“ We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

 ~ Joan Didion

What does ‘intuitive’ mean to you? Why are facts and gut feelings sometimes at odds with each other? How is it that a counterintuitive concept can have so much impact?

It’s a funny thing about learning, so many things seem straightforward, and when you figure something out, it’s like “Well, duh!”, that answer seemed obvious all along. But when something comes along that defies your expectations it’s always a head-spinner that sticks with you.

Counterintuitive knowledge is like that. It seems like something is preordained and yet when the facts and data are laid out it turns out that the hunch has been wrong all along. It’s especially common when you’re talking about stuff that ‘everyone knows’.

Understanding this dynamic can be really helpful when it comes to communicating. There’s a simple construct used in some marketing circles known as the “Clear Story Format.” It’s a four-part writing technique that’s used in many different circumstances to get a point across.

It starts out with a generality or broad assumption such as “Some people think…” or “Many people believe…”. This sets the stage for agreement on the part of the reader, listener, or video watcher as the case may be. The goal is to have them nodding their head in agreement at this stage.

Then comes the head-spinner. “But really…” is the turn that leads to the bold audacious claim. This counterintuitive statement works best when it’s a radical reversal. The idea here is to elicit a “Wait, what?” on the part of the reader. Done right, you’re sure to have their attention at this point.

The last two parts work together as an ‘if-then’ statement. Once you have the reader at “Huh? Hold on a sec!” you do the big reveal with an “If you just…” sort of statement. This is when the facts that support the counterintuitive claim are disclosed. They should have the light-bulb moment where they think “Aha! I never thought of that.”

The last piece of the Clear Story Format is like a present. This is the “Then you will…” phrase that ties a bow on the result. You wrap it up with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that leads the reader/listener/viewer to a positive result that seemed impossible before they shifted their perspective and tried on a new point of view.

When it comes to things like consumer products or technology, intuitive user experience is the gold standard. When you pick up a new tool or device or gadget and it works the way it’s intended right out of the box, the designers have done their job. Online experiences are the same way, there’s nothing like struggling with a clunky website to make you run for a competitor, even if it means paying a premium.

However, in the marketplace of ideas, where knowledge and the human brain are concerned, a lesson learned through counter-intuitive discovery is often the stickiest. If you know what to look for, you’ll see variations on the Clear Story Format turning up all over the place.

I’ll give an example based upon some stories I ran across in the news recently. I like to keep an eye out for things that challenge assumptions and call “common knowledge” into question. More often than not it’s partisan posturing or someone with an ax to grind and is easily dismissed. But occasionally a counterintuitive concept rings true, ideally with facts to back it up. EG:

It seems obvious to anyone paying close attention that the lockdowns and social distancing imposed by COVID-19 must be having a terrible and depressing effect on teens and school-aged youth, what with all the extra screen time and social media use.” (Some people think…)

But what’s really surprising is just how well a large percentage of our youth are doing in the ‘new normal’. In fact, the rates of teenage depression are actually going down in this year of extended physical isolation and distancing.” (But really…)

When researchers started asking the right questions, it turns out that if you just let younger folks get more sleep and spend more time with their family, then they have an outsized increase in well-being that offsets the downsides.” (If, then…)

While there are obviously many exceptions to this counterintuitive discovery, the overall idea is sound. Sure, some youngsters are more depressed than ever. Of course, some families provide anything but a healthy environment. And yes, Zoom will never take the place of a playground or gymnasium.

However, we’ve long known that teens are sleep-deprived. We’ve rarely considered what the lack of family time might be doing in the long run. And we’ve discounted the fact that younger folks are as at home in the digital sea as a duck is in water. So the jury is still out on what the long-term effects of the COVID-19 crisis will be on the younger folks who are living through it.

But some of our early and seemingly obvious assumptions may turn out to be wrong. It’s certainly worth keeping an eye on the upsides and having an open mind as this Clear Story unfolds. And as we hang in there through a tough winter and out-of-the-ordinary holiday season, any rays of light are welcome.

Speaking of rays of light and covid-conscious activities during what is here in California turning out to be dry winter months, outdoor sculpture exhibits are ideal! We were all set to spend Sunday going to the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco until we started reading reviews that panned their social distance measures.

Then on Saturday San Francisco moved into the most restrictive tier and the de Young closed down so our decision was made and Frida will have to wait. Meanwhile, I had recently driven by the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art in Napa and noticed the outdoor areas are open on weekends.

Having passed the di Rosa dozens of times in years past and never ventured in this proved to be the perfect opportunity to explore. As the story goes, René di Rosa bought 400+ acres of rolling ranch land in 1960 and began studying viticulture at UC Davis.

Although the property proved to be world-class as far as wine grapes were concerned, his interest in art proved stronger. He began collecting work from local artists and in 1986 sold a good portion of the vineyards and plowed the proceeds into building galleries and establishing a serious permanent collection on the remaining 217 acres.

di Rosa passed away in 2010 but not before he and his wife Veronica established a non-profit foundation to keep the center ongoing as a permanent legacy. Two spacious galleries, a large public workshop, and the original residence are situated around an idyllic lake with lovely gardens surrounded by vineyards.

Above it all is a spacious meadow sprinkled with permanent installations of large-scale sculptures he and his wife collected and commissioned over the years. Altogether it’s a spectacular place to spend a sunny winter day strolling around marveling at amazing art with acres of space for easy social distancing.

With so many activities curtailed due to covid-19, it was a good reminder to look around and see what sort of unusual outdoor opportunities are available to expand your mind and inspire your soul. We capped off the day with a delightful socially-distanced outdoor dinner overlooking the river on the patio at Hog Island Oysters in Napa making our outing the highlight of the month.

So…the moral of the story is: Some people think a pandemic means never leaving the house and missing out on anything fun. But really, there are all sorts of safe and unusual opportunities to explore and experience new things. So if you just expand your horizons and look a little deeper into what’s available, then you’ll discover hidden gems of art, nature, and history not far from home.

Stay safe, take care, much love, and I’ll see you next Monday!

M+

Mark Metz
Director of the Dance First Association
Publisher of Conscious Dancer Magazine

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