Good 'Idea Carrier' Essential For Spreading A Message

The first few times I took my husband skiing, I tried to give him a few pointers. “Keep your chest pointed downhill,” I said. “Bend your knees so your weight is on your shins.”

He didn’t want to hear it. So, for Valentine’s Day, I gave him a ski lesson. We went up the hill with the instructor. “Keep your chest pointed downhill,” he said. “Bend your knees so your weight is on your shins.” “Wow!” said my husband. “It works! That’s amazing!”

I’m guessing this story is not at all surprising to you -- and the fact that it isn’t demonstrates our instinctive understanding of a core facet of human behavior: Our assessment of an idea hinges on our perception of its carrier.

Julianne Wurm highlighted this concept a few days ago in the Harvard Business Review. Using the TEDx platform as a case study, Wurm spent two years studying what makes ideas spread. What she found is that, regardless of the concept, the role of the idea carrier -- the person spreading the idea -- was an essential ingredient: “People want to like the carrier. When people feel good, they want to share -- that good feeling is what they want to spread. As Jonah Berger writes in ‘Contagious,’ ‘When we care, we share.’ …[C]arriers who connect with their audiences have the gift of making whatever idea they’re discussing palatable.”



If we hear an idea from someone we trust and respect, we can also be more certain that the idea is good and that we, in turn, will look good for sharing it.

One of the other reasons we share ideas is to look smarter. “[A]udiences may feel that by sharing the idea with others, that somehow makes them a co-creator,” writes Wurm. “They mentally give themselves credit where credit is not due.”

Of course, wanting to look smarter ties in very closely with liking the original idea carrier. A good carrier will frame an idea in such a way that it makes sense to us and we can retell the story with confidence. This is why Malcolm Gladwell is so good as a professional idea-sharer: He synthesizes concepts in such a way that we can easily absorb, reconstruct, and pass them clearly, making ourselves sound intelligent.

It can be a bit disheartening to think about this. We like to think we are able to assess the merits of an idea objectively, that we won’t judge the same idea differently depending on who’s sharing it with us. But the fact is, we are incredibly subjective creatures, and anyone looking to spread an idea would do well to understand our nature, to understand whether, as Wurm says, the best person to introduce the idea is “the researcher who uncovers the idea or someone who serves as a carrier.”

You might not agree. But, hey -- it’s just an idea.

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