Leveraging the Three Forces of Story of Agreement, Contradiction and Consequence

One of my favorite things about teaching business, sales and marketing professionals about the ABT (And, But, Therefore) agile narrative framework is when they send me cool examples that they have spotted in the wild.

Here’s one Lane Schonour, Ed.D, Senior Vice President, Learning and Development at Goodwill of Central and Northern Arizona, sent me yesterday.

“It Couldn’t Be Done”


Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it!

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

What is interesting about Edgar Albert Guest’s poem is that it propels the story forward using a rare inverted ABT.

What I mean by an inverted ABT is that it starts with a negative sentiment in its Statement of Agreement (in this case, we can agree that there are a lot of naysayers out there to thwart our progress), and then contradicts that sentiment with a positive thought in the BUT Statement of Contradiction (I believe it can be done).

Common ABT Structure: Positive + Negative = Charge

We’ve learned and taught that if you want to have the greatest impact in leadership, sales and marketing communications using the ABT, it’s often best to begin with a positive Statement of Agreement to get your audience to picture what a brighter tomorrow can look like for them.

This is when you create a shared vision to build trust.

BUT then you introduce the problem in your Statement of Contradiction that sets up your solution.

THEREFORE, your Statement of Consequence demonstrates the way forward through your offering and ultimate call to action.

Setup + problem = resolution.

Once you perfect your ABT crafting using positive-to-negative charges in your writing, you can take it to the next level and invert the ABT as Guest did.

Audi Motors, one of the best storytelling brands on the road thanks in great part to the storytellers at San Francisco ad agency Venables Bell & Partners headed by Paul Venables, told the It Couldn’t be Done story in this remarkable TV spot.

So what?

Most advertising and marketing, especially in the B2B (Boring2Bored) world is non-narrative filled with lists of product and service attributes, features, and functions…Blah2Blah.

The ABT, whether you use its positive-to-negative charge or the inverted negative-to-positive charge is narrative storytelling structure because you have a plot twist, the contradiction between your statements of agreement and consequence.

You build contrast and conflict that our primal cause-and-effect, decision-making, buying limbic brain loves. 

It bats away boring non-narrative drivel because it does not illuminate the meaning associated with a lesson that a singular problem/solution narrative communicates.

That’s where the three forces of story – agreement, contradiction and consequence – regardless of whether they’re positive + negative or negative + positive, happen.

You can think of the ABT as the chassis to your stories that transport your audience from their world into yours.

Try it for yourself. Visit your homepage or one of your landing pages on your website and see if you can make it way more powerful by writing it as an ABT.

You choose which ABT version works best for you.

I know you’re thinking it can’t be done.

So start to sing as you tackle the thing that can’t be done and go do it!

Story on, my friend!