A Quote is a Concept-Answer
When I was in high school, I bought a book of famous quotations at Borders Bookstore. I’ve always been fascinated by quotes. Successful communicators use quotes during presentations, on their website, or during a coaching session with a client. A quote is a type of answer, but in AQ terms, which answer type is a quote (story, metaphor, theory, concept, procedure, or action)?
Before I answer this question, let me take a step back to discuss answers in AQ terms. There are six answer types (again; story, metaphor, theory, concept, procedure, or action) and any other type of answer can be mapped to these six answer types. If you were asked for an “example”, this could be mapped to all six answer types. If you are asked, “Can you provide me an example of how a customer implements your software?” this could elicit a procedure-answer. Or, if asked, “Can you give me an example of customer success?” this could elicit a story-answer. An example has a one-to-many relationship to the six answer types, potentially representing all six answer types depending on the context and framing of the question. Therefore, it is important for a communicator to get the form of answer correct when an example is asked for.
In similar terms, a quote has a one-to-many relationship to the six AQ answer types. However, it is my belief that a quote has a primary mapping to a concept-answer. For example, when I teach students in the classroom, I often share this quote from famed Indy car driver Mario Andretti…
“If you have everything under control, you're not moving fast enough… If you feel like you're under control, you're just not going fast enough.”
I share this quote to locate the concept of “risk-taking” for a student body that is often risk averse. I want them to understand and believe in the concept of risk-taking. In the classroom, or in business, as communicators we believe in important concepts, and we can communicate those concepts directly to others by using a definition. I could have defined risk-taking for my students. However, I’ve never seen a student read a definition and get animated with belief. Unlike a definition, a quote can inspire.
The source of inspiration from quotes is two-fold. First, the source of the quote has credibility as an authority figure. Mario Andretti was a world class driver. In similar terms, at a client site when you give a sales presentation, a quote from a large Fortune 500 company provides credibility. Second, a related point, the credibility emanates from the experiences of the quote source. It is not hard to imagine that Mario Andretti has direct knowledge of risk taking. Or in the context of a sales presentation, credibility goes up if the Fortune 500 quote source is from an industry that is the same as the prospects. If the quote source and prospect firm is from the same industry, the experience base is similar, giving credibility to the quote.
In summary, the Mario Andretti quote is a “window into a concept.” The concept of risk-taking is understood based upon source credibility and source experiences.
To further illustrate quotes-as-concepts, let’s examine a subset of the top 100 leadership quotes as identified by Inc. I will choose 3 quotes to make three points. First, quotes are concept-answers. Second, quotes are based upon credibility/experiences. Third, a new point, each concept associated with a quote can evoke different “dimensions” of the concept of leadership.
Let’s examine three quotes to illustrate from the Inc.com top 100 list:
"The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves." – Ray Kroc
Quote 1 evokes the concept of “quality” and Ray Kroc is a source of credibility because he built the McDonald’s restaurant system into what it is today by focusing upon repeatable standards and methods to develop a uniform quality experience every time for a customer.
"Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple and it is also that difficult." – Warren Bennis
Quote 2 evokes the concept of “authenticity” and Warren Bennis is a source of credibility because he was a Professor at the University of Southern California (USC) often credited as the founder of modern leadership studies. In short, he studied the best leaders in the world; his experiences with those leaders give him credibility.
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves." – Lao Tzu
Quote 3 evokes the concept of “empowerment” and Lao Tzu is a source of credibility because he was an ancient Chinese Philosopher who founded Taoism, and a deity in traditional Chinese religions.
In a sense, leadership is too big of a concept to reduce to one quote -- that is why Inc compiled 100 leadership quotes. The point is that leadership is multi-dimensional. In the three quotes above, I evoke three sub-dimensions of leadership: quality, authenticity, and empowerment. At the extreme, the 100 quotes could represent 100 dimensions of leadership. In practice, a content analysis of the 100 quotes would reveal several repeated concepts. In social science, a “factor analysis” is a statistical process to reduce the number of dimensions of an overall concept into a parsimonious subset. Looking at quotes does not lend itself to a statistical factor analysis, but the point still stands that the dimensions of leadership quotes can be reduced to a smaller list of concepts.
Building upon the prior paragraph, the final point regarding quotes and concepts is that quotes are often effective at locating to the multitude of sub-dimensions of a concept, to point out to an audience that a specific sub-dimension (such as quality, authenticity, and empowerment for overall leadership) deserves our attention.
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Dr. Brian Glibkowski is the author of Answer Intelligence: Raise your AQ.