Three years ago, I asked my 95-year-old mother if she had ever noticed the arrow in the FedEx logo.

“What are you talking about,” she asked.

I grabbed a FedEx box out of her recycling and showed it to her. She went, “Whoa!” reacting to an image that had been hiding in plain sight.

Just the other day, she said, “Ever since you showed me that darned arrow, I see it on all of their trucks.”

Now my mom can’t un-see it.

The same is true of the And, But, Therefore (ABT) Agile Narrative Framework. Once you learn about it, you see it everywhere effective communication is important.

In 2013, I learned about the ABT by Dr. Randy Olson in his book Connection: Hollywood Storytelling Meets Critical Thinking, Randy specializes in teaching this messaging marvel to scientists and academics.

His publicist had sent me the galleys of Connection to review before they went to press.

Up to this point, I had built a successful career in brand development and marketing. I saw the ABT and the power of its narrative structure stunned me.

It’s a framework to make a complex message simple, digestible and compelling. Just what I’ve always done in brand communications.

But I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just drinking the ABT Kool-Aid being served up by Olson.

So I went looking for the ABT in other applications and found its primal structure in many forms, like nursery rhymes.

Take Little Miss Muffet for instance…

Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet,

(and she was) eating her curds and whey;

(But) along came a spider,

who sat down beside her,

(Therefore) and frightened Miss Muffet Away.

The words And, But and Therefore are not actually in the nursery rhyme, but the story structure of agreement, contradiction and consequence they represent certainly shapes the story.

Our primal pattern-seeking, cause-and-effect, decision-making limbic buying brain apparently finds these three forces of story of setup, problem and resolution irresistible.

I also spied the ABT in President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Look closer and you’ll find two more embedded ABTs that keep the narrative progressing.

This led to my realization that the ABT is the DNA of Storytelling. Pretty much every compelling story is built upon AND agreement, BUT contradiction and THEREFORE consequence.

Being just three words, lots of people question whether or not the ABT is effective.

It just seems too simple.

So I prod the students of my Business of Story Mastery Course to spot ABTs in the wild.

You’ll be surprised at how the ABT pervades our life in all forms of communication from entertainment to business to leadership to science, technology and academia.

For instance, I was on LinkedIn the other day and came across this perfect 15-second story told by Abbott Labs in the form of an ABT. Please pay close attention because it happens fast.

Did you spot the ABT?

This story is NOT about Abbott Labs. It’s about Tyrone, what he wants out of life, AND why it’s important to him.

BUT here’s the complication: Tyrone was given just six months to live due to his heart condition.

THEREFORE, Tyrone celebrated that perfect 300 because of the Tiny Tech found at Abbott Labs.

The ABT is Not Like Pulling Teeth

My wife Michele came back from the dentist the other day with a huge grin. Not because of her cleaning but because of this ad she found in Country Living Magazine (yes, she tore it out of their lobby magazine and brought it home).

She was excited about McCormick using the ABT because I had taught it to their sales and marketing leaders pre-COVID.

I shared this print ad with them last month during my first training with their team since the pandemic. It was fun to see the ABT alive and well in their work.

The ABT is short AND sweet, BUT tricky, SO it takes practice, practice, practice.

That’s why spotting ABTs in the wild is just one Story Quest exercise in our 21-day deliberate practice program to help you make the ABT a habit in all of your communication.

Social Media is Another Great Place to Spot ABTs in the Wild.

Legendary Silicon Valley marketer and prolific content creator Christopher Lochhead used the ABT for the first time in this tweet he shared with me. Chris was blown away by the amount of engagement received in under six hours.

Here’s what Chris had to say about the framework:

The ABT is in the News!

When you tune into National Public Radio (NPR), listen for how many times they use the ABT to promote the coming segments.

When you read the New York Times, see how many ABTs you can spot on the front page.

We’ve been considering building a sauna in our new northern Arizona home, so this double-whammy ABT in both the headline and subhead caught my eye.

One of the goals in using the ABT is to arouse the curiosity of your audience and fulfill their expectations with your THEREFORE statement. In this case, the THEREFORE is to read the article to learn the answer to the question of saunas being popular BUT are they worth it?

I’ve been working with the sales team at TDK-Lambda. One of their leaders shared this ABT she spotted in the wild as an online ad by Delta Airlines.

When doing the ABT spotting exercise, you will often come across weak versions of the ABT, like the above.

It’s weak because the BUT Statement of Contradiction is more of a solution than a problem.

Does it feel stronger by re-framing it as:

Travel makes us alive AND IF we do it with an open mind THEN we reach the sweetest, deepest and richest of experiences.

BUT to get that experience you need to visit global destinations that offer rich and resonant attractions.

Now you can access the cultural kaleidoscope at the heart of a place with Delta – come with us. 

In this case, we used the If/Then clarity clause in the AND Statement of Agreement to create more contrast for the BUT problem statement.

Arouse and fulfill.

Even though Delta’s isn’t the greatest ABT, it still provides educational value to the spotter as it provides the opportunity to apply your ABT skills in the rewrite.

The ABT Pops Up in Pop Culture

One of the most profound places we’ve found the ABT is in Carly Rea Jepson’s Call Me Maybe pop hit. 1.5 billion views on YouTube tell the story.


See, the ABT is like that darned arrow in the FedEx logo. It can’t be unseen, unheard, or unfelt.

When I was a struggling copywriter early in my career, I came across this print ad from Crown Royal. I’ve always loved its borrowed interest so much that I found a metal sign version of it for my bar.

The only thing I’d coach the writer on is to remove the word “and” in the second to last line and start with “now”. There’s more causality…you know, the arouse and fulfill thing.

Now it’s your turn. See if you can spot ABTs in the wild. You’ll often find them in the most surprising places. Share your trophy on LinkedIn with the #abt hashtag and be sure to copy me in your post: @parkhowell.

To help you, Randy and I cowrote The Narrative Gym for Business, which is a crisp 75-page guide to help you craft powerful ABTs.

It’s loaded with instruction, examples and narrative wisdom to help you excel through the stories you tell. Gra your copy today.

I Just Spotted This ABT…

Actually, it just came to me in an email from Val Brown, Emmy award-winning TV producer and communications coach. Val participated in our most recent Business of Story Mastery Course:

Writing amazing ABTs like Park is something we all aspire to do.

But as he’s gently schooled us, to become a master we must practice, practice, practice.

Therefore, I am rejoicing in the wonderful feedback and coaching  in this group as I practice my ABT craft and revel in the joy each iteration brings✨

Thank you🙏🏼 Park, this is sooo good. Really appreciate your insight in helping me move forward.  Will send the next round when it lands. 🛩

Story on!