Message More Than Medium

Almost 50 years ago, Marshall McLuhan introduced the saying ‘The medium is the message’, which noted that the method of message transmission influences how the message is perceived.  This contention has many implications for experiential learning and behavioural change but these are not the focus of this post.  Can you imagine what some of these implications are?

So, when ‘tis nobler writes ‘message more than medium, what exactly does this mean?  What changes if ‘message’ in the title is a verb rather than a noun?  What changes if ‘medium’ in the title is an adjective rather than a noun?  Making sense of the world around you is never as direct or straightforward as your initial interpretations suggest.

The starting point for this cryptic title is in some recent (business-related) research that investigated the effect of information flow on project completion.  In summary, the research indicated that managers who were deliberately redundant in their instructions – building (necessary) repetition into the communication process – were more successful in getting projects completed.  Deliberate redundancy was considered more important than clarity of message.

Imagine how the expertise bias affects the frequency and clarity of communication.  Think of the problems that the basic proposition of this bias creates for learning and behavioural change:

I’ll explain your behaviour on the basis of who you are simply because what you do is, for me, so easy that your performance can’t hold the explanation.

Creating redundancy requires repetition, even if you think repetition is no longer necessary (which most people believe well before that moment arrives).  Repetition is never exact and all of the little variations add more value and understanding.  This is the point made by Nelly and Tim McGraw:

Cause it’s all in my head

I think about it over and over again

Whether the communication source is external or internal, the challenge is to get the message into your head and then keep it there so that you can think about it over and over again.  Of course, redundancy transcends communication; it applies more generally to learning and behavioural change.  Redundancy as, for example, practice of perfect, is one way to make both yourself and your behaviour more robust.

One person’s repetition is (eventually) another person’s redundancy, even when they are the same person!  If you are sending messages to others or to yourself, message (verb) more than medium (adjective).  Messaging and practising more isn’t a redundant strategy – it’s an effective strategy to achieve redundancy.

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