Goldilocks storytelling – getting your messages and metaphors just right


Business StorytellingThere has been lots of media coverage with headlines like this recently ‘New Planet Discovered 2010 Gliese 581G Another Planet Like Earth?

Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz states “It’s the Goldilocks planet. That’s a well-worn analogy, but in this case it fits. We had planets on both sides of the habitable zone—one too hot and one too cold—and now we have one in the middle that’s just right”…Like earth.

Like most people I can hardly remember the name of the new planet Gliese 581g. In contrast how sticky (memorable) is the term ‘Goldilocks planet’? And as most of us know the story of Goldilocks it makes instant sense and also becomes a talking point and worth repeating. This reflects our challenges in business: How can we have compact messages that are sticky, make instant sense and are worth repeating?

Dan and Chip Heath in their book ‘Made to Stick’ say with compact messages you have to pack a lot of meaning into a little bit of messaging. One way to do that is to use what is already there. You use flags and tap into the existing memory terrain of your audience. That is why the term ‘Goldilocks planet’ works because it is using what we already know. Goldilocks is a schema (pre recorded information in our memories) we already have.

I remember attending a conference where at the end of the day each team had to present a TV news bulletin on what they learnt. That was all the instruction we needed because the facilitator was tapping into existing schema.  We all knew exactly what a TV news bulletin would look like etc.

Use schemas well and they can do a lot of heavy lifting for you.  But please steer clear of anything tired and overused like sporting metaphors…they are YAWN boring and seldom work.