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Understanding the ‘Other Mind‘ – Part 1

The Other Mind

The Other Mind

I first remember considering the concept of ‘the other mind’ when I was a little boy trying to manage the insanity of growing up with alcoholism and good old fashion dysfunction. I remember thinking, as a kid, that I had to find different methods for communicating my thoughts or ideas to others — methods more in line with their very different ways of thinking. It was clear to me, from a very young age, that people see the world differently from one another.

In Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw, I learned a term for this idea: ‘the problem of the other mind.’ The problem being that people often assume, without real consideration, that other people view things roughly the same way they do. This leads to all manner of challenges and, to understand it, leads to a number of interesting opportunities.

Speaking internationally has taught me even more about ‘the other mind‘ because each audience has its own ‘culture‘ and accompanying world-view. In other words, I give each audience a great deal of consideration before getting anywhere near the stage.

When, in Matthew 4:19, Jesus explains to Peter and Andrew that he would make them ‘fishers of men’ he knew his audience. He was not, in that instance, speaking to a large group comprised of carpenters, merchants and others. He was asking two fisherman to join him in recruiting people to his cause and doing so in terms that they would clearly understand.

With this in mind, one may choose to use a more universal approach to communicating their message. Recently, I spoke on this topic for a group of independent film directors in San Francisco; I use this example:


“What is the one sentence that best describes your movie, screenplay or book? Generally speaking you don’t have all day to make your pitch so what is the most expedient way to make it? How, for instance, would you pitch the Bourne Identity? You could start with explaining that it is a movie adaptation of a best-selling book wherein a man wakes up with no memory and starts to piece together his pre-incident life as a spy. Sure, that sounds good — particularly if you have read the book — but is there a more effective, more universal way to sell it? Sure there is: You could say, “Its James Bond, with amnesia.”


In this example, one that I learned from a successful screenwriter some years ago, the ‘pitch‘ takes two fairly universal ideas and marries them together to create an unlikely and intriguing concept. For the target audience, it creates immediate attraction.

To do this effectively you really need to know your audience — whether it is an audience of one or of many. Too often, I have seen American speakers arriving in another country and then attempt the utilization of what they believe to be universal concepts. What is ‘universal‘ in one country may be completely unknown in another — I am afraid that not Everybody (in Belgium) Loves Lucy.

Story-telling is one of the most powerful ways to communicate; information on its own can be dry and boring. The same information, told as a story, can be engaging, interesting and can even communicate the message you want in a subtle almost covert fashion — particularly if you craft your story for ‘the other minds.’

It is possible, for instance, to tell a captivating and interesting story that appears to have little to do with the lesson or moral you want to convey but does so far more effectively than simply spelling it out.

Sitting deep in a 1500 person audience, I was attending a motivational seminar in Vancouver, Canada. The speaker — a highly successful entrepreneur, best-selling author and master pitchman — told a story about how he started his first company. It was a captivating underdog story of adventure, risk taking and, ultimately, phenomenal financial fulfillment. The story started, however, with a scary decision — to start his business he needed $7000 and decided, as risky as it was, to use his credit card. The story continues; the company grew, jobs were created and an empire was born. The audience thunders their applause without understanding that the moral of the story was simple: don’t be afraid to borrow $7000 when your financial freedom is just around the corner.

By the way, a day-and-a-half later, as the weekend seminar drew to a close, we were offered the opportunity to purchase a life-altering program that would, apparently, all but insure that we would achieve financial freedom. The cost? About $7000.

Manipulative? Absolutely. But it clearly demonstrates that a well constructed and delivered story can convey a whole lot more than entertainment value. And this is being done to us in the media all the time. To understand these principles is useful both in terms of furthering your own concepts and to protect you from others that might use these principles to manipulate you.

The next time you need to convey a message, sway an audience or sell a concept, consider, for a moment, the ‘other minds’ and how best to communicate with them.

Part II coming soon…. Are The Trustworthy Too Trusting?

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