The ABT Framework is Too Simple, it Can’t Possibly Work

“I think you’ll love this new book, especially the chapter on storytelling,” my friend and client Bob DiMeo, Chairman of Fiducient Advisors, emailed me.

The book is Morgan Housel’s Same as Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes.

While I enjoyed Housel’s thoughts on storytelling, it was his insights on simplicity that caught my attention.

He continues…

“But a truth that applies to almost every field is that there are no points awarded for difficulty. It’s possible to try too hard, to be too attracted to complexity, and doing so can backfire spectacularly.”

You may recognize Housel from his N.Y. Times bestseller, The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed and Happiness.

I think it’s this bias to complexity that keeps some people from embracing the ABT (And, But, Therefore) narrative framework to make their communications clear, concise, and compelling.

Here are ten reasons why the complex, logic-driven thinker should never use the ABT:

#1. You believe making things complex makes you look smart.

I showed a team of digital marketers specializing in the education industry how to use the ABT in their work.

An hour into my training one of their people slumped in her chair, folded her arms, and slowly mean-mugged me.

Her body language was squarely giving me the middle finger.

I asked her, “What’s up?”

“I THINK THE ABT IS REDUCTIVE AND INSULTING,” she grumbled.

“Why?” I asked.

“BECAUSE OUR WORK IS COMPLICATED. WE CAN’T TALK ABOUT IT IN SUCH A BASIC WAY.”

“What about Einstein?” I asked.

“WHAT ABOUT HIM?”

He said, “Genius is making complex ideas simple, not making simple ideas complex.”

HARRUMPH!

I clearly didn’t win her over but everyone else around our conference table nodded in agreement.

I wonder if she still works there. It’s complicated.


#2. The ABT is stupid.

I recently hosted a virtual Business of Story mastery course for a CEO group.

When I left the ZOOM session I was told that one of the CEOs blurted out, “This f*cking sh!t is not going to fly in our company. We only use logic-based communications.”

One of the other CEOs asked this person what the business problem was they were bringing to the group.

He said he was having difficulty connecting with his people to get them to shift into a new way of doing things in their engineering firm.

Someone else in the group suggested, “Maybe you should try the ABT.”

This brings me to the insight from famous American social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, who argues that “the human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.”


#3. You presume the old way of messaging still works.

“Look, Park, I graduated in journalism and have been writing marketing copy for eight years.

I can see how the ABT might work BUT I’m not going to use it because it feels stilted.

Therefore I’m going to keep writing the way I always have.”

This is what a content creator told me one day during a ZOOM training.

I started to laugh thinking she was pulling a fast one on me.

When I looked at all of the puzzled faces on my computer screen, I realized that they didn’t hear her use an ABT to tell me why she would never use the ABT.

She didn’t even realize it until I pointed it out to the group.

They all laughed.

I underscored the point to them that the ABT is the natural way our pattern-seeking, problem-solving, decision-making buying limbic brain likes to receive information to make meaning out of the madness of being human.

It’s that simple.


#4. You fear using the word “But” in business communications.

I heard this the other day from a Canadian CEO: “Our business doesn’t want to talk about negative things and we find the word ‘but’ offensive.”

My retort is the Christopher Lochhead (a fellow Canadian marketer) sentiment of “No one buys a solution until they have a f*cking problem.”

Here’s how he put it:

Granted, you probably don’t want to use the trigger word “but” when coaching: “Sally, you have been a terrific addition to the team, but…” You negate everything that comes before it.

BUT, if you are trying to knock a prospect out of status quo thinking and get them to change, there is no more powerful word.

“But” introduces the Statement of Contradiction that arouses your audience’s attention.

It tees up your “Therefore” Statement of Consequence which is your call to action.

“But” introduces conflict.

No conflict, no story.

So sorry.


#5. You just straight-up tell your people what to do.

“The ABT feels too woo-woo. I’d rather just tell my people what to do using my experience and authority,” I was told by one of our participants.

“How’s that working for you?” I asked.

“Ok, I guess,” he said.

The ABT is a pull strategy to influence your audience by sharing your story from their perspective.

“What happens when someone pushes something on you?” I asked.

There was silence.

“You push back, don’t you?”

Photo credit: Monstera Production


#6. It’s such an obvious framework that it makes you feel silly.

“Park, if I use ‘And, But, and Therefore,’ everyone will know what I’m doing and laugh at me.”

ME: “No they won’t because they don’t know what you’re doing.”

THEM: “How do you know that?”

ME: “Did you know about the ABT framework before this class?”

THEM: “Uh, no.”

ME: “You have to understand the magic to cast the spell and they don’t know the magic trick.”

#7. You think talking about your brand offering is more important than focusing on the outcomes your audience actually cares about.

“Dude, we are by far the leader in our industry. People just want to know that and then they’ll buy from us,” a recent entrepreneur protested.

“How are sales?” I asked.

“Well, they can always be better,” he confided.

This leads me to share two story truths:

  1. You and your brand are NOT the center of your story, your customer is.
  2. Your stories are NOT about what you make but what you make happen for your customers. Outcomes always trump your offering in your storytelling.

The ABT structure guides you in telling your stories from your audience’s point-of-view focusing on what’s in it for them.



#8. Let the facts speak for themselves.

A scientist taking the ABT training said, “I don’t want to manipulate people so I’m just going to give them all the unfiltered facts.”

“Okay.  And do the non-experts understand the unfiltered facts when you do that?”

“Well, they get a little confused and sometimes draw the wrong conclusions.”

Uh-huh. Unfiltered facts, numbers, data, charts and graphs are meaningless to our primal limbic survival brain unless you first place them in the context of a story.

Remember what Jonathan Haidt said?

“The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.”

#9. You didn’t think of it.

We hear this a lot, especially from intellects.

Just because you didn’t think up the ABT doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

Heck, we didn’t think it up either.

The ABT has been around since the Epic of Gilgamesh was chiseled out of tablets in cuneiform.


#10. You have no good reason not to use the ABT.

Maybe you do. We’d love to hear it.

 

The Simplest of All ABTs:

I trained an internal sales team at The Home Depot and one of their guys asked me, “What’s the simplest ABT you know?”

“That’s easy,” I said…

“You communicate AND care BUT bore, THEREFORE tell a story.”

Story on, my friend!