Stories of Math from Radiolab

Stories of Math from Radiolab
5. General

Stories of Math from Radiolab

Welcome to the forty-seventh edition of ‘3-2-1 by Story Rules‘.

A newsletter recommending good examples of storytelling across:

  • 3 tweets
  • 2 articles, and
  • 1 long-form content piece

Let’s dive in.

🐦 3 Tweets of the week

Humans are wired to look for that shiny new thing – the belief that ‘new = latest = better’ is ingrained into our minds.

David has compiled a great collection of quotes on the need to avoid this tendency.

This is fascinating. Trust the Greeks to have thought of the lovely distinction between two words that both mean time (‘chronos’ and ‘kairos’). In simple terms:

Chronos: Time kya hai; Kairos: Apna time aayega.

I’d recommend that you read the whole thread to get the entire context.

For others it’s the moolah, for some, it’s the dough, for a few, it’s cash… 😂😂

📄 2 Articles of the week

a. ‘A Few Words About Netflix’s Success: Vivid. Snappy. Tags.’ by John Koblin

When you browse Netflix, you may have come across a set of 3-word snappy adjectives below the movie/series poster, as vividly shown by Karthik Srinivasan in his post.

Those 3 words are worth their weight in gold.

The two- or three-word tags, meant to convey the gestalt of a show or movie, regularly help viewers choose a show from the service’s nearly endless library, the company says. The words are selected by about 30 employees — so-called taggers.

This feature seems to be unique to Netflix:

Most rival streaming services don’t bother displaying tags, or don’t have the same financial resources to support a group of employees to do all the work behind them.

And given our falling attention spans…

Through years of testing, Netflix executives know the tools — what they call “promotional assets” — have essentially less than a minute to work. “On average, if you haven’t gotten someone to hit play within 53 seconds, the likelihood goes down precipitously” that the person will watch anything, said Eunice Kim, Netflix’s chief product officer.

… it seems to be critical to viewer engagement:

Each time the company has removed tags altogether as an experiment, engagement has plummeted, executives said.
“People would take much longer to choose,” Mr. Donald said. “They would drop out of a title because they didn’t like it too much or because they didn’t know what they were getting.”

b. ‘Stop serving the compliment sandwich’ by Adam Grant

We all do this – when we want to give ‘constructive feedback’ to someone, we start with a compliment, then insert the ‘bad news’, and then end with something nice again (a.k.a. ‘The Compliment Sandwich’).

Adam Grant says that this technique is ineffective because of two issues

Problem 1: The positives fall on deaf ears. When people hear praise during a feedback conversation, they brace themselves. They’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it makes the opening compliment seem insincere. You didn’t really mean it; you were just trying to soften the blow.

Problem 2: if you avoid that risk and manage to be genuine about the positives, they can drown out the negatives. Research shows that primacy and recency effects are powerful: we often remember what happens first and last in a conversation, glossing over the middle.

What should be done instead? Adam lists several ideas, but two struck me.

1. Ask if the person actually wants feedback:

“I noticed a couple things and wondered if you’re interested in some feedback.”

I’ve opened this way many times, and no one has ever declined. Once people take ownership over the decision to receive feedback, they’re less defensive about it.

2. Make it a curiosity conversation and be open to the idea that you are also culpable.

Here’s what Schwarz recommends instead: “I want to start by describing what I saw… and see if you saw the same things…. Then we can decide what, if anything, we need to do going forward. I’m open to the possibility that I may be missing things or that I contributed the concerns I’m raising. How does that work for you?”

🎧 1 long-form listen of the week

a. Numbers by Radiolab

In the spirit of David Perell’s suggestion above, I am going for a podcast that released – not this week, this month, year, or decade, but way back in 2009 – a classic from the house of Radiolab.

Radiolab is the epitome of audio storytelling. The way they edit conversations, use multiple voices, weave in music (uff) – the end result for the listener is sheer magic.

Mostly when I’m listening to podcasts, I’d be doing something else, like walking, doing chores, or driving and my attention would be divided. But if it’s a Radiolab podcast, I get so immersed in their world that I lose track of whatever else I’m doing.

Numbers hide stories. And this podcast is a beautiful exploration of some of the stories that numbers can tell.

I love the easy camaraderie and back-and-forth between the two hosts, Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad.

Here’s a funny exchange from the episode (notice the short sentences and how none of them hogs the mic for too long):

ROBERT: You can’t lose the numbers. You cannot lose the numbers because numbers create order in your life.
JAD: I could lose the numbers. I could survive an entire—well, my whole life without them.
ROBERT: That’s just completely ridiculous.
JAD: Easily.
JAD: Please, try me. Try me.
ROBERT: All right, let me just ask you something very simple.
JAD: Yeah.
ROBERT: You go to buy some M&M’s and you have a $5 bill in your hand, and you give it to the vendor and the vendor gives you back the M&M’s and what?
JAD: No numbers required. If I hand him the bill, he hands me some change. I just go by trust.
ROBERT: You go by trust?
JAD: Yeah.
ROBERT: He asks you how old you are? What do you say?
JAD: I’m middle-aged, I tell him.
ROBERT: [laughs] Suppose that you’re late for an appointment or something like that.
JAD: Yeah. Yeah.
ROBERT: So you call up and you say, “I’m going to be three minutes late, five minutes late, 10 minutes late.”
JAD: I usually just wait for the call before I leave.
ROBERT: [laughs] I know that!
JAD: Which you know it’s true.
ROBERT: I know it’s true.
JAD: So yeah, don’t need them. Don’t need them.
ROBERT: Your test. You’re taking a test in school. You get a 98, you get a 52. You don’t care?
JAD: Pass, fail.
ROBERT: How much gas is in your car, Jad?
JAD: I wait for the light to come on.
ROBERT: [laughs] Suppose you want to call me, right?
JAD: Yeah.
ROBERT: And you can’t remember my phone number.
JAD: Two words.
JAD: Speed dial.
ROBERT: How many words?
JAD: Oh, crap! Crap! Damn it! [laughs]
ROBERT: You see? You gotta use numbers.

That’s all from this week’s edition.

Photo by Dan Cristian Pădureț on Unsplash

Decode Leadership Storytelling

Join the ‘3-2-1 by Story Rules’ newsletter and get an e-book that decodes the hidden storytelling structure used by Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

    Unsubscribe at any time.

    Leave your thought here

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Get Storytelling tips in your Inbox

    Subscribe to the 'Story Rules on Saturday' newsletter

    Get a free e-book that decodes the hidden storytelling structure used by leaders like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
    Your infomation will never be shared with any third party