March 6:  How to Day

On this day in 1965, the musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” closed on Broadway after 1,415 performances.  

The musical was inspired by the bestselling nonfiction book of the same title, published by Shepherd Mead in 1952.  The book satirized American office life in the guise of a self-help manual. In 1961, Frank Loesser adapted Mead’s book into a musical.  The protagonist of the play is a window washer named J. Pierrepont Finch. Within one week of being hired to work in the mailroom of World Wide Wickets, Finch becomes chairman of the board.

Opening in October 1961, the play’s run on Broadway spanned five years, winning eight Tony Awards and the 1962 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

Of course, it is hard to truly succeed at anything “without really trying.”  One thing that does make success easier, however, is if someone with experience takes the time to explain to you the steps needed to achieve success in a specific endeavor.  This type of expository writing is called “how to” or “process” writing.

When you write a “how to” speech or when you try to teach someone something, beware the Curse of Knowledge — the principle that says that once we know something, it is hard to remember what it was like when we didn’t know it.  

The reality of the Curse of Knowledge was demonstrated in a 1990 study by Elizabeth Newton, a Stanford University graduate student in psychology.  Newton created a game where the players were given one of two roles: “tappers” or “listeners.” The tappers were given a well-known song, such as “Happy Birthday,” and were instructed to tap out the rhythm of the song on a table.  The listeners were then asked to guess the song.

When asked to predict how successful the listeners would be in identifying their songs, the tappers predicted 50%.  This prediction wasn’t close. Of the 120 songs tapped out, the listeners guessed only three, a 2.5% success rate. The Curse of Knowledge explains the large disparity between the tappers prediction and their actual success rate.  As they tapped out their tunes, they could not avoid hearing the song in their head; the listeners, however, only heard the taps. The tappers were “cursed” by their knowledge of the songs’ melodies and were unable to imagine what it was like for the listeners to hear only the tapping.

Today’s Challenge:  Recipe for Success

What are some topics that you know well enough to give someone else advice on?  Select one of the topics you know well, and write a speech on “How to Succeed in _________.”  Use a recipe as an analogy for your speech. Give your audience an idea of the basic ingredients that they will need, along with specific steps that they will need to follow in an orderly chronological sequence.  Remember to account for the Curse of Knowledge by putting yourself in the shoes of your reader.

How to Succeed:

-In being a good student

-In balancing school and work

-In balancing sports and school

-In getting into a good college

-In getting a good job

-In winning at . . .

-In learning to play an instrument

-In persuading your parents

-In learning a second language

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Success will never be a big step in the future; success is a small step taken just now. -Jonatan Martensson