A: You can change the meaning. The meaning can better suit your purpose.
For decades now I have taught that a story in its simplest terms can be reduced to a formula: Content + Context + Value = Emotionally Meaningful Story.
The content is all the facts, evidence, characters, relationships, and the like.
The context is the circumstances within which those facts took place, the characters came to be and how they related among and between themselves.
The value gives us the emotional juice so we can relate to the story whether it is about the Hobbit, a coach on trial for alleged sexual abuse or environmental changes.
It's all a story - and not just a story.
Apple is back in the news. Not because it is launching another iThing but because its wages and payroll practices are pretty abysmal, "Apples Stores' Army, Long on Loyalty but Short on Pay." How would Steve Jobs change the context of that story?
Here's an example of how he created a "high ground maneuver" that set a new PR bar, as excerpted from the book Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.
The iPhone 4 was dropping calls like crazy. The reason was attributed to a glitch in the steel rim of the phone. If you held the phone a particular way or covered up the tiny gap that was part of the antenna mechanism, there could be some signal loss. And it was a problem known to Jobs and the Apple engineers before the launch.
Media being what it is created "Antennagate" and Consumer Reports declined to recommend the phone after rigorous testing.
What's a CEO to do?
Jobs held a press conference. He did not accept the advice of board members to show a little humility, damp down the pride a bit, offer an apology. He changed the context of the story, "saying all cell phones had problems." In a remarkably straightforward and neutral tone he said, "We are not perfect. Phones are not perfect. We all know that. But we want to make our users happy." Jobs denied the problem, dismissed the criticism, and spread the blame across the board of all smartphone manufacturers
And that was pretty much the end of that.
You could return your phone, but only a marginal few users did.
"Scott Adams, the creator of the cartoon strip Dilbert, was also increduloous but far more admiring....Apple's response to the iPhone 4 problem didn't follow the public relations playbook, because Jobs deccided to rewrite the playbook," Adams wrote. "If you want to know what genius looks like, study Jobs' words" By proclaiming up front that phones are not perfect, Jobs changed the context of the argument with an indisputable assertion. "If Jobs had not changed the context from the iPhon 4 to all smartphones in general, I could make you a hilarious comic strip about a product so poorly made that it won't work if it comes in contact with a human hand. But as soon as the context is changed to all smartphones have problems,' the humor opportunity is gone. Nothing kills humor like a general and boring truth." [page 523]
TIP: Develop the context of your story to suit the purpose of your persuasion.
TIP: Developing the accurate and appropriate context for your story is not lying; it owning the genius to persuade your listener or decision-maker.
TIP: Lessons are everywhere we look.