I recently read a bestselling book called Thing Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant. I have to admit that when Bill and Melinda Gates recommend a book, my interest is peaked. Grant does a nice job of exploring topics and using very interesting past and present nonfictional accounts to make his points. A central premise of the book is that the ability to rethink and unlearn is more important than ever in a rapidly changing world. Grant explained that when people learn something early on, they file it away and it becomes a belief. And later, when presented with facts that state the contrary, people have a hard time letting go of that belief and accepting the new information. They are comfortable with that belief they have been living with for so long.
This part of the Think Again really spoke to me because in medical education and medical communications, our audiences are typically seasoned healthcare professionals who rely on their bedrock knowledge to help patients. Emerging data may be met with interest and fervor but behavior does not automatically change. Our audiences are often comfortable with how they diagnose conditions and treat patients and the idea of unlearning something that “has worked” is uncomfortable for most people.
This challenges us to take data and represent it in the clearest, most transparent way. Creativity and data visualization make audiences stop and think. Conversely, confusing graphs riddled with footnotes and caveats (at best) test the patience of our audiences or we lose them all together. It is also key that data be framed in a personalized context that resonates with audiences and meets their actual learning needs. This way, the audience not only thinks about the facts, but they feel something. This makes the new information more relevant and memorable. Of course, the impact of the presenter cannot be understated. Peer-to-peer communication fosters this relevance and imparts credibility.
Change does not happen overnight with only one slide presentation or article. However, change can begin if we can tap into our audiences’ ability to unlearn and rethink.