#202) Chat GPT is a Gift to the ABT Framework

Chat GPT 4.0 is beyond amazing. Maybe not in terms of CONTENT so far (it makes lots of mistakes and even bullshits), but if you understand FORM there’s no way you can be anything but stunned by it. On a parallel note the ABT (And, But, Therefore) Framework is also about FORM. So what this means is that Chat GPT is the ultimate tool for the ABT Framework PROVIDED … you have narrative intuition. Allow me to explain further …


For the past 30 years I’ve had a mentor (a Hollywood veteran) in my journey into and through Hollywood. Five years ago he began warning me what was coming with Artificial Intelligence. He steered me to two important books, “Our Final Invention,” by James Barrat and “Life 3.0” by Max Tegmark. Together they paint a picture of the future and probe the question of whether A.I. will ultimately be benevolent or malevolent.

I asked him recently what he thinks are now the best books on this. He said those two are still pretty much all you need to make sense of the strange new world emerging There’s about to be a lot of change that most experts feel is going to be unlike anything we’ve ever experienced.

As you probably (and hopefully) know, Chat GPT 3.0 was released last fall to little fanfare yet quickly became the most rapidly adopted app in history. That by itself underscores its importance. And then last week was Chat GPT 4.0 which is the real stunner.

And yet, lots of people experimented with 3.0, saw it was making informational mistakes, and dismissed it as over-hyped. But here’s why that’s a bad mistake to make.



Communication consists of two parts: the information you’re wanting to convey (CONTENT) and the way you put it together (FORM). This divide is crucial in considering what is so powerful about Chat GPT.

Chat GPT is not that great so far in terms of CONTENT. You can just use Google and do a more accurate job for a lot of topics. It’s the second part — FORM — that you begin to see is truly stunning.

Let me draw on two grand masters to help make this point …



In 2015, as I was preparing for the release of “Houston We Have A Narrative,” my mentor buddy that I mentioned above did a very cool favor for me. He is friends with Matt Stone, one of the two co-creators of the animated series,South Park.” He sent Matt the chapter of the book where I thanked he and Trey Parker for the knowledge from which I initially derived the ABT Narrative Template.

Matt wrote back a really nice email. It included this extremely profound bit, which I cited in the second edition of, Don’t Be Such A Scientist. He said:

Hey man this is really cool. If there is anything Trey and I work hard on it’s structure. It’s so important and so so hard to get right. We beat ourselves up so that causality is really there or at least emotionally implied. Then we put in some dick jokes and poop stuff and, voila!

Take a look at what he’s saying about “structure” which means FORM.

He says it is “so important” yet “so so hard to get right.” The second part is what’s crucial– that he gives structure (FORM) not one, but two “so’s.”

And there you have it. THAT is why Chat GPT right now is so so stunning. Which it truly is. Chat GPT takes that second element and changes it from “so so hard” into instantly solved. Bingo.

For example, a friend had me use Chat GPT 4.0 to write a Shakespearean sonnet about a frog that fell in love with a platypus. That’s the sort of thing where the CONTENT is easy to get right — not a lot of mystery to what a frog and platypus look like. But the FORM … making all the words rhyme properly and constructing it to have Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter?

THAT is the part that traditionally would be “so so hard.” It would take a person like me at least a month, if not a year (if not a lifetime).

Chat GPT solves it in an instant. BOOM! That … that is your miracle of Chat GPT, broken down into communication dynamics. And that is why it is a huge opportunity as a tool to allow you to do rapid repetition in ways I never could have imagined.



So now let’s look at the two ways we will be putting Chat GPT to use in the ABT Framework course.



From the start, we’ve said our philosophy for Narrative Training is this simple formula:

S + R = I

Where S is SIMPLICITY, R is REPETITION and I is your ultimate goal of narrative INTUITION.

Look at the R element. That is where Chat GPT comes in. It allows you to create a first draft of an ABT (in using it you should tell it “Using Randy Olson’s ABT Framework create a one sentence ABT about …” — this gets you directly into ABT structuring versus other ABT’s like American Ballet Theater).

Then you can begin tweaking it, rapidly. This ends up being the same process as “Rapid Prototyping” that CAD/CAM brought about for machinery.

We’re just start to explore its power, but here’s the start of an example use of it …

Using Randy Olson’s ABT Framework create a one sentence ABT for why legislation is needed to curb gun violence.

And: Gun violence is a significant problem in many communities across the United States.

But: Current laws and regulations are insufficient to address the issue, and innocent lives are being lost due to gun violence every day.

Therefore: Legislation is needed to curb gun violence and protect the safety and well-being of all citizens.

Now add to the “And:” statement the number of deaths per year in the US from gun violence.

Sure, here’s a revised ABT statement:

And: With over 40,000 deaths per year in the United States from gun violence, it is a significant problem in many communities across the country.

But: Current laws and regulations are insufficient to address the issue, and innocent lives are being lost due to gun violence every day.

Therefore: Legislation is needed to curb gun violence and protect the safety and well-being of all citizens.

Now make the “Therefore:” element more specific by mentioning legislation that has been proposed in the past to address this problem.

Sure, here’s a revised ABT statement:

And: With over 40,000 deaths per year in the United States from gun violence, it is a significant problem in many communities across the country.

But: Current laws and regulations are insufficient to address the issue, and innocent lives are being lost due to gun violence every day.

Therefore: Legislation such as universal background checks, assault weapons bans, and red flag laws, which have been proposed in the past, are needed to curb gun violence and protect the safety and well-being of all citizens.

There is so much you can do with it. We’ll give more updates on this element soon.



The above example shows you exactly what I’ve been saying for the past few months — Chat GPT is like a beautiful and awesome race car, BUT … narrative intuition is the steering wheel. Without narrative intuition, you’ve got an amazing gadget that races all over the place but ultimately amounts to nothing.

