Good story telling overcomes fatal logic flaws

//Good story telling overcomes fatal logic flaws

Good story telling overcomes fatal logic flaws

Imagine you have a child in day care. No matter how hard you try to leave the office on time, you always seem to get caught in traffic or the boss catches you as you go out the door.

No matter. You know the day care center won’t close and put your child on the street, but you are tired of seeing the peevish looks on the staff members’ faces when you show up 20 minutes late.

Then one day, the center announces a new client benefit program. For just $3, they’ll watch your kid for another hour.

Do you say to yourself, “Wow! That’s great! For a nominal fee, now I don’t have to drive myself crazy with traffic, or risk offending my boss! What a great service.”

Not if you are the authors of a book topping the best-seller lists called “Freakonomics.”

The authors, who say they are applying economic principles to daily life, studied this case because the day care center actually didn’t want kids to stay late. They thought the “fine” of $3 would dissuade people from coming late so their staff could go home early. The opposite occurred – more parents than before came late and gladly paid the fee. The authors then make some wild assertion that the $3 “fine” actually alleviated the parents’ “guilt” for coming late.

No doubt you’ve heard a version of this tale at your cocktail parties or networking meetings. The story has made the rounds on NPR and in many book reviews. But it is always told from the author’s point of view. They never once considered that people would consider the fee a justifiable expense for a worthwhile service. Isn’t that what service is all about? I guess these authors don’t really live in the real world – one is an economist at a university. Need I say more?

I want to make a publicity point here, as I always do.

This book, “Freakonomics” and another book written in a similar vein to universal acclaim, “Tipping Point” share two things in common beyond their best-seller status and universal acclaim:

1. They are full of beautifully written stories.
2. At least one of their first stories is so convincingly told with nearly airtight precision in their logic that you don’t notice the gaping holes in the rest of the stories in their books!

Let me make the case, then show the point.

In “The Tipping Point,” the author tells the best story ever about social networks and influence that I’ve ever read. This is worth the price of the book alone. Absolutely brilliant.

However, in a later chapter, he makes the point that crime in New York went done when the mayor decided to launch a clean up campaign against graffiti on the subways. I won’t debate the point since I’m not a crime expert.

But, the authors of Freakonomics make the claim that crime has gone down because of legalized abortions.

Again, I won’t say who is right or who is wrong since I’m not qualified, but three thoughts should cross your minds:

1. If one is right, the other is wrong.
2. Both these ideas could be totally wrong! Could there be another factor? Or in this complicated world, couldn’t there be a variety of factors that interplay?
3. If they are wrong here, then maybe they are wrong elsewhere.

So here’s the point:

The authors of both books weaved stories so well told that literally hundreds of reporters and reviewers never questioned their conclusions!

Here’s what it means to you: If you tell a good story, sound convincing and offer a modicum of proof, you just might be able to convince some of the people some of the time. And if you do it better, then you can convince all of the people all of the time.

Critical thinking is rarely taught in schools and barely practiced by adults. I challenge you to re-read those books and see if you can’t poke holes in their arguments.

Dan Janal
Your Fearless PR LEADER

By |2016-11-28T23:38:45+00:00August 25th, 2005|PR LEADS General Advice|11 Comments

About the Author:

Dan Janal, author of "Write Your Book In A Flash!" helps leaders write books so they can get more clients and sell more products. My clients get terrific results from my coaching, developmental editing and ghostwriting. For info, go to


  1. Susan Harrow/Media Coach/ August 26, 2005 at 12:12 am - Reply


    You make a great point. Gladwell’s “Blink” has a number of “stories” that, while fascinating and beguiling are full of assumptions, not backed by statistically sound data, or are mere correlations.

    It’s great food for thought, but we as an audience need to keep our thinking caps on and constantly ask ourselves questions like:

    Can this be proven? Is this a fact? What evidence is there? Is this true? How do I know it to be true? What else can I learn before I form my own opinion?

    And it’s sad, but true about creating such fabulous stories that the media won’t question them. And if you back your great stories up with confidence (and some strong statistics) you’re on your way to becoming a media star.

  2. Steve Koss August 26, 2005 at 6:19 am - Reply

    Critical and optional thinkers are rare. We can learn from Socrates ways of asking smart questions, challenging convention, and thinking for ourselves.

  3. Monty Loree September 1, 2005 at 12:46 am - Reply

    Hi Dan:
    I was wondering if I could get your help on something, since you’ve got a pretty decent readership.

    In my financial maturity blog, I wrote a post about how 1 million disaster victims are going to have bad credit, or go bankrupt because of this disaster.

    I would like to generate some awareness that creditors mechanically report to credit bureaus such as Equifax and TransUnion and Experian.

    I am wondering how the creditors and credit bureaus are going to treat these catastrophe victims who have been displaced from their jobs and homes.

    Could you talk about this in a post, or let me know how to publicize this topic. I think it’s a very relevant topic with regards to credit and credit reporting.

    I will understand if you don’t think it’s appropriate for your blog theme.

    These credit problems are going to be another huge mess to clean up.

    One million people bankrupt or bad credit?

    Thanks for the consideration

  4. Rich Molumby October 8, 2005 at 7:59 am - Reply

    I have an Entr site/blog. It pretty much covers making large amounts of money on the web.

    Come and check it out if you get time 🙂

  5. credit cards now October 9, 2005 at 12:40 am - Reply

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