Show, Don’t Tell

Melissa and I wrote employee policy manuals and other training materials before we had employees. I am thinking about those today because I added a small update to the policy manual yesterday, thinking that it had been a long time since I had added anything. But, while the policy manual is pretty well set, the training materials require much more effort to keep up to date. Why? Well, we have modified our protocols over time, added components, and removed others. For example, our procedure of using cassette recorders as a back up to our video recordings was discontinued long ago – who remembers cassette tapes? Though we had clients who liked to listen to the deliberations in their car, alas, things change. Back to my point, however, I was also working yesterday with our wonderful Research Associate, Megan. Megan has expanded our training materials to include photographs of every item we use on research days, down to the cables, extension cords, and of course, cameras, tripods, etc. She has also used photographs I have taken of various research projects to create annotated diagrams of research set ups. These have evolved over a few years but prove tremendously valuable in multiple ways. The primary use for the diagrams is to show/train videographers or others who work with us on how to set up a research meeting space. Showing goes much further than telling in this regard. It is critical, for most people, to be able to visualize things, and having the photos and diagrams brings things to life. Interestingly, we’ve also found ways to use some of these photos/diagrams to explain the process to clients with whom we haven’t worked. I have found that while I can see the mock jury meeting space in my sleep, many of our clients are new to the process and cannot visualize how things will look. It doesn’t look like a courtroom; the space is configured for presentations and deliberations (a.k.a. data collection) and as a result, we have specific set up arrangements. Years ago, a client arrived extra early and undid our set up thinking she knew better. She didn’t and her actions created lots of extra work for us. Making a 2 dimensional diagram come to life in 3 dimensions ensures our processes are as efficient and effective as possible. Over the 30+ years we have been doing this, we’ve moved from crude hand drawn diagrams to refined photo diagrams. But regardless of the technology, showing, not just telling, goes a long way!

David never ceases to amaze me.  I cannot believe he missed a perfectly good opportunity to relate his post to a song by his favorite band, RUSH.  The title of the song is “Show Don’t Tell,” which is the title David used for this post. The premise of the song, written (of course) by Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and the late Neil Peart, is “seeing is believing.”  The song has several references to trials, including the court, the jury, and witnesses, requesting them to show the things they intend to prove instead of merely talking about them.  (The reader is encouraged to look up the lyrics; they are interesting!)  In any event, it is always advisable to show things to people, particularly when they are novel or unique.  There has been a lot of research in cognitive psychology about visual versus verbal learning, with the finding that most people prefer to learn by combining visual and verbal information.  Many attorneys are unaware of this research and all too often, they drone on and on, using lots of multi syllabic words, forgetting that the average people who are on their jury have no idea what they are hearing.  Even experienced judges appreciate visual aids, in the form of demonstrative evidence, over boring recitations of case facts.  Photographs, colorful graphics, and animations help all kinds of people understand things, particularly when the information is complex.  Magnus’ employees receive the same benefits as our clients because of David’s commitment to showing instead of telling them how to perform their job.  To quote the song, “Show Don’t Tell,” I don’t care what you say (show me, don’t tell me).

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