I let Redirect by Timothy D. Wilson sit on my shelf for a long time. I acquired it with other behavioral economics and behavior design books such as Nudge and Hooked and thought it fell into that group. I considered it a business book related to behavior design and changing behavior.
That’s only half right. Redirect is about narratives and using stories to improve our lives. It demonstrates the power of story-editing, as Wilson names it, to change outcomes, whether they be reducing teenage pregnancy, getting your kids to practice piano, or curbing drug use among adolescents. Its examples are far more clinical and health-oriented, but its lessons are deep enough and meaningful enough to apply to nearly any situation in which minds and behavior need to change.
Wilson’s argument opens with Kurt Lewin’s subjectivist view that “in order to understand why people do what they do, we have to view the world through their eyes and understand how they make sense of things.” Wilson demonstrates that people make sense of the world, and themselves, through narratives. In Redirect, Wilson leverages this foundational understanding of human meaning-making to demonstrate how story-editing can be used to improve people’s situations. Story-editing is a writing technique in which people use narratives to redirect how they make meaning of events, their place in the world, or their circumstances.
Wilson doesn’t just claim this. He proves it. In fact, proving things is a big deal for Wilson. In every chapter, Wilson sets up his argument by demonstrating how commonsense approaches to social issues are rarely backed by research and even less frequently tested to ensure they are providing the intended benefit. Wilson summarizes the sins of untested interventions in two ways. These programs often fail by either “blistering” (not having any effect) or “bloodletting” (having an adverse effect).
Wilson most savagely applies this framework to The Secret. Of the entire universe of self-help books, Wilson takes greatest issue with The Secret. He attacks it with the vigor one might experience when debunking a conspiracy theory based on long-disproven theories. Flat earth? Moon landing? The Secret? No, thoughts do not have frequencies that you can transmit throughout the entire universe. I recommend reading Wilson’s passage regarding his desire for a TV and his concerns that, under the philosophies espoused in The Secret, someone else may want the same TV and their thought frequencies would conflict with his. But for every takedown (most aren’t so savage) of a popular idea, practice, or program, Wilson follows up with a case study of story-editing at work and the data that support it.
After a few chapters, this structure becomes somewhat redundant. My recommendation to the reader is to focus your attention on Chapters 1, 2, and 10 and then choose the most relevant, or personally interesting, chapters from the middle. This will give you the foundation of his approach and the case studies you will be most inspired to cite later when sharing them at a dinner party. (If you’re wondering, Chapter 3 is the chapter that goes after The Secret.)
I read all the chapters and, as a parent of a 6- and 8-year-old, I found Chapter 4 on becoming a better parent to be the most valuable. I also found Chapter 7 on reducing alcohol and drug use socially relevant as the White House has recently declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency.
As a professional, I also found the book helped me improve my own confidence. I should reiterate that this is very much not a business book. But the concept of story-editing is as relevant in reducing prejudice as it is in developing self-confidence in professional situations. I have even used the techniques to motivate myself to finish my PhD.
You may also find these techniques useful in your career, with your own families, or in navigating your own struggles. For that reason alone, I recommend the book. Furthermore, the underlying concepts of story-editing – the concept of shifting behavior and perception through redirecting narratives – is the underlying idea behind my work at Threadline. It was validating to see those theories being proven in a parallel world and I hope the organizations I assist will do as much good for their consumers as is seen in the case studies Wilson includes in Redirect.