As much as the Chinese hope to win many medals in these Olympics, they also hope to use the

Olympics as a kind of coming out event, to let the world know that they are back. And the opening ceremonies were an auspicious start–a tutorial in nonverbal communications.

You likely saw the opening ceremonies. And I won’t add to the commentaris which are readily available on the internet. Our particular interest is communications, so we’ll focus on the messages that China was able to send subtextually through their staging of the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium

Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium

1. While the US and Europe may be in a recession, we have the wherewithal and will to construct a magnificent Olympic Village including a stadium outfitted especially for one night’s celebration.

2. We also have the resources to invest as much in one four-hour production as American spends on a big budget summer blockbuster.

3. We are many.  China is large enough to field a production with

2008 Chinese Drummers

2008 Chinese Drummers

15,000 performers including, expert drummers, Tai Chi performers, lighted dancers, and artists of many stripes.

4. Don’t think we are backward. We have remarkable expertise to bring to bear, even in technology. China showcased the largest LCD screen ever displayted.

Chinese Print Block Artists

Chinese Print Block Artists

5. We can be remarkably disciplined when we want to be. The Chinese memorialized their historic rise as well as their development of technologies such as paper and print block.  Perhaps the biggest surprise was that the swift and intricate choreography of the blocks–now a set a waves, now drops in a pond, now a chinese character, now the great wall–was in fact, not the work of a computer but a highly trained troupe of human performers.

Tim’s Takeaway:

There’s a saying in screenwriting–show, don’t tell.  In other words, don’t tell me your protagonist is compassionate; show me your protagonist passing up a raise to help a co-worker. Whatever message you’re trying to send in a screenplay comes across much more powerfully in action than in words. The Olympic opening ceremonies were a terrific example of that maxim at work, the messages that China was sending to the world came across much more powerfully enacted than they would have in any written statement or flowery speech. 


In a recent post, Daniel Pink introduces us to the idea of Emotionally Intelligent stop signemotionally intelligent signage. You’ll find a fun and provactive video on the idea here (and only 7 minutes long). It’s a compelling idea as far as it goes in the video. Then he missteps in his blog by endorsing signs like the one you see at the left. The concept demonstrably falls down when you try to use an empathetic appeal like this one to stop cars. Here’s why.

First his idea: Some signs are merely informational (This way to Terminal F). They don’t need to appeal to the emotions. Other signs attempt to change our behavior. And they would benefit from demonstrating empathy (Relax. The train comes every 2 minutes) or appealing to our empathy (Keep dogs off lawn. Kids play here). 

Good idea. Intuitively appealing once Daniel has pointed it out to us. And useful for some purposes. So why does it break down in the stop sign example? Read the rest of this entry