You need to steer the process. To do this, you need narrative intuition. The ABT Framework helps you develop this. Without it, you’re going to maybe have lots of fun, but also … you’ll end up wasting too much time. 

And that is bad news in a world where time is increasingly in short supply.


#201) Using the right tool: A “HOWEVER HAMMER” for diplomacy, a “BUT BOMB” for the masses

Scientists love their HOWEVERs. It’s the more diplomatic, less forceful word of contradiction with which to introduce the problem portion of your ABT. We have data to show how much scientists love it. BUT … the more powerful and more widely used word of contradiction is THE BUT BOMB. Keep that in mind in matching your content to your INNER CIRCLE versus OUTER CIRCLE audiences.

TONE DEAF? Okay, maybe this wasn’t the most tactful t-shirt for us to make for our World Bank friends given current world events, BUT … come on, have a sense of humor (please insert in your mind a smiley face emoji here). The term BUT BOMB was coined by the graduate students of Drs. Marlis Douglas and Keisha Bahr and first presented in our latest version of the NARRATIVE GYM series of books.



Narrative structure consists of three forces: AGREEMENT, CONTRADICTION, CONSEQUENCE. The ABT Narrative Template embodies these three forces. It uses the most common word of agreement (AND), the most common word of contradiction (BUT), and the most powerful word of consequence (THEREFORE). These three elements add up to AND, BUT, THEREFORE which is the ABT.

So here’s what’s fascinating about the central element. BUT is the most commonly used word of contradiction, but … there are other words that can work as well. The most common alternative to BUT is HOWEVER.

So why use BUT versus HOWEVER?

Here’s why…



Last fall a group of us from the ABT Framework course compiled a few stats on our two Narrative Metrics (the AND Frequency and the Narrative Index of BUTs to ANDs). Early on, Marlis Douglas suggested that we also count the use of the word HOWEVER by scientists. Sure enough, there was a pattern.

We analyzed 25 articles each from three publications which we designated as BROAD (The New Yorker), RESEARCH (Molecular Ecology), and TARGETED (research reports from IUCN).

What we found was that writers in the New Yorker almost never use the word HOWEVER. Their average ratio of HOWEVERs to BUTs was 0.02.

The IUCN reports had a much higher usage with the average score of 0.53.

But the highest use of HOWEVER was the pure research papers of Molecular Ecology which averaged 0.78 — approaching 1.0 which would be using HOWEVER as much as BUT. In fact, a few of the papers did have more HOWEVERs than BUTs.



In 2015 I did an ABT workshop with 15 diplomats from the State Department. They told me that one of the first things they are taught in their training is to never use the word BUT. The same thing happens with improv actors.

Why? Because BUT is so powerful, and is a word of negation.

BUT … they had nothing to say about HOWEVER, nor do improv actors. Why? Because it is a softer, less forceful word, which makes it perfect for diplomacy (or beating around the bush).



So here’s the big point. Think about your audience. If they are your INNER CIRCLE they’re already listening closely to you. They don’t need to have their attention grabbed. In fact, they would appreciate if you’d respect their knowledge and be a little more gentle with them. That’s the whole idea of diplomacy — speaking softly. So you use HOWEVER as your word of contradiction in the ABT structure.

Think of it as THE HOWEVER HAMMER — a delicate tool for fine detail work. It’s a much softer tool than the BUT BOMB.

Now think about your OUTER CIRCLE — they’re not listening as closely, are not as clued in on what you’re saying, and more likely to need a jolt to get their attention. Writers at The New Yorker know this intuitively, and that’s why they use BUT almost exclusively as their word of contradiction.

So that’s what you need to learn here.

Chose the right tool for the right job. If you’re talking to scientists or diplomats, use more HOWEVERs. If you’re talking to the general public, you want lots of BUTs.

It’s a simple difference, BUT … is a fundamental element of effective communication.

You can learn lots more about narrative metrics in my 5th book, Narrative Is Everything.

#198) Crowdsourcing Our Knowledge of “HOW TO TEACH THE ABT”

What do you do when you’ve created an incredibly powerful communications model that has you so busy training people with it that you don’t have time to write a book on how to teach it? You crowdsource it. Which is what we’re doing now as people contact me with their great stories and publications on how they are using the ABT Narrative Framework in teaching. Our podcast, “ABT Time,” has become our forum for this with two in-depth discussions (so far) of How to Teach the ABT, Parts ONE (2021) and TWO (2022).

THE NEWEST BATCH OF ABT TEACHERS. From English to Geography to Biology, the ABT Narrative Framework is spreading rapidly. Tune in to our two podcast discussions (so far) to hear how complete strangers to us are weaponizing the ABT for teaching.



Q: We’re too busy to write a book on how to teach the ABT, what should we do?

A: Crowdsource it!

Time for an ABT (if you don’t know what an ABT is read this article in Ensia).

ABT: We’ve spent a decade developing AND understanding the power of the ABT Narrative Template, BUT teaching it turns out to be a whole separate challenge, THEREFORE we pulled together a special episode of our ABT Time podcast last June for an initial discussion. It proved to be our most popular episode to date (of 41 episodes) drawing in a crowd of listeners somewhere between 2.5 million and a couple hundred (our tracking numbers are a little fuzzy).

In the year since then I’ve continued to receive a steady stream of awesome emails from people telling me how they’ve been using the ABT in teaching. Which led us last week to do a second installment on teaching the ABT.



Last week, a year after our first teaching special episode, we pulled together 4 more professors who have been using the ABT in teaching. They’ve even written a book built around it (Alan Crivellaro’s, “Effective Scientific Presentations: The Winning Formula”) and published an academic paper about its use in teaching geography (Robert Wilson’s paper, “Writing Geography: Teaching research writing and storytelling in the discipline”).

