"Why Pathos is crucial in any engagement process"

by Didier Marlier on Sunday June 5th, 2011

Antonio Damasio[1] and Joseph Ledoux[2] are two leading neuroscientists. I admit a slight bias in favor of Ledoux who fits well with our Enablers philosophy of hiring bright and atypical individuals: He also heads a rock band, called “The Amygdaloids”[3]. Understanding and simplifying the writings of such advanced thinkers is a real challenge. Christophe Lachnitt, another atypical individual who heads communication for the French Navy Ship builders DCNS, has done it in a brilliant manner on his blog[4]. Marvin Faure[5], one of our partners who runs Mindstore has translated it and posted on our website[6].

Simon Sinek[7], in another passage of his seminal TED lecture on What, How and Why, explains that the rationale and “intelligent” part of our brain, the Neo-Cortex, acts as a filtering center. It searches for coherence in what is said. However, the “Emotional Center” (the limbic brain or most specifically the Amygdala) is the true decision maker. Having the Neo-Cortex letting the information through is not enough to engage us into action. Our limbic brain needs to be engaged for us to act.

Here are some parts of Christophe Lachnitt’s post who greatly complement Sinek’s bit:

“Antonio Damasio wrote: “We are not thinking machines that feel; rather we are feeling machines that think “. The preponderance of our emotions in our system of thought is largely explained by the activity of the limbic system in the brain. This part of the brain can be traced back to our earliest ancestors, 450 million years ago. One of the principal functions of the limbic system was at the time – and still is – to anticipate danger. In the limbic system, the amygdala attaches an emotional significance to each incoming stimulus before we are even aware of its existence. The amygdala also receives and processes large amounts of information coming from the hippocampus, which stores and retrieves our memories..

We are in fact capable of unconsciously analysing 11 million bits of information per second, while we can deal consciously with “only” 40 bits per second. Our brains contain 10 million subconscious neurones for every conscious neurone. The amygdala analyses all the stimulants entering the brain, whether they are threats of not. It then communicates its emotional diagnosis to the cortex, which decides where to concentrate our attention.”

Christophe suggests to focus on three specific findings:

1. It is not enough to speak to be heard

“Our brain is constantly sorting out the stimuli it receives. In fact, it would be impossible to manage them all. The brain only manages a limited, albeit very large, volume of information. To take only one example, our sense of touch doesn’t operate continuously: thus we don’t feel the contact with the clothes we are wearing. Our brains separate out the repeated sensations of contact that are not important in order to enable us to concentrate on the other sensations that are, such as those where we touch another person, a dog or a touch screen (Note from Didier: remember the moon walking bear and white basket ball team).

It is the same for the deluge of information and messages (3000 according to some studies) that we are exposed to every day in our modern interrupt-driven world. The Holy Grail in communication is to get the target population to pay attention to the messages being sent. However, it is impossible to pay attention to 3000 messages every day: we do not pay attention without good reason. Adding the 3001st message to those already sent without understanding the factors that could make people pay attention to it is at best a wasted effort. We must know our audiences intimately in order to anticipate what will make the difference between a message that will be ignored and one that will really make a difference. Communication is above all empathy.

2. It is not enough to surprise to be convincing

“Our brains classify the stimuli they receive into categories of things that have already been learned. This allows us to anticipate and prepare for events that we will have to deal with. It also allows us to manage an environment which would be overwhelming if each new stimulus was an unknown experience. In order to do this, the brain functions through the use of analogies and metaphors. It links different stimuli together and analyses the similarities, the differences and the relationships between them. In this way, we classify our feelings automatically and unconsciously into categories that we have learned and that we modify over time.

The objective of communication is to create a memory. Studies in neuroscience have shown that, in order to create a durable memory, it is important to link the new information to those that already exist. The brain chooses to manage the information which is the closest to its previous experience: a message that is not coherent with previous messages is more likely to be ignored by the brain than a coherent message that makes sense. One cannot expect people to make coherent sense of messages that were not created coherent in the first place. In order to keep communication on track, one needs to have a clear track to follow.”

3. To capture the imagination, we need to create emotions

“The Amygdala secretes dopamine in the brain when stimulated by an emotion, and dopamine is influential in the management and memorisation of information. For example, speech is better remembered when it is associated with an image. This is why 72 hours after the event we retain only 10% of information presented orally, whereas we retain up to 65% if a photo is added to the presentation (according to experiments done by the applied brain research centre of the University of Seattle).”

Thank you Christophe and Marvin for your time and thoughts here. I thought sharing this with you all was important. Co-creating clarity, meaning and ownership around the intellectual agenda (Logos) and behaving accordingly to our stated intent (behavioural agenda/Ethos) are relatively simple to understand. Why and how to engage at the emotional/Pathos level is far less obvious. I hope this is another good step in clarifying this.

Paris twice this week, my wife is in Brazil for three weeks. Real challenging times ahead in trying to match her skills here at home… Have a great week all!

Didier


[1]http://dornsife.usc.edu/cf/faculty-and-staff/faculty.cfm?pid=1008328&CFID=1187686&CFTOKEN=64501906

[2] http://www.cns.nyu.edu/home/ledoux/

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Amygdaloids

[4] http://www.superception.fr

[5] http://www.mindstore.ch/en/index.html

[6]http://enablersnetwork.com/user/docs/An%20emotion%20is%20not%20an%20idea.pdf

[7]http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html

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