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Content | Sean L. Womack
Warning: Not Everything Has A Story

Warning: Not Everything Has A Story

When bad things happen, we want to find a cause. This is a dangerous habit.

When something bad happens there can only be two scenarios:

1. There is someone or something that caused it and it is clear to everyone.

2. There does not seem to be any reason for it to have happened.

On the first case, we have to be careful jumping to conclusions. Nobel-prize winning researcher Daniel Kahneman points out in his book Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow that our brains have two systems.

System one is fast and intuitive and looks for causal links. It is the story part of our brains. It loves to look backward, connect events and create a plausible story. The problem is that it gets the story wrong. A lot.

System two is our slow brain. It is analytical and works out the problems. It can use probability and statistics. It realizes that sometimes the obvious answer is wrong. But it gets overrun by System One all the time.

So when Scenario 1 above happens, we jump to conclusions about the reasons. Someone trips on a curb and falls and breaks their wrist. The cause? Let’s look at a few options:

The curb. Is the curb built to standard height? Did someone take a shortcut? Is the concrete crumbling from a hard winter?

Or they were in a hurry. Why were they hurrying? Did the electricity go off and cause the alarm clock to shut off too? Were they out late on a drinking binge? Caring for a sick child?

Or they were wearing new shoes. Going to a job interview? For a new company? Or because they got fired? Why did they get fired?

As you can see, finding a real root cause is hard work. We should not jump to conclusions. Research alone won’t give us the picture. And averages don’t really work because it is a random event we are talking about. If it happens all the time, then it is easier to isolate.

What about Scenario 2 above?

I’d like to propose there is only one scenario when dealing with a seemingly random event. We don’t know the real cause. Ever. Especially in random events. And this is hard. Especially when the event is bad for someone.

So, what do we do when something bad happens? I’d like to propose a simple response.


Why wait? Because only time will tell you if the event is random or part of an on-going pattern. If one person trips, then it doesn’t mean anything. Oh, it does to the person sure. But not in the larger picture.

But if 100 people trip. Well, then you need to do something about it.

This holds true for many decisions we make in life and business. Waiting is essential. And sometimes no decision is the best decision. And don’t read a message or a meaning into every random event in life.

We cannot control what we cannot control. But we can control our response. And staying calm and moving on is often all we can do. Especially when bad things happen.

Hop over to G+ to discuss.

We are not characters in our own story

We are not characters in our own story

I hear people talk about their story a lot. I know what they mean, or at least I think I do, and I don’t know if I agree with this whole idea. I don’t feel like I am living in a story. I feel like I am watching one. I don’t think I am a character in my own life. I am the camera filming the action happening in front of me. I don’t see myself in this story. I see everyone else. I’m not in my story, I’m in theirs. They are capturing my actions. They see my choices. I am a character in their story.

We are the camera. We observe life. We watch it, record it, see it from our own point of view. Some of us find interesting angles to view it from. Some of us just sit there like we are a camera on a tripod, watching from a still point. But regardless of how we move through life, we do not show up in the story we are watching, everyone else does.

This means that we are characters in everyone else’s story. I am in your story because you are reading this, and your are in mine because you are reading this.

The question is, “what role am I (are we) playing in the lives of others?” Am I an antagonist in someone’s story? Are we a confidant, a sage, a love interest, a Jester, a hero? What role are we playing? What kind of character do I want to be to my wife, my children, my friends and colleagues?

There are so many wonderful characters in my life. So many friends, sages, heroes. I am blessed by them. I don’t deserve such an amazing cast of characters. Thank you for playing your parts so well.

But there are some antagonists, too. How does my camera capture them? What is my POV on them? How do I show up in their story? What role do I play? How do they see me responding to them?

I am on the other side of the camera. I am not the star of my own movie. This was a humbling and necessary revelation to me because of the flip side of this reality. I am in someone else’s story and that is a great responsibility. Am I phoning in my performance? Am I realizing how significant every part I have to play is? Am I playing my best? If not, then I’m not ruining my story, I’m ruining yours.

We all matter to each other. If only to keep from messing up the story. But we can do more than just “not mess up.” We can star, we can shine, we can be a turning point. And this is exciting.

What role do you want to play?

That’s one of my key questions for 2013.

Zombie Apocalypse Making the CDC Interesting

Okay, so every now and then something comes along that you cannot help but comment on. The new CDC blog post about what to do in case of a Zombie Apocalypse is brilliant in so many ways.

First, it understood that it did not have an chance in the world at getting people to come to their website as is. Who has been to the CDC? Yes, public health professionals and people traveling to distant and disease-ridden climes, but how about you? Been there lately? Me either. Until today.

Second, it looked for an insight in culture that they could tap into. For whatever reason, Zombies are back. You can argue with me that they never left, but to be sure, the amount of money generated by Zombie content has never been greater. Thank you, Resident Evil and its ilk. Of course viral outbreaks that result in Zombie-like activity (ala 28 Days Later) or actual Zombies back from the dead (ala George Romero) are both public health disasters and relevant to the CDC. Brilliant.

Third, they took a really, freaking, big risk. This is, after all, a very serious government agency that deals with life and death issues on a significant scale for the public at large. But in our uber-connected, attention economy, this is exactly the kind of thing you must do to get above the fray: align your problem with a big cultural insight and then step off the cliff. You cannot get attention by playing it safe, and isn’t doing the same old thing a bigger risk and waste of dollars.

I am sure there will be critics of this approach. But in my humble opinion, this is advertising done well and the resulting traffic and awareness of the core message (being prepared for any disaster) is spot on.

Who’d of thought that a government agency would be schooling us on how to do it right?

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