And guess what, I’ve already got another batch of folks who have contacted me with further experience in teaching the ABT. I’ll probably pull them together for a Part 3, in probably just a few months.

If you’re using the ABT in teaching please write to me directly at rolson@usc.edu to join our crowd!

#197) Two Examples of how the ABT is for EVERYBODY

Yes, we use the ABT Framework in working with the most sophisticated folks from the Federal Aviation Administration to Pfizer’s Global Epidemiology Team, but I also help my friends use it on a daily basis for everything from love letters to wedding speeches. Here’s two great examples from the past couple weeks of friends using it for a GoFundMe campaign and a non-profit fundraising video.

This is the photo from the GoFundMe page for Jesse Bielmann that has proven hugely successful. The concise ABT-structured text has been a major strength.


EXAMPLE 1: GoFundMe Campaign: ABT is on the job

This is a really tragic and painful story of my best friend Brian Bielmann’s military veteran son, Jesse having a complication from medication he takes for his military service ailments. The medical bills were staggering so we put together a GoFundMe page. I helped them write the one paragraph of text for it (not three pages of content as was their initial instinct — that “more is more”).

Look at what we posted. Very simple, with one big BUT right in the middle of it, then the last sentence is the THEREFORE (help us out). Plain, simple — set up, problem, solution.

Greetings, Friends – My name is Gina Cubero, and I am the Proud Mother of Jesse Bielmann, a highly decorated combat war Veteran. We need your help. My son Jesse served six years in the Air Force as a Special Operator with multiple deployments including a combat deployment to Afghanistan. As an Air Force Combat Controller, he was involved in very intense combat. His courageous journey has been manageable until now. Jesse successfully coped with the significant physical and psychological trauma from horrific combat experiences. But, in March 2022, he had an adverse reaction to prescribed medications for his physical and psychological traumas. Jesse had multiple seizures that left him in a coma with sustained heart and organ failure. He is unable to work while he is on the pathway to recovery. Daily necessities and crippling medical costs have caused severe financial duress for himself and family. Normally, Jesse is strong, resilient and resourceful, but his medical and financial challenges can not be met alone or with just family support. The funds that we raise will cover Jesse’s bills until he can get back on his feet. The time has come to ask for your help!


EXAMPLE 2: Non-profit Fundraising video: Paging Dr. Dobzhansky

My friend Laura Pavlakovich has been written up in the New York Times for her amazing work running a non-profit for Type 1 Diabetes. I’ve introduced her to the ABT and the Dobzhansky. This post from her a couple days ago says it all…

#196) The 4 ABT Long Haulers: Palermo, Howell, Padilla, Knowlton

They were there from the very first round of the ABT Framework Course in April, 2020. Two of them gave guest lectures in the first round (Palermo, Howell), two of them connected with elements of the business world from Park Howell that instantly resonated with them (Padilla, Knowlton) resulting in them joining the instruction team. By two years later the four of them had combined for over 100 guest presentations as well as embodied the single most important trait for the ABT Framework, which is the ability to LISTEN. They are true role models for effective communication and lead spokespersons for the ABT Framework.




The ABT Framework course has not been your basic “media training” program. It has been an incubator as we’ve slowly developed “strengthening the ABT” into a 3 step model. After two years of running the course, it looked by Round 24 drastically different from Round 1.

In the beginning there was no 3 Step Model, no books, no Working Circles — not much more than just the three word narrative template and the ABT Build exercise. But by the end there was a whole second level of detail.



Similarly, each of the guest instructors went through a sort of selection and change process. In the first year we brought in a wide range of guest speakers. It was partly to entertain myself during the height of the pandemic — a chance to have fun with old friends.

The guest speakers came from a diverse range of disciplines — filmmakers, scientists, actors, journalists — each making a connection with the ABT Template. But by the second year it became clear that four of the guest instructors needed to be recurring characters.

They became the central cast of: improv actor Brian Palermo, business podcast host Park Howell, senior scientists Dianna Padilla and Nancy Knowlton (all pictured above). Each one developed their individual presentations going from “a bunch of stuff” on their topic in the beginning, to eventually mostly their ONE THING which was LISTENING (Brian), CLIENT AS HERO (Park), PROPOSALS (Dianna), and OPTIMISM (Nancy).

By the end, each one fit together like puzzle pieces, following my 5 introductory “Nuts and Bolts” lectures on the basics of the ABT Framework. There were lots of great rounds of the course, though a few (the coral reef scientists, fisheries biologists, some of the National Park Service rounds, and East Carolina University) really stood out as exceptional.



One of the greatest parts of the whole project has been watching two senior scientists Dianna and Nancy fully absorb the power of the ABT Framework. I had them talk about this in a little detail a year ago in this 5 minute video.

The two of them, along with fellow septuagenarians Mike Strauss and Rick Nelson (formerly of USDA and USFWS, both central members of the instruction crew), demonstrate that it absolutely is possible for older scientists to learn the ABT Framework. This is a super-important point. I have had some older scientists say to me, verbatim, “I’m too old for that communications stuff.” Nope. Sorry. Turns out it’s actually easier for older folks, provided they’re willing to LISTEN.



As I’ve said, two years, 25 rounds, over 750 ABT Builds for me … it’s been an intense and fun incubator for the ABT Framework. Now it’s time to apply what we’ve learned. As Matt David has pointed out, we’ve completed the “arouse” part of the “Arouse and Fulfill” couplet, now it’s time for the fulfillment.

So the course has been a huge success AND we’ve all had a ton of fun, BUT we want to see the ABT Framework in action for a bit, THEREFORE … we’re launching a new phase starting May 4.

