburger company might do might go like this: We open in a beautiful living room festively decorated for Christmas. The fireplace is glowing and right next to it is a wonderfully decorated Christmas tree. On the other side of the fireplace is a big, green, overstuffed chair. Right between the green, overstuffed chair and the fireplace is a little, round table. And standing in front of the little, round table is Tyler. Tyler is four years old and he’s laying out cookies on the table. About that time, Tyler’s big brother comes through the living room dribbling his basketball. He looks at his little brother and says, ‘Tyler, what are you doing?’
Tyler looks back and says, ‘I’m putting cookies out for Santa Claus…he’s coming tonight, don’t you know?’
With that big brother laughs and says, ‘Tyler that’s crazy! There’s no such person as Santa Claus!’ And, with that, he dribbles his basketball out of the living room…leaving the crushed, broken shell of a little brother.
Next scene: Tyler’s lying in bed, crying, ‘No Santa? There’s got to be a Santa…I know what I’ll do! I’ll go downstairs and check. If my cookies are gone—that proves that Santa is real!’
So Tyler leaves his bed with his teddy bear and his blanket in his hands. He goes downstairs into the dark living room. But the fireplace is still glowing. As he reaches the big, green, overstuffed chair, Tyler’s little feet glue to the floor. He gets his courage up and walks around the chair to his little, round table…and both cookies are still there. His brother is right—there’s no such person as Santa. So Tyler turns to go back to bed. But just as his foot reaches the first stair, a big, white-gloved hand drops down on Tyler’s little set of shoulders. And, the voice from the hand says, ‘Tyler, I’m sorry I’m late…but I really do like your cookies…Merry Christmas!’
Only then does the McDonald’s logo come onto the screen. And only for the purpose of reminding us that this is the company that has brought us this tender, heart-touching moment.
This is one of the reasons why McDonalds is the most successful restaurant chain in the history of the world…they know how to tell the story and touch hearts.
So here’s my question: If you have a message that deserves to be communicated, like the message of Jesus Christ, doesn’t it behoove you to learn how to communicate it effectively? And, these days, the best way to do it is to start with a story. Give them goose bumps. Touch their hearts.