Bob Lieberman's Blog

Commentary and Tools For Empowering Change

Seeing Is Believing

Have you ever wondered why a demonstration is so much more persuasive than an explanation? "Seeing is believing" is so true it's a cliche, but why?

I think one big reason is the inherent limitation of language. As reported in a recent Wall Street Journal article, "Lost in Translation" (see link at the end), cognitive researchers observed that people who speak different languages think differently. Researchers conclude: "if you change how people talk, that changes how they think."

You can see this in a sales situation, where the salesperson is speaking the language of Yes and the prospect the language of No. If the salesperson's product can literally turn lead into gold, and the prospect thinks that's impossible, they will be speaking different languages. They'll communicate only if each can learn to speak the other's language. And, as any salesperson will tell you, that is easier said than done. One reason demonstrations are so effective is because, by making language unnecessary, they bridge this mental divide.

The cognitive researchers studied speakers of languages like Spanish and English. But in my experience their observations apply equally well to speakers of Engineering and Painting, for example. In my consulting practice, I'm teaching the language of creativity to business leaders who don't speak it. I might as well call this CSL, Creativity as a Second Language. Its value was brought home to me the other day while discussing a client's Creative Leadership Profile with him. These profiles use a model I've developed that characterizes what I call "creative vitality". They're based on one's answers to questions about self, workgroup, and organization.

After offering my observations and recommendations to the client, he told me that he'd known many of those things for some time. But having me put them in a framework, he said, permitted him to visualize them and give them names. He said he found that really valuable. This is why I'm such a big fan of visualization devices like models, diagrams, and images – they provide concept anchors that you can see and point to. In that way they are like demonstrations, and they make for very effective communication.

The point of my work is leadership development – not simply communication, but change. I want to influence my clients to change in a creative direction and help others do the same. So I take heart knowing that the new language I'm giving them will change the way they think, not just the way they talk. I've suspected this all along, and it's nice to see validation of it in research. To quote the researchers, "when bilingual people switch from one language to another, they start thinking differently, too". That's just what I want!

"Lost in Translation", Wall Street Journal