Barry Schwartz about wisdom

Apart from his enlightening topics there is a lot we can learn from Barry Schwatz’s presentations — although (or, maybe just because) he is not our picture-book presenter. After the video three thoughts, in order of appearance.

1. Style

Barry’s academic background shows in his presentations, they have a scent of university lecture. But, what a lecture that is! He is brilliant, subtle, funny, and engaging. He has something to say. Although it seems he has a complete manuscript in front of him, he knows his topic so well that he does not have to rely on his notes. He is used to having a lecturne to support him, but he is vivid enough in his body language to not appear too static. His slides have gotten better over the years, yet they still have plenty of room for improvement, especially in terms of font size and legibility. Usually we strongly suggest to refrain from using cartoons, comics, clip art etc. Barry Schwartz is one of the very few presenters who use cartoons on their slides in a meaningful way. In that we consider him an exception.

2. Structure

The presentation is divided into three parts of roughly equal length, let’s call them “Practical wisdom”, “Rules and procedures”, and “What can we do?” The janitor stories set up the central thought, “Practical wisdom, Aristotle taught us, is the combination of moral will and moral skill.” The lemonade story creates the transition to the second part, leading to rules, procedures, and incentives, and their consequences: “Without intending it, by appealing to rules and incentives we are engaging in a war on wisdom.” After half the presentation time he gives a little summary, only to arrive at the question, “What can we do?”. In the third part he talks about moral responsibilities and the need to be an ordinary — if not extraordinary — moral hero. It is all about “wanting to do the right things in the right way for the right reasons”.

3. Sustainability

No doubt, what Barry Schwartz says stays with us. Of course it helps to have a meaningful message. But the message won’t “stick” without the proper vehicle to drive it home. It is a package of three methods to persuade, named by Aristotle about 2400 years ago: Ethos, the ability to persuade through reputation or credentials — Barry Schwartz has lots of them. Pathos, appealing to the listeners’ emotions — beautifully done by telling real-life stories that contain an element of surprise, someting unexpected that catches our attention and makes us remember. Logos, persuading through logic, is the use of information, facts, and data presented in the proper order. Barry Schwartz masters all three methods. That makes him a great presenter.

Barry Schwartz (born 1946) is an American psychologist. Schwartz is the Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College. He frequently publishes editorials in the New York Times applying his research in psychology to current events. (Wikipedia)

Paule Wendelberger