#31 No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.
Storytelling, surprising and magic of infographics
Wes Kao shared a really insightful Twitter thread around storytelling. Her core idea revolves around breaking the myth that a backstory is necessary for high-impact communication. She argues that we need to be very mindful of the promise of a backstory. Non-essential backstory can rob you of the time & attention that your core arguments deserve. Make no mistake - context is important, but a non-essential backstory is not the same as context.
It reminded me of a snippet FF daily had shared a while back on storytelling. I am taking the liberty to quote it as-is for your reference.
Most people know a lot of good stories, but don’t know how to tell them. How do you get it right? Chris Anderson attempts to answer this question in The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. He begins by showcasing how a good story is told.
“Once, when I was eight years old, my father took me fishing. We were in a tiny boat, five miles from shore, when a massive storm blew in. Dad put a life jacket on me and whispered in my ear, ‘Do you trust me, son?’ I nodded. He threw me overboard. [pause] I kid you not. Just tossed me over! I hit the water and bobbed up to the surface, gasping for breath. It was shockingly cold. The waves were terrifying. Monstrous. Then … Dad dived in after me. We watched in horror as our little boat flipped and sank. But he was holding me the whole time, telling me it was going to be OK. Fifteen minutes later, the Coast Guard helicopter arrived. It turned out that Dad knew the boat was damaged and was going to sink, and he had called them with our exact location. He guessed it was better to chuck me in the open sea than risk getting trapped when the boat flipped. And that is how I learned the true meaning of the word trust.”
And here’s how not to tell it:
“I learned trust from my father when I was eight years old and we got caught in a storm while out fishing for mackerel. We failed to catch a single one before the storm hit. Dad knew the boat was going to sink, because it was one of those Saturn brand inflatable boats, which are usually pretty strong, but this one had been punctured once and Dad thought it might happen again. In any case, the storm was too big for an inflatable boat and it was already leaking. So he called the Coast Guard rescue service, who, back then, were available 24/7, unlike today. He told them our location, and then, to avoid the risk of getting trapped underwater, he put a life jacket on me and threw me overboard before jumping in himself. We then waited for the Coast Guard to come and, sure enough, 15 minutes later the helicopter showed up—I think it was a Sikorsky MH-60 Jayhawk—and we were fine.”
“The first story has a character you care about and intense drama that builds to incredulity before being beautifully resolved. The second version is a mess. The drama is killed by revealing the father’s intent too early; there’s no attempt to share the actual experience of the kid; there are too many details included that are irrelevant to most of the audience, while other germane details like the giant waves are ignored. Worst of all, the key line that anchors the story, ‘Do you trust me, son?,’ is lost.”
Storytelling is an art - a tough one to master at that. But then, we can easily practice it every day. The friction to get started is nil, and if you have good friends & well-wishers around you, the feedback can be plenty.
On that note, let’s get to this week’s stories below.
Lionel Messi won the men's Ballon d'Or for a record-extending seventh time this year. Like always, any such accolade comes with its own controversies and comparisons. And they may be fair, for all I know. I’m no football fan, so I won't talk about those aspects today. This recent coverage reminded me of an old story by FiveThirtyEight. Lionel Messi is Impossible is a sports analysts take on his performance. If you love your numbers and metrics, this post has plenty of brain food for you.
Trung Phan had done a Twitter thread on Messi's magic sometime back. He had tried answering why Messi is mostly seen walking leisurely on the pitch. Quick and very interesting read, indeed.
Ok, there are professionals called surprisologist. And what do they do? Simple - they curate delightful experiences for both individuals and teams. No surprises there, you see.
Tania Luna is a surprisologist. She shared a beautiful story about surprises in her ted talk and expanded it further with this blog titled 8 tips to make one's life more surprising. Below are 3 beautiful gems from her post:
Commit to the mindset and process of surprise. It's not always serendipity, your efforts can make it feel like one.
Get to the pot of gold on the other side of awkward. The usual is boring and hardly surprises. It's the risk and the uncertainty that provides the shine.
Get lost. If you always know where you’re going, you’ll never get someplace new.
And as a finisher, here's the real kicker.
Keep a Surprise Opportunity Log. Anytime someone mentions something they love or have always wanted to try, jot it down and put to good use in the future. Surprising others is as much fun as surprising yourself.
I love stationery stuff. Pencils, pens, post-it notes, diaries and whatnot! I don’t use them much. It’s the joy of seeing these small yet beautiful objects that excites me. I came across a bunch of articles recently covering pencils. These are fascinating stories of their past and present. A graphic artist cherishes her pencils like a lover. Austin Kleon's 'The comfort of a pencil' tells one such love story.
Here’s another one about alcohol markers. I did not how involved these products can be if you really want to get to the ‘pro’ zone.
If you’re a stationery aficionado, then you should subscribe to Inky Memo's newsletter. They share some really fun & exciting pieces like this.
Infographics can be a great way to teach. And to tell a story. And to entertain. I wonder what fuels such beautiful articulation!
Exhibit #1: How to identify that light in the sky?
Source: Leauge of Lost Causes
Some random goodness from the internet:
Instagram: @national_archaeology shares some of the most beautiful sights from Mother Nature. Some of the shots are just magical.
Deck: FB’s internal presentation around motivation, pain points and opportunities for the Young Adult group. It’s a good read on this demography (may not be applicable as-is outside FB context, but has captured the general vibe fairly well).
List: 52 things that I learned in 2021 by Tom Whitwell is a good curation of some of the most interesting stories (and a one-line take away from them) from 2021. A quick read of the list is good fun; read the original posts if you like the summary.
Fun moments: NPR’s joy generator is the place to go when you want to bring a smile to your face anytime you get stuck. It’s fascinating how such tiny things can create instant joy.
Before we sign off, here's a snapshot of a tweet worth saving from one of my favourite Pixar movies Ratatouille.
That's all for this week, folks!
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Edits: Numbered the title and fixed a typo. Thanks Ranga for pointing it out.
Great curation! Particularly loved the bits on storytelling as I've been trying to analyze my writing of late. On the infographics point, there's this thing called cognitive load theory which says the lower the cognitive load, the better the retention. And one specific load, called extraneous load, relates to how information is presented and to instructional design. Scott Young is very good at this. You may want to check https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/