- Readers are accustomed to hearing their own opinions reinforced in blogs they follow.
- Many pros advise novice bloggers to give readers exactly what they want.
- If you always write this way, you run the risk of becoming a drone, blending in with the masses shoveling the same old stuff.
- Power influencers and innovators push for change.
- Creating cognitive dissonance in your blog can make a difference in individual lives of readers and the world.
Obedience vs. Civil Disobedience in Blogging
If the rebel Henry David Thoreau were alive, he would be an avid blogger. The 19th Century Romantic American Writer enjoyed writing and journaling daily, and his experiences from Walden Pond emerged from regular writing sessions.
A blog would be the perfect tool for Thoreau to rattle the brains of passive readers on the internet. The transcendentalist writer loved to defy expectations and challenge the traditional thought processes of his readers.
Although Walden is a tranquil novel, Thoreau generally was an agitator, who resist the traditions of governments and men:
“I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.”
– Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”
However, strategic and thoughtful teaching through your blog sometimes requires that you write posts that create an unpleasant experience for readers. You can accomplish a lot by turning their initial anger into meaningful long term learning through cognitive dissonance.
WTF? A Definition of Cognitive Dissonance
Thoreau generated cognitive dissonance in the minds of readers and continues to, having influenced revolutionaries such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Ghandi, and Nelson Mandela.
Cognitive dissonance does not rely on cheap exclamations that shock, such as the “WTF” above. It is something that occurs much deeper in the brain, and deep learning requires it.
Think of a time in school when you were taught a new detail or idea that just blew your mind. It might have happened when you were young, but you are more likely to find these experiences in adolescence and the college years.
For me, I remember reading the George Orwell novel 1984 in my senior year of high school, at the then rural and small town of Middleton, Idaho. Let me tell you that the story of Winston Smith rocked my narrow patterns of thinking, pushing me to a feeling of anger and resistance to the unfamiliar.
I hadn’t thought before of the ideas and implications in the in the book, and my vision of the world was narrow and small. My innocent mind was wounded when I encountered a passage such as ““If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”
I had no concept of oppression, and no hint of the possibility that my own government could be guilty. The mental experience was unpleasant but necessary for learning. This definition of cognitive dissonance describes my experience:
“psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Cognitive Dissonance and Deep Learning
Although not detailed in the dictionary definition, cognitive dissonance is important for deep learning. However, aimlessly pissing people off is not a strategy for encouraging learning.
The key is in making the learning process strategic, including the cognitive dissonance you generate. Still, after all your efforts, be advised that deep learning and a change in the way people think will be hard fought with few actually embracing new ways of thinking.
But, my point is that it is worth the effort and discomfort, and the world changes because of people who resist the norm and teach others how to actively learn over their lifetime. The learning environment that you wish to create and the message that you put forward must align with your overall website mission and purpose.
Brian Honigman writes about taking a stand of resistance in his discussion of branding in Entrepreneur:
Part of taking a stand means setting yourself apart from the mainstream. With so many competing offers, one clear way to make your product stand out is to defy certain conventions within your industry.
Which conventions you choose to break and to what extent you defy them depends on your industry and your core audience.
So, consider some things as you plan to encourage learning:
- Is my message appropriate and essential for my audience to consider and possibly adopt?
- In what way does my message resist? Does it rely on triggering emotions of anger and discontent without any clear objective? Or, does the message rely on clear rational and logical principles that may create anger or discontent?
- Am I playing with emotions and triggers, or am I strategically teaching a new concept or paradigm?
- How can I best present my innovative ideas so that real and deep learning might take place?
Answering these questions will help you clearly define your motives and objectives. In other words, you will figure out why you want to teach a new concept and what you hope the end result will. The end result should not merely be anger, but a shift in thinking that improves the lives of your audience.
Strategies for Producing Innovative Changes and Learning
So, as promised, below are ideas on how to accomplish your teaching and learning moments. Experiment with them. Add to them based upon your experiences and ideas. Subtract from them if experimentation does not yield positive results.
The most important idea I want to convey is that you should be conscious of what you are doing and why, moving forward with clear objectives that are worthwhile and helpful for your audience. Some ideas for teaching and presenting innovative thinking in effective ways:
- Use stories powerfully to illustrate new ways of thinking about a subject. Humans are genetically programmed to learn from stories that present important new ideas. Be specific in telling stories, be brief, and pose questions after delivery. Don’t assume that your audience will interpret the story the way you do.
- Gather research, statistics, testimonials, case studies, scholarship, and sources that reinforce and support your new way of thinking. Show your readers that evidence suggests that the new paradigm is better than the old.
- Present your new ways of thinking in various interactive ways rather than with one method. Tell stories, pose questions, provide evidence, design quizzes or surveys, share powerful graphics, show potent videos (TED Talks are awesome for this), use a podcast, etc.
- Create chains of logic and reason that are persuasive so that your readers can understand why you think the way you do.
- Make clear to your readers what your objectives are and be transparent.
- Prepare the reader for the discomfort and anger to come. Let them know that everything will be OK and that they are safe in your environment that you have created.
- Never attack or criticize your audience’s way of thinking. Don’t joke about or make fun of it. Think of yourself as a nurturer and mentor rather than an opponent or enemy.
- Remind your readers that you are just presenting ideas for them to consider, but passionately show them why you believe in them.
- Share your own experience of how you came to embrace these revolutionary ideas.
- Use your authority in the subject area along with messages from other authorities to illustrate that there is validity in the new paradigm.
- Reinforce the “lessons” you teach by showing how your audience, your community, and the world will benefit by adopting a new way of thinking.
- Create thought experiments that engage your readers in mental processes that problem solve using the new ideas. Get them to do some work in experimenting with the usefulness of new approaches.
- Engage your readers in dialogues. Do everything in your power to get them to respond to you in the comments, in quizzes and surveys, through social media, via email, on the phone, and any other methods you can think of.
- Provide gifts that help your readers to employ and adopt the new paradigm. Examples include the promise of follow up posts and additional information, invitations to webinars, software tools you have created, templates that can be used, swipe or cheat sheets, infographics, white papers, ebooks, reports, collections of case studies, lists of tools and resources, other links and websites that will help, podcasts, videos, and whatever else you can think of.
- Always ensure that your website is a safe place to open up with honesty, and monitor every forum of communication to ensure that no one is every attacked because of their ideas. Make it clear that name calling, belittling, negativity, and harassment will not be tolerated in any form. Your readers must know that they are safe.
Resistance Is Not Futile
You can become an authority and innovator who benefits the lives and careers of your communities, but you must have courage, be thoughtful, and use caution.