In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell references a study done by the people who created Sesame Street in which children were observed as they watched the show to see when they turned their heads and lost interest. The study showed children lost interest in the show, not when there wasn’t something exciting happening on screen, or there were boring characters, but when they didn’t understand what was happening. In other words, if they did not understand the story, even if it were a mini story of bringing two halves of a word together, they lost interest and started playing with toys.
Producers tried to remedy the lack of interest by ratcheting up conflict, but this didn’t work. Conflict without a story is still confusing. Interesting characters without a story are confusing as well. The producers at Sesame Street worked hard, then, to make every scene, every segment a very clear story, and because of their work retain the average child’s engagement an unheard of 80% of the time they are watching the show.
I reread The Tipping Point recently and wondered about how this study relates to our own lives. I posit that we all do the same thing, not with television, but in life. That is, we check out when we don’t understand what is going on. We distract ourselves. Or, worse, we ratchet up the conflict or numb ourselves with entertainment.
Let me ask you this: What if your own life was so engaging that entertainment seemed boring? I mean what if you were involved in projects that so captivated you that turning on the television would be a distraction from your real life? Can you imagine such a possibility?
The elements of a meaningful story are the same as the elements of a meaningful life:
1. A character.
2. That knows what they want.
3. And is willing to overcome conflict.
4. To get it.
Do you know exactly what you want and why? And do you appreciate or bemoan the conflict you endure? Is your story more interesting to you than television? Is all of life boring or is just your life boring? Do you believe you can make changes that will make your life more interesting? I do.
If you want to know more, come on out to Portland for the Storyline Conference in June. You’ll leave, I hope, with a better understanding of the elements of a meaningful life.
For now, though, maybe you could take out a notebook and write down everything you want in life. If the list looks boring, your life will be boring. So make a second list. What would you want that perhaps would be more engaging, and perhaps even more risky?
Now turn the page in the notebook and write down all the conflict you might endure trying to get what you want? What could happen? What are you afraid of?
Now reread the list of things you want to accomplish, and all the conflict you might endure trying to get it.
If you feel like living a more meaningful story, then go for it. If not, there’s always television. I hear Sesame Street is interesting.
Related (not sponsored links):