Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rebut like Steve Jobs: don't let their frame on your stage

Steve Jobs on his way into the Oscars
Photo by Zadi Diaz.  Licensed via Creative Commons.

Rebut your opponent with your frame, not theirs.

The experience of hearing you should induce amnesia as to the other frame.  Do not remind your audience of the other frame, and never, ever repeat it verbatim.

To some, this is harder than it sounds.  To rebut, you must first lay out the opposition's argument, right?


Maybe it will help to see someone pull it off.  Take Steve Jobs of Apple, master of the techno sales speech.  Jobs is always pitching his consumer goods as the right choice over other technology, but he does not repeat anybody else's frame but his own.

Take a look at these three rebuttals in Jobs' recent keynote speech in San Francisco:

Rebuttal #1:
Apple supports two platforms: the App Store and HTML5.  The former is "a curated platform with over 225,000 apps - the most vibrant app community on the planet," and the latter is "a fully open, uncontrolled platform forged by widely respected standards bodies." 
Rebuttal #2:
95% of the 15,000 apps submitted to the App Store each week are approved within 7 days, with the unlucky 5% being turned down because their apps don't do what they promise, they flat don't work, or they're built with code that will break the app if we ever upgrade the phone.
Rebuttal #3:
iPhone vs. Android - iPhone has 3 times the smartphone market share of Android, and 2-1/2 times Android's share of U.S. mobile browser usage.
Do you know the opponents' arguments, and their supposed evidence, after having heard Jobs? No, you don't, and that's the sign of a clean re-frame.

FYI, the first rebuttal was to address a very public war about whether Adobe's Flash technology should be supported by the iPhone.  The audience didn't hear Jobs say "Adobe" or "Flash" once, and Jobs didn't set up the Adobe argument to rebut it.  Jobs just said what he needed people to hear so that if their "Apple = reasonable and accessible" heart switch wasn't already turned on, then it was after Jobs spoke.

Sure, Jobs referenced the fact that there are other frames out there besides his.  In the context of the third rebuttal, he said this:
There have been a lot of statistics floating around, market research, market share studies, and some of them are OK, and some of them are questionable, and I'd like to just give you two pieces of data that can help you make your own judgments about market share.
But he didn't repeat the other side's frame.  His slides didn't show their bullet points. Hearing Jobs, you don't know any statistics except the ones that tell Jobs' story.

In contrast, below I give three examples of the unfortunately common practice of repeating the enemy frame, followed by a "fix" - what I think they should have done instead:

Thinking about cardboard now?  Yes.
Fix: sell the "sizzle" of the good taste.

"We interrupt this movie to remind you where the exits are."
Fix: focus on what the law actually does.

"FoxNews makes our ears bleed - here's how you can shove an ice pick in yours."
Fix: create a version with bleeps or another gimmick where the offending words are.

Yes, the opposition may be annoying, they are certainly wrong, and you want to show the world how and why. Fine. Go to town.

Just remember Steve Jobs, and don't let their frame on your stage.

See also: Don't Think of an Elephant, by George Lakoff

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