I’ll be explaining this in detail in a blogpost in a few days.

#195) 25 AND UP: 2 Years, 25 Rounds, 750 Graduates, time for the next phase of the ABT Agenda!

What more can be said about a course that was born by the pandemic, gave rise to 250 one-hour sessions, 200 conference calls among the 20 instructors, produced over 750 graduates, plus a podcast (ABT Time) that just produced its 35th episode. We developed the first ever detailed model for narrative structure (NOT storytelling) (you can read about it at ABTFramework.com) which is now detailed in 4 books. And of course the best news of all: We’re only getting started!




On Friday, April 10, 2020 I was surfing with a buddy who began telling me about the online course he was designing around his book on child behavior. My ears shut off, my brain lit up.

By the following Monday we had announced our “ABT Framework Course” on Twitter. By the end of the week we had filled all 50 slots for the first run.

Last Friday we completed the 25th round of the course. We eventually trimmed each round to 30 participants, producing a total of somewhere between 750 and 1,000 graduates.

This past February we hit maximum intensity as we ran 4 concurrent rounds (NPS, Cornell, ECU, Pfizer). Now it’s time for a little breather.



It’s fitting that last week’s episode of our ABT Time podcast was with Dr. Tom Hollihan of USC Annenberg School for Communication. He’s the guy, 24 years ago, who told me about the iconic couplet of “Arouse and Fulfill,” that lies at the heart of effective communication.

With the first 25 rounds of the course we have performed the “arouse” element — training up a whole cohort of ABT users. Now it’s time to move forward into the “fulfill,” phase.

This week I’m doing a series of 6 blogposts.  I’ll cite the 20 or so amazing amazing instructors involved with presenting the course at various stages. I’ll tell about the 4 books that arose from the course. I’ll dive into some of the details we learned about the ABT Narrative Template as we developed a deeper understanding of how it works. I’ll tell the story of the “sentient robot” who has worked tirelessly with me from the start and now threatens to know the ABT better than me.

And best of all, I’ll present the outline of our next phase, which is going to be called THE REAL NARRATIVE GYM, starting May 4.

Lots to share. Lots ahead. We’re just getting started building Mount ABT into something so large that even the skeptics (who continue to say “it’s just not that simple”) will be forced to take note!

#194) Dr. Michael Osterholm, guest today on The Joe Rogan Experience Podcast: A Quick Guide to the Discussion

Two years ago, at the start of the pandemic, Joe Rogan had on Dr. Michael Osterholm as his first COVID expert. In response to the recent controversies around the show, he brought back Dr. Osterholm for a 2.5 hour discussion. I listened to it as soon as it was posted. I don’t see any index to their discussion, so here’s my own crude notes to help you jump to specific topics if you don’t have time to listen to the entire episode.




Dr. Osterholm opened by emphasizing the need to practice “humility” in dealing with our knowledge of COVID.

The first half hour of the discussion is almost entirely focused on “gain of function” research on viruses and the theory that COVID was a virus that escaped from the Wuhan laboratory. At 31:00 I realized Joe was still pushing this topic. From there I began taking these crude notes with time codes.


At 00:31 – Joe is STILL hitting laboratory release issue

00:33 – MO defines “gain of function

00:35 – Eco-health Alliance

00:36 – Ace 2 receptors

00:38 – Risk/Benefit issue

00:39 – “the narrative of …” — “The Entertainment Debate”

00:40 — JR: “I don’t know if that’s a good analogy”

00:41 – MO: I tell you the truth, you can take that to the bank

00:48 – rate of hospitalization for non-vaccinated

00:49 – JR: White House didn’t promote health/obesity

00:51 – JR: – how important is weight?

00:52 – Chronic fatigue syndrome/Epstein-Barr

00:54 – UFC fighters

00:56 – Definition of “long COVID”

00:57 – “mild COVID” long term effects

00:59 – how do you should you have long COVID

1:02 – new treatments from pharmaceutical companies

1:03 – AIDS taken to chronic, manageable disease — vaccines remain central,

1:03 – IVERMECTIN – 5 big trials going on, including high dose

1:04 – Paxilovid from Pfizer, has great potential

1:05 – WE NEED comprehensive system to deal with surges, impact by race, Vitamin D correlation?

1:06 – now is time to address health disparities

1:07 – “Surge Capacity for Testing”, Minneapolis fire dept, we should pay for test capacity

1:08 – some of the biggest advances in Africa

1:09 – TESTING, Ron Desantis, expired tests

1:10 – “Vendor Management” can reduce problem of expired test kits, can only put so much in stock

1:11 – can’t make test kits at the last minute, “Hope is not a strategy,” need to be planning for next surge

1:12 – Vitamin D and race, people with more melanin have less Vitamin D, is it a marker for something else?

1:13 – need more studies

1:14 – FRONT LINE WORKERS, they did the hard, dangerous work, how do we protect them?

