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August 13, 2008

How to Frame a Brain

Is your mantra, mission, and/or elevator pitch failing? Startups often have the problem that nobody can understand them. If this is you, George Lakoff may be your fix. Lakoff is a cognitive linguist who focuses on "the last smile" between message and recognition in brain. The Chronicle has a brief history of Lakoff's career (thanks to Mindhacks.com for the link) that is must reading for founders trying to change the world...but who can't understand why the world won't listen.

Lakoff's main focus for the past decade has been to pin down how the Republican Party has so consistently out maneuvered the Democratic Party...verbally. In translating linguistics into plain English politicians can understand, Lakoff has laid a banquet before startups with new-to-the-world technologies. If your customers don't have the mental receptors in order to receive your message, what do you do? Lakoff tells you in Don't Think of an Elephant and his other works explained in this article.

The bottom line of Lakoff is that you have to focus on two things: frames and arguments. Frames are examples, stories, and analytical models that allow problems to be set up for an argument. And the argument is what you do with all the objects in your frame. Finding frames is a process of pure brain pain. You search, find, try, refine, and repeat in a brute force exercise to find ways for your audience to understand you. In Don't Think of an Elephant Lakoff describes the funded think tanks that republicans use to generate a steady stream of white papers trying out ways of communicating that will trick Americans into voting regardless of their self interest.

Arguing too, is pain for the brain. Arguments happen, then they get simplified, then they grow in layers, then they consolidate like glaciers to an essence. You don't make just one trip to the venture capitalist and walk away with money. You wear them down. To do this best, you need to invest heavily and brain painfully to make people understand your product and what it does for your customers. And you need to sharpen your argument over time. Lakoff might say that venture capitalists are more likely to invest in improvements to your pitch, than in your first product.

By Bill Meade.


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