So…About That Message Strategy

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who stepped on a bee. It was an accident. The bee got startled and did what anxious, barb-ended critters do, and the child was stung. Crying and running ensued, and a genuine hatred of “bees” was born.

Some time later, the boy happened to spy a winged creature with distinct yellow and black markings. He swatted at the bug in the air. He chased it with a broom, and ultimately followed it to its home. The boy did not know that the large gray ball of paper was not a bee hive, but a wasp’s nest. He did know the broom would reach it to punish the “bees.”

One good swat and the target broke loose and bounced on the ground. A few dead wasps could be seen at the edges of the cracked shell, but were quickly obscured by a legion of their brethren that were very much alive.

Running ensued, and stinging and crying and more running.

The message was sent, but generated far more pain than having left well enough alone.

Terrorism is about a message of fear. Sometimes, the perpetrators attempt to tie that fear to a specific organization, country or even people. Sometimes the message strategy involves attempting to scare others into stopping a behavior.

But what if the message emboldens the audience to do just the opposite, to send its own message, magnifying the original offending behavior exponentially?

To paraphrase French author Michel Foucault: The power of an action is not in its intended outcome, but in the actual outcome.

Perhaps, even if you kill the offending bee, there is more kinship among like creatures than expected.

Je Suis Charlie

Dr. Michael C. Porter, APR is director of the Master of Business Communication Program.