1:15 – Novel Programs — barbers talking health, started at Univ Maryland, Dr. Steven Thomas

1:16 – Healthcare Workers – refusing to get vaccine because already had COVID

1:17 – MO: Should add previous infection as part of assessment, infection + vaccine is highly effective

1:19 – 99% of doctors got vaccinated, technicians had lower rate, health care workers brought in virus

1:21 – MO — those with previous infection should get credit for that

1:21 – MO: Moderna is better than Pfizer because stronger

1:22 – MO – J&J gets better over time

1:23 – MO PREDICTION: we will be talking about the preferred “heterologous approach” — one dose of mRNA, one dose of J&J

1:23 – MO: CIDRAP doing study of new versions of the vaccine

1:24 – JR: exposure might not be as strong as hoped for, MO – we don’t know what’s meant by “having antibodies”

1:25 – can tell you protective level for measles, but can’t for COVID yet

1:26 – MO: Rocket science is easy, immunology is complicated, COVID is a good opportunity to get better

1:27 – JR: Can we some day boost OVERALL immunity? MO: there is no “natural immunity”

1:28 – MO: other kind of immunity — innate immunity, you want more specific, recognized immunity

1:29 – MO: must be careful about boosting overall immunity — don’t want one overall boost

1:30 – MO: CANCER VACCINES have a huge future, mRNAs got initial boost from cancer research

1:31 – MO: most important thing is overall staying healthy

1:32 – JR: What causes the adverse response to the vaccine? Myocarditis being major one

1:33 – MO: risk of myocarditis much greater from COVID than the virus, virus does A LOT to the heart

1:34 – JR: Does vaccine cause heart problems? MO: Zero cases of this JR: what causes myocarditis from virus

1:35 – JR: Any understanding of how to prevent myocarditis

1:35 – MO: only 2 cases under investigation of people who died from myocarditis from vaccine

1:36 – MO: more concerned about thrombosis (blood clotting) from J&J vaccine, JR: ceasing of J&J vaccine?

1:37 – MO: reduced production because for excess inventory, don’t like term BOOSTER, look at waning immunity

1:38 – “Booster” wanes at 6 months, should change terminology to 3 DOSES, immune compromised should get 4 doses

1:38 – JR: What’s up with Israel? High number of unvaccinated, had surge within them

1:39 – MO: just covered on my own podcast, surge was from UNVACCINATED

1:41 – looking up papers on Israel surge

1:42 – MO: Omicron 2-3 times more infectious

1:43 – Israel is 40% unvaccinated against omicron

1:44 – omicron evades original vaccination

1:47 – numbers show that VACCINES WORK

1:48 – “We can’t boost our way out of this pandemic” — the problem: waning immunity

1:50 – JR: an attenuated COVID vaccine? MO: “live attenuated” could be one way to go, too early to say

1:51 – PROBLEM – in January of 2021 we jumped on the mRNA bandwagon thinking it would do everything, not perfect

1:52 – MO: what is going to be vaccine 2.0

1:52: JR: What are your thoughts on monoclonal antibodies? MO: addressed this week on my podcast

1:53 MO: we have monoclonal antibodies not being used

1:53 JR: why did they get rid of first monoclonal antibodies?

1:55 JR: which monoclonal is most effective for omicron? MO: made in UK

1:56 JR: what can be learned from the early treatment of the virus? MO: a lot WAS learned

1:57 MO: Intensive care community did so much to document

1:57JR: Are we now in better shape for a new pandemic? MO: No. 500,000 health care workers have quit

1:58 MO: very few were fired for being unvaccinated, Our heath care system is FRAGILE

1:59 JR: What could be done to prepare for new pandemic? MO: Better prepared for surge capacity

2:00 MO: Have lost so many senior doctors. All 8 Minnesota health care groups took out full page ad.

2:01 MO; health care workers were vilified

2:01 JR: Do masks work? MO: You tell me, what’s similar between a 727 and a car? JR: they both hold people? MO: both have tires, that’s all

2:02 MO: Poor studies on cloth masks

2:03 MO: People don’t use masks properly

2:04 JR: what are masks doing? MO: It’s a bout fit and filtration.

2:05 MO: Filtration is even more important, good masks has electrostatic charge, virus goes through cloth

2:06 MO: need major initiative to promote N-95 masks

2:07 MO: N-95 masks are now readily available for everyone

2:08 MO: Ventilation is huge, Corsi filters

2:10 MO: I don’t support general lockdown, just apply the brakes, there’s a time and a place for MANDATES

2:11 MO: wear high quality masks

2;12 JR: what could have been done to reduce the “residual effects” of the pandemic (suicides, depression)
MO: #1 reason for depression during the pandemic was LOSING A LOVED ONE

2:13 MO: Going through a pandemic is tough

2:13 MO: Public now tuning us out, why? FATIGUE, much longer than ebola outbreak

2:14 MO: problem is the long term nature

2:14 MO: we didn’t communicate clearly JR: what was done incorrectly?

MO: we gave the public wrong expectations, a year ago I made darkest days predictions

2:15 MO: too many talking heads making wrong predictions JR: Why? MO: we lacked humility

2:16 MO: have to have willingness to say I DON’T KNOW, the three most important words

2:17 JR: To wrap it up on the Israel data? MO: Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine

2:19 JR: What is going on with Africa and low rates? MO: S. Africa did have high rates

2:20 MO: much younger age distribution, still studying, other diseases have gotten worse because of disruption

2:22 MO: S. Africa has come down, but not gone away

2:22 JR: Have any countries done well? MO: Australia and NZ, even though islands

2:23 MO: look at Minnesota vs NZ, huge difference

2:24 MO: Denmark did a good job, we should copy them in the future

2:25 JR: What’s your take on doctors who put out protocols for early treatment. MO: Has to be science driven.

2:26 JR: Previous studies of ivermectin weren’t good? MO: no

2:27 MO: So many studies need to be done much sooner, as quickly as possible.

2:27 MO: Need to do a better job of telling stories.

2:28 MO: My overall message: HUMILITY

#193) Elegant vs Clumsy: Why Climate Communication Fails

Sorry, but somebody needs to point this stuff out. Last month the U.N. released a Public Service Announcement (PSA) in advance of COP 26 that had almost all the same narrative elements of the greatest television commercial ever produced. All but one thing — NARRATIVE INTUITION. Dummies. Boring dummies. Worse, LECTURING boring climate dummies. Since when do we need a lecturing dinosaur?

