The Standard Model
An Orthodoxy for the Strategic
As a Fed I attended a lot of meetings on effective persuasion techniques. No, that specific title was never on the agenda, but persuasion and what works was one of the main points. Even the fact that the word “persuasion” was never on the agenda illustrates the problem I’ll raise.
Typically these meetings would invite leading experts in their respective fields to sit around a big table and take turns explaining their work to each other. Then we’d publicly fanny-pat each other and take a break. On break we’d then express our private opinions about the ideas we heard. Not surprisingly there was often a difference between what we said around the table and what we said in the hallway. While that sounds hypocritical, you must remember that those are two different contexts, the table and the hallway, and they demand different responses. Around the table, it’s important that everyone get a chance to speak up freely and without interruption so that at least you know what they did. Public disagreements around the table at that point are rude.
Now, while virtually everyone talking around the table presented information on how to use words to change people, virtually no one used the same vocabulary. It was as if we were each in our own private universe of meaning launching unique rockets of our own invention. I thought of it as a Tower of Babel problem where everyone is smart and likes to talk, but everyone has a different language.
As an academic researcher I had never encountered anything quite like this. Usually academic conferences are united in a common language and world view, but divided by pride, vanity, and status. While academics can be the most disagreeable people in the world, they almost always have a common language that everyone uses and understands so it’s a lot easier to insult one another. In the Fed world, we assembled people from widely different backgrounds who rarely insulted one another probably due to the fact that no one knew the choice words in the other’s language.
I have no solution to the Tower of Babel problem. If you believe in the theorizing of Thomas Kuhn, we won’t solve it until the field of persuasion achieves a paradigm. As Kuhn describes in his classic, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” a paradigm is composed of the “goods” and the “guys.” The goods are the intellectual tools of a field, the terms, definitions, theories, measurement, and methods that everyone agrees to use and follow. The guys are all the people who use the goods. The guys are often networked into both the visible and invisible colleges where they meet with each other, do their work, share results, and move on to the next New New Thing. Since Issac Newton, there has been a physics paradigm. Since Darwin and especially since the work of Watson and Crick, there has been a biology paradigm.
Alas, there is not a persuasion paradigm. There are certainly mini-paradigms with small camps of dedicated guys committed to a particular set of goods, but there is no classic paradigm that everyone in persuasion accepts. Just as physical science reached up into biology through molecular genetics, someday biology might reach up into communication and psychology and create a genuine scientific paradigm of persuasion. But for now, we’re on the Tower of Babel.
The Section on the Standard Model represents my best attempt at creating a synthesis of persuasion ideas drawn from several different research lines over the past fifty years. If you know anything about persuasion you will not find any one idea that is unique in the Standard Model. The uniqueness is found in the aggregation, the collection, the combination of ideas. Thus, I did not invent butter, chocolate, flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, or eggs, but you might like this thing called chocolate cake.
The Standard Model is developed in three chapters. It’s a big idea, so we’ll grab the whole thing in our hands in the Big Picture. We’ll then develop the components in a Conceptual view. Finally, we’ll bake the cake in an Operational view that takes each abstract idea and makes it cook in the real world.