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And you shall relate to your son

April 14, 2011 – 1:10 pm6 Comments

Gold Coast coach Guy McKenna, doing his best to relate to his Suns

By David Werdiger

והגדת לבנך - שמות  יג”ח

And you shall relate to your son – Exodus 13:8 

As Pesach approaches, preparations go into full swing, and my mind jumps around between where we will be eating the various meals, where my children will be spending Pesach, the various tasks I’m going to do, and all the other “baseline” stuff that sits in my head: work and study.

Study has kept me busy this year, and as I move ever closer to completing, I enjoy the way learning has energized and stimulated my mind. There is a lot to absorb, and a few key things stick for various reasons, and form associations in my mind.

Organizational culture is something that has always interested me: how companies (or more widely organizations) learn and transmit knowledge. Look at the Gold Coast Suns, for example. Football clubs all have a culture, and as new players come, they seem to adopt the culture that is already there. For the Suns, they are starting with a blank slate. A dozen players from all over the place, plus the pick of young talent from all over the land, and suddenly, they are expected to play and perform as a club. The biggest challenge for their coaching staff is not football skills, but building a culture, and it will take them several years to do this. Only once that process has taken place will they see material gains in the way they work together as a team.

So how is culture transmitted? It’s not big glossy mission statements or expensive internal communication strategies. The research tells us that storytelling is one of the most powerful transmitters of culture. In the political world, the term “narrative” is used, which sort of means “our version of how things happened”.

The other study topic that has been high on my mind is marketing. Every day, people are bombarded by over 3000 advertising messages. Companies spend millions trying to convince us that their soft drink is better, or that we should buy their washing powder. They do this using every trick in the book, and are always seeking out new ways to understand why people do what they do. From market research to neuro-marketing, which studies how the brain responds to different marketing messages, it’s a never ending game of cat and mouse.

Marketers need to understand how the human brain processes information and makes decisions, and an important part of this is the human memory. My apologies go out in advance to all the experts out there for this very simplistic interpretation. Unlike a hard disk in a computer, our brains store information by complex chains of associations. Broadly, we have three levels of storage: semantic – like where we store the meaning of words; eidetic – where we store images, and episodic/narrative – the time relationship of events. It is the latter – stories – that is the easiest to store in our long term memories. This is consistent with the organizational culture view of storytelling.

With all of this floating around in my mind, and thinking about the upcoming Pesach seder, it all clicked into place. The purpose of the seder is to transmit a cornerstone part of Jewish culture – the Exodus from Egypt and our formation as a nation – to the next generation. And this is done through the most powerful and effective transmitter of culture – storytelling. That is why it has assumed its place as the preeminent cultural event in the Jewish calendar.

The biblical injunction to celebrate Pesach and have a seder is drawn from the verse “v’higadtah l’bincha” – “and you shall relate to your son”. This succinct phrase encapsulates the two key elements of the seder: (a) “l’bincha” – “to your son”, stressing the important a trans-generational communication, and (b) “v’higadtah” – “and you shall relate– the medium for the communication: telling the story of the Exodus.

Like other ancient and enduring cultures, and long before modern researchers understood the why and how, the Torah spelled out the formula for its own perpetuity. While specific customs relating to Pesach have diverged over time, the essence of the seder has been celebrated for thousands of years.

Chag Sameach.

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