I work in the learning-and-performance field. I watched the first two presidential debates. They were problematic to say the least. So, I thought to myself, “Hey Will, you’re a learning-and-performance professional. What might be done to improve them?” Actually, it was more like, “Damn, somebody’s got to make these debates better. They’re not creating the best outcomes. They’re not really educating us on the important issues for the presidential election. Our debates are not helping the democratic process. Indeed, they’re probably creating harm.”
Picture above by Donkey Hotey 2016 Creative Commons on Flickr
In looking at the debate process, there are several leverage points, including the following:
- The debate format.
- The questions asked.
- The candidates’ responses.
- The citizenry’s cognitive processing of the debate.
- The news media’s and social media’s messaging about the debate.
- The citizenry’s cognitive processing of the media messaging.
For most of these, we — the citizenry — have very little direct leverage to influence the process. Together, we can influence the social-media messages, but as individuals, we have very little influence there. Tears in the ocean.
But certainly the media and the candidates are acting with intentionality to influence the citizenry. Candidates act bold and confident because they know that people, in general, are suckers for those who display confidence. Candidates use certain words to influence — even if those words are too general to be meaningful (words like freedom, equality, strength, diversity). Candidates avoid talking about complicated issues, because they think we can’t understand. Candidates speak in terms of black and white, good and bad, either this or that — though the world is shaded in sepia tones — because they think we need certainty.
They act because they think we as citizens will react in predictable ways. But what if we changed and improved our responses to the debates? What if we as citizens improved our cognitive processing and instead of having knee-jerk reactions, we improved our thinking? What if instead of being persuaded by irrelevancies, we were persuaded by a clear understanding of the issues? Is there anything we can do to improve and deepen our thinking about the debates?
Yes! We can do a better job! Not a perfect job, not a brilliant job, but we can improve and deepen our thinking if we take some time to think about what we care about and what matters.
I’m sure my efforts here will be inadequate, but I offer a one-page checklist to spur your thinking. Take a look, try it out at Wednesday’s final Presidential debate and let me know how you’d improve it. Tell me what works and what doesn’t. Better yet, let me know what else we can do to improve the results of the debates.
WHAT ELSE? WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Okay, I really feel like this effort is too inconsequential and too unlikely to make a difference, so I’d love to hear your ideas:
- What’s wrong with this approach?
- What could make it better?
- What else could be done to improve the outcome of the debates — that is, creating a better informed citizenry.
- Are there other tools in our learning-and-performance toolbox we might use?
- What could make our debates great again? (sorry, couldn’t resist)