Tamsen Webster is the Founder and Chief Message Strategist of Find The Red Thread and uses her proprietary Red Thread method to help audiences, organizations, and individuals build and tell the story of their big ideas.
“First, solve the problem they THINK they have.” - Tamsen Webster
Max Traylor: If you are selling knowledge, ideas, if you're remotely well-positioned in the marketplace, your best friend is simple and effective messaging. Tamsen Webster is the best person I could bring to you. A former executive producer at Ted Talks Boston, inventor of The Red Thread methodology. She helps people create a minimum viable message for her ideas. She's a repeat offender on Beers with Max. Here to talk to you on Beers with Max Live. If you haven't been to Beers with Max Live, I don't know if we can be friends at this point. Enjoy.
Tamsen Webster: I'm not drinking beer. You and I talked about this the last time, Max but A, not a fan of beer, mostly because beer's not a fan of me. I'm actually allergic to Brewer's yeast. I'm having, and I thought this was appropriate, a Last Word, a delicious cocktail. . .
Tamsen Webster: What I find oftentimes, is a lot of times when people are talking about their ideas, they tend to focus more on what makes those ideas strong rather than the structure of the idea. The thing is the way that people come to understand information is that they have to build understanding piece by piece. They have to get these little yeses, little concepts that build up over time.
If we can actually fill in those blanks that people's brains are looking for, we're actually building a structure that gives strength. And so, that's largely what I try to help people do is figure out A, what are those blanks that people's brains are always looking for anyway, and then B, how do we fill those in with our idea so that they make sense and get all those yeses that we're looking for?
The biggest thing that gets in the way of, whether it's the red thread or really just an answer for other folks that works about your idea, is that what gets in the way is your own expertise on your idea. Well-known psychological problem called the curse of knowledge, right? Which is the situation where it is impossible for you to imagine what it's like not to know the thing that you know. When you have an idea and by idea, I can meet a concept, a product or service because even a product or service represents an idea. When you have an idea, you have become so convinced of it and so expert on it that oftentimes it's very, very difficult for you to think about how somebody who knows nothing about it and who is not yet convinced about it, how they would see it and what their objections are.
So I think that's the biggest problem that people have, just talking about their ideas is assuming an inexpert point of view to start. Because if you start from the expert point of view, you do a couple of things that get in your way. One, you tend to talk about way too many details of the idea. You tend to get into the weeds of it. You tend to start giving people turn by turn directions when they don't even know what the map looks like. They have no idea like where you're trying to send them, but you're down into the details of, well, here's how my model works. Or here if you press this button. This thing's going to happen. They're like, wait, no, what does it do?
Then the second thing that happens as a result of starting as an expert, a convinced expert on your idea is that you forget to actually make the case for your idea. You kind of say, well, this is clearly the answer to the problem that you have. People are like, wait, but what problem do I have? Why is it the right answer? I'd say at a philosophical level, that's the highest obstacle to figuring out how to talk to somebody about your idea in a really effective way.
I don't care what it is that you do, or what is it you sell, you have to solve the problem people think they have before you can solve the problem you know they have. Which means you have to give them an answer to the problem they think they have. Which means you have to know, even if it's the "wrong question," you have to start there. If they don't feel like you're going to give them an answer to that, they're not going to listen to you. If you come in and you're like, that's the wrong question. They're going to be like, well, you're a jackass and I don't want to listen to you. Because people want to feel like they're smart, capable, and good. That's how I like to frame it. That desire to feel smart, capable, and good is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.
The only one that's stronger is the desire for everything to stay in balance, homeostasis. This is a basic human need. . . we want, we think that we are smart, capable, and good. We want to be smart, capable, and good. Even if we don't think we're smart, capable, good, we want to be seen as smart, capable and good. It's one of the reasons why, if you're trying to explain something to somebody or say why your thing is a solution that people haven't thought of before. One of the worst things to do is be like, well, you're asking the wrong question. The right question is X. You need to bring them to that point where they understand that.
Here's the thing. I never presume, and this is actually something that I did learn in my 13 years of Weight Watchers. I've learned to not presume that I actually know what people really, really want. I have to take them at face value. If you don't take someone at face value. If you don't, like I said before, if you don't answer the question that they say they have, then they don't trust you enough to actually allow you to answer the deeper question. They have to say, are you listening to me now? Are you listening to what I'm actually saying to you? I'm saying to you, I need a better report. I'm saying to you, I need a better way to say this thing. I'm saying to you, I need an answer to this problem.
If you're like, hold on to that, let me answer this other problem first. They're going to be like, you're not listening to me. So they're not going to be willing to hear something new if you're not willing to validate where they are right now.
Max Traylor: So there it is. You've got no more excuses. For people like Tamsen Webster and their brilliance, Beers with Max, Agency Survival Guide, productized consulting services. Get to Beers with Max Live. See you next time.