Two Short Pieces intended for the entire planet. One, concise and smart. The other … a lecturing dinosaur who went on and on and on with a confused lecture. Why?

Here’s what the dinosaur (sadly, voiced by comic genius Jack Black) said. White is off the narrative. Blue is set up. Red is problem. Purple is sidebar. Green is solution.



Who wants to be lectured to in this day and age? Not me. Not anyone young who isn’t a climate worshipper.

Once upon a time there were leaders with powerful NARRATIVE INTUITION who roamed the planet. One of them was the great innovator Steve Jobs.



In 1984, Steve Jobs’ company, Apple, produced a television commercial that many experts point to as the great television commercial of all time (though important to know that his board hated it). It had simple narrative structure which was basically this:

AND – gray zombie workers lifelessly view a giant screen giving commands
BUT – a rebellious woman in red shorts runs in and throws a hammer that shatters the screen
THEREFORE – tag line, “Apple is introducing MacIntosh, 1984 won’t be like 1984”



Last month the U.N. produced a PSA for COP 26 with similar structure, almost…

AND – the UN general assembly is meeting as per usual
BUT – a dinosaur takes the podium
THEREFORE – therefore we get … a 1.5 minute rambling lecture???

Do you see the similarities in the first two parts — the set up and twist? Then do you see the difference between the CONSEQUENCE elements?

One had the narrative sensibility to know to get out quick once the point is made.

The other droned on and on and on, wasting the talents of a great comic actor (Jack Black, the voice of the dinosaur) and then even worse, the day it was released, Rachael Maddow on MSNBC raved about the spot, basically calling it a masterpiece.



Look at the narrative structure of the 1.5 minute lecture. It’s a big stinking pile of DHY (Despite, However, Yet — the overly narrative structure).

It’s all so symbolic of the entire climate movement of the past two decades, sort of beautifully so. It’s been one big movement of lecturing the public, scolding them, bombarding them, and then retreating in confusion as nobody listens.

As veteran Democratic party strategist James Carville talked about last spring in VOX, it’s really been the worst communicating movement in the history of the planet. He said, “Let me give you my favorite example of metropolitan, overeducated arrogance. Take the climate problem. Do you realize that climate is the only major social or political movement that I can think of that refuses to use emotion? Where’s the identifiable song? Where’s the bumper sticker? Where’s the slogan? Where’s the flag? Where’s the logo?”

I gave a talk a decade ago titled, “Dude, Where’s My Climate Movement?,” for the 50th anniversary of the World Wildlife Fund. Things were bad back then. They’ve only gotten worse.

And now the hero and presumed darling of the entire climate movement, Greta Thunberg, is turning on the entire movement with her “Blah, Blah, Blah,” critique, which sounds a lot like, “And, And, And.” She’s labeling them as boring, and failing to solve problems.

Greta gets it.

#192) Narrative Analysis of “Seaspiracy” Ocean Documentary: A Guide to Our Podcast Episode

The Netflix documentary “Seaspiracy” appeared on Netflix in March, causing much “strum und drang” in the ocean conservation community. It addresses the two main elements of ocean destruction: POLLUTION and OVER-FISHING. Several ocean activist friends asked me for my opinion of the film. I decided to organize an episode of our new podcast ABT Time around it involving two experts on over-fishing that I’ve known for over 15 years each, Dr. Jennnifer Jacquet of NYU and John Hocevar of Greenpeace. What I’ve compiled here is a sort of Viewers Guide, especially useful to those who are learning the ABT Framework. I point out parts of the discussion where we delve into narrative structure in relation to the communication of these two issues through the film. We also use the more popular Oscar-winning, “My Octopus Teacher,” as a reference point for narrative dynamics.

Ocean science and policy experts Dr. Jennifer Jacquet of NYU and John Hocevar of Greenpeace.



There have been tons of articles and blogposts written about the recent documentary, “Seaspiracy.” This week on our new podcast, ABT Time with my Australian co-host Jen Martin, we hosted two ocean experts as guests. Our main goal was not to delve into the science and environmental policy side of the film, but rather to have the two experts work with us in analyzing the effectiveness of communication of the film.

As part of the exercise, we used the recent Oscar-winning ocean film, “My Octopus Teacher,” for comparison of narrative dynamics.

Here’s a sort of “Viewers Guide” to some of the specific aspects of our discussion that honed in on elements of THE ABT FRAMEWORK in relation to the two films. This material will be of particular interest to folks who have either taken the ABT Framework Course, are thinking of taking it, or have read “The Narrative Gym.”



The time codes here refer to the Youtube version of the podcast which you can find here.




THE TWO ABT’s OF “SEASPIRACY” – I begin by laying out the two basic ABT’s of “Seaspiracy” which are:

HIS PERSONAL JOURNEY: The filmmaker fell in love with the oceans as a kid AND all the documentaries he viewed seemed to paint a healthy picture of the oceans, BUT then he began to learn what we all know, that the oceans are in bad shape, THEREFORE he decided to get involved in saving the oceans.

THE FILM’S OVERALL ABT: He went to work on ocean conservation AND all he heard about was plastic pollution BUT then he began to realize that over-fishing is the bigger, longer term issue, THEREFORE he felt deceived and thus the “conspiracy” element of the title.



PROBLEM: TOO MANY NARRATIVES (DHY) – In the ABT Framework we use the term DHY (Despite, However, Yet) to represent the form of a story that has too many narratives going at once.

You can hear Jen Martin address this as she says the film left her feeling “thoroughly overwhelmed.” She itemizes some of the problems brought up — she says, “one minute it was dolphins, then it was sharks, then it was marine certification, then it was turtles, then it was climate change, then it was mangroves, then it was slavery at sea, then it was whales …”

This is exactly where our 3 Step ABT Development Model (that is at the core of the ABT Framework course and the “Narrative Gym” book) starts. You begin the process of defining your central narrative by pinpointing THE ONE PROBLEM — not 15 problems. It seemed like the movie, by the end, finally did arrive at THE ONE PROBLEM which is that: “We need to stop eating fish.”

Once the filmmakers figured this out, they should have thrown out most of the content of the film and tried to take us on a singular, clear, simple, thoughtful, focused, penetrating journey to the depths of this one question of whether we should continue eating fish. That would have made for a more focused and powerful film.

There was a simple compelling argument to be made about that, but the film ended up being too much STUFF (as Jen itemized) piled on top of itself.



THE POWER OF CONTEXT – Narrative consists of 3 forces: Agreement, Contradiction, Consequence. In the past year and a half, as we’ve run 14 rounds of the ABT Framework course, probably the biggest lesson we’ve learned has been the overwhelming importance of that first element — AGREEMENT. It’s where the problem gets set up. If you do a good job with it, the story reaches a deep level, if you don’t, people feel little connection.

At this point in the discussion Jen Martin talks in detail about all the work “My Octopus Teacher” did with setting up the story in a way that made you feel something, care about the main character, and know what is at stake. “Seaspiracy” kind of bypassed this whole element, jumping right into the problems. This tends to be a defining difference between a good storytelling versus shallower, more ephemeral communication.

By the way, somewhere around here Jennifer Jacquet scores one of the best lines of the whole discussion in saying that this is where “My Octopus Teacher,” has a leg up on the other film, “or maybe eight legs up.” Hahahahaha. She’s funny.



ARCHPLOT ANALYSIS OF “MY OCTOPUS TEACHER” — Okay, this is where Jen and I, without apologies, delve into the depths of the ABT Framework course, speaking to either graduates of the course or anyone who has studied Robert McKee’s 1997 landmark screenwriting book, “Story.” He talks about Classical Design of stories — the attributes of stories that have great impact both in space and time, crossing cultures and lasting for eternity. He lists 8 characteristics which, in my books, I present the 5 I think are most important. He introduces the term ARCHPLOT as a more technical term for Classical Design.

At this point in the discussion I work with Jen to go through the 5 main characteristics of Archplot for “My Octopus Teacher.”

1) SINGLE MAIN CHARACTER – I ask her the fundamental question we were constantly hit with in film school which is, “Who’s Story is it?” As cool as the octopus is in the film, it is clear the overall film is the story of the filmmaker, Craig Foster.

2) ACTIVE MAIN CHARACTER – Was Craig just a passive character in the story, or is he actively on a journey. Jen does a great job, starting at 37:45, of telling about the whole set up of Craig’s background — his suffering in life, his search for “The great purpose of my life” — a very clear problem he was seeking to address and found a pathway through the octopus.

3) LINEAR TIMELINE – Mass audiences prefer events to be told to them in linear sequence. Artsy crowds love to jump around in time, but that tends to lose the masses. This events in this film were completely linear.

4) COMPLETE CAUSALITY – Were things left unexplained? Not really. Pretty much everything in the film made sense. The masses demand this.

5) CLOSED ENDING – The film came to a beautiful closed ending with the end of the life of the octopus and a synthesis of all that Craig learned and how it helped him with his relationships.

The bottom line is that “My Octopus Teacher” conformed to most of the man criteria of Archplot stories. It took us on a journey that spanned the life of the octopus and was very personal. “Seaspiracy” was more just informational, not headed towards any clear end point and with little attention paid to the set up.



SYLVIA EARLE GETS VINDICATED – At this point in the discussion I confide that I’ve never been a fan of Sylvia Earle, BUT … finally with this film, I think I finally am, at least somewhat. If she knew about The Dobzhansky Template, I think she would use it like this:


She’s still not a great communicator, but she was one of the first to begin preaching the message of “let’s stop eating seafood,” which thirty years ago seemed silly, but now is the grand message of “Seaspiracy.” She’s looking better on this with time.



THE ABT OF FISH RIGHTS – There’s a great moment here from Jennifer, thrown on the spot by me asking her to tell the ABT of the issue of giving individual rights to fish. She does an excellent job, off the top of her head — proving for once and for all that no, you don’t need a day to craft an ABT – you can do it on the spot. I’m going to use this bit in the ABT Framework course when people say they can’t come up with an ABT if they aren’t given few hours to craft it. Wrong.



It was maybe a little unfair to invite Jennifer and John as guests who are experts in ocean science and policy, then focus the whole discussion on communication, BUT … I wouldn’t have done it if they weren’t both excellent communicators themselves. Towards that end, here’s a few of their more important moments towards the end.



“I FOUND IT EXCITING” – I think some ocean conservationists were so annoyed with “Seaspiracy” that they would be annoyed with anyone conveying any excitement about the film, but the film definitely did eventually find its way to somewhat of a “new message” for the oceans. This is what Jennifer is talking about near the end of our discussion which she found exciting. And I agree.



ALIENS BOTTOM TRAWLING NEW YORK CITY – My favorite bit from John Hocevar is near the end when he talks about what space aliens would find if they dragged bottom nets through downtown New York City.



THE INTERNATIONAL WHALING COMMISSION: SHIFTS HAPPEN – I think this is probably the best part of our entire discussion — Jennifer Jacquet offers up her overall synthesis of what is happening with the issue of over-fishing AND could very well eventually happen one day for the whole world. This part is really great. If you’re too busy to listen to the entire discussion, just go to this one bit.



“MY SEA SQUIRT TEACHER” – go ahead and laugh, but maybe some day I’ll go back to Lizard Island, Australia, where I did the field work for my PhD dissertation on sea squirts and film my own documentary with this title. It will consist of me sitting underwater all day long throughout the entire life of a single colony of the colonial ascidian Didemnum molle, just waiting for it to do one thing — anything — other than just sitting there and filtering water all day, every day. It will be the most thoughtful and meditative ocean conservation film ever made. And then when it’s released and gets rotten reviews for having “none of the narrative principles the guy spent his life espousing,” I will ask people to say only to me the same thing that Bill Murray’s playwright character said he likes to hear about his plays in “Tootsie” — when people come up to him and say, “I saw your play … what happened?”

#191) The ABT Framework Course Turns One Year Old…

The ABT Framework course turned one last month. Just like a child, it has grown and changed a great deal in a year. Last week we began the 14th round of the course. Here’s what the 10 one hour sessions now look like. For a fascinating comparison and demonstration of what I’m saying about the evolution of the course, have a look back at a year ago and the original content of the 10 one hour sessions.




The ABT Framework Course began on April 20, 2020 in response to our Story Circles Narrative Training course being shut down by the pandemic. We’re currently in the 14th round of the course and have learned a great deal as it has evolved.

The course gave rise to a 3 Step Development model. The model became the core of the new book, “The Narrative Gym,” published last fall. The book is now pretty much the bible for the course

The training is built around the one sentence ABT Narrative Template. Each participant submits their ABT (usually for a project they are working on) at the start. They then get their chance to work on it live in front of the class as an ABT Build exercise with me, then in greater depth in the half hour Working Circle that they host with four participants.

Overall, the course consists of three main elements:

PRESENTATIONS – 10 half hour presentations followed by the ABT Build half hour

ABT BUILDS – roughly 7 minute sessions, one for each participant, to edit their ABT live

WORKING CIRCLES – half hour sessions outside of the 10 one hour sessions for individual ABT development

Here are the topics for the 10 presentations. The second half of the sessions are usually presented by guest speakers.



We begin with the fundamental goal of the course — to NOT “preach to the converted.” This is a pre-occupation of mine from literally forty years ago. Back when I was studying coral reefs in the 1980’s and already seeing the environmental problems emerge for them, I couldn’t figure out why PBS documentaries on coral reefs were narrated with a privilege, elitist voice that was clearly meant for the people who were least likely to be involved in the destruction of nature. There are two fundamental audiences — the INNER CIRCLE and the OUTER CIRCLE. The goal and challenge is to reach the Outer Circle. That is what the ABT is for.



This is the starting point for the 3 step ABT Development Model. It begins by going to the BUT element in the ABT. This is the statement of the problem, and the problem is the core of narrative. There are lots of attributes you want the BUT element to have, starting with ideally being a single problem, making for The Singular Narrative.



Every good story at its core is little more than a problem/solution exercise. This become clear when you take a look at the Monomyth template. This gives rise to the concept of the Ordinary World versus the Special World.



This course is about narrative structure, for which we draw a fair amount of knowledge from Hollywood storytelling. This session delves into the divide between mass appeal ABT-structured Archplot, and art house smaller audience AAA/DHY structured Miniplot.



The second half of the course requires broader, less literal thinking. This begins with the concept of “the fool.” This is the person who is so far outside your inner circle that they are beyond even your outer circle. The concept was brought to us by famous historian of the American West and MacArthur Fellow Patty Limerick. If you look at “the fool” in terms of content you can dismiss this person for not knowing your field of work. But if the fool knows narrative structure, that person can be the most valuable member of your Working Circle because their mind is so free of clutter.



My long time improv instructor and co-author of our Connection book, Brian Palermo underscores the power and importance of listening to narrative. The ABT begins with the AND element which is the power of AGREEMENT. For it to be possible, you have to be able to listen to the world around you and yield to the experts who have come before you. This is one of the central element of improv training — developing the ability to listen. It is central to the ability to communicate.



Yeah, in know, if you’re a scientist and/or academic you probably find this entire concept off-putting. But like it or not, in today’s world, the title of Daniel Pink’s bestselling book is true, “To Sell Is Human.” Park Howell, the host of the podcast, “The Business of Story,” (now it it’s 6th year) brings this element to the course with his book, Brand Bewitchery.” And believe it or not, it provides a smooth segue into the next session, which is the writing of research proposals.



My undergraduate marine biology buddy and Professor of Ecology and Evolution, Dr. Dianna Padilla, listened to Park Howell in the first round of the course and immediately said, “Yes. This is totally relevant to proposal writing.” She has had decades of writing and reviewing proposals, even serving as a program officer for the National Science Foundation. When she said narrative concepts from the business world are relevant, you know it’s for real. Also, she underscores the need to, “Genuflect to the Elders,” meaning the need to study, absorb and cite the proper literature for research that has come before you. It is central to writing successful proposals, and it is right there in the A of the ABT.



In another shocking development in this course, Dr. Nancy Knowlton (of the Smithsonian Institution and member of the National Academy of Sciences) listened to Park Howell talk about his concept of “The Narrative Spiral,” and immediately saw the relevance to her work on “Earth Optimism” and the entire history of the American environmental movement of the past century. She brings both the monomyth template and the larger scale pattern of the Narrative Spiral to make sense of the long term journey of the environmental community in general.



A rather communications-challenged climate scientist once said to me, “Randy, you just think the ABT is a hammer and everything is a nail.” Imagine telling a molecular biologist, “You just think DNA is a hammer and everything in life is a nail.” Um, yeah, actually it is. And actually, Park Howell said long ago, when he first absorbed the ABT that it is “The DNA of Story.” Thus I titled my fourth book, “Narrative Is Everything.” It really is. This final session brings the entire course together for the grand synthesis as most, if not all, of the participants exit the course with a new realization of the overwhelming and ubiquitous power of narrative structure.

Plus having had fun.