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The Art of Transparency.

Heart disease is both the leading cause of death for women in the United States and a condition that is under-researched, underdiagnosed and undertreated. The Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation put on an event, BROACH the Subject: An Evening with Cheryl Strayed, to call attention to this, and it definitely lived up to its hype. The panelists – including some of our favorite inspiring women like local small-business owner Julie Kearns, rapper and songwriter Dessa, and author Cheryl Strayed – shared how this problem only worsens when women prioritize others’ health care over their own, or when they feel the need to paint a certain picture to physicians rather than sharing how they truly feel.

The panelists covered a wide range of topics, but the notion of honesty and being open with one another was the overarching theme of the evening.

Practicing radical transparency

Cheryl Strayed explained that one of her goals is to offer “radical transparency” in her writing. Though we all “look a wreck” on a regular basis, as Dessa put it, we rarely allow others to see that side of ourselves. However, it is Strayed’s raw honesty that readers often respond to the most. After she wrote Wild, a memoir about her experiences after the death of her mother, readers filled Strayed’s inbox with stories of their own – sharing how her honesty made them feel less alone in their own experiences of grief and hardship.

Finding the shared threads

The purpose of this kind of transparency or openness goes beyond better understanding our own personal stories. As Strayed put it, the purpose of writing about the self is not to illuminate the self but to “illuminate the human condition.” Though she writes about her own experiences, her goal is to find the shared threads and more universal stories within them.

Learning from listening

Strayed says she did not necessarily identify the “universal message” of Wild when she was writing the book. Instead, it did not become clear until readers themselves explained it to her: When they shared their stories, they “taught back” what was universal about her drive to just keep going through her most challenging moments. If Strayed had not written Wild or been open to conversation with its readers, she may never have identified this common thread.

As researchers and strategists, we identify with many of these themes. The goal during ethnography is to learn from listening – not to assume, but to ask – and to make participants feel comfortable about being open and transparent. And when we analyze, we work to identify shared threads of experience that help us craft higher-level insights and strategy. Thanks to Strayed, Kearns and Dessa, we’ll be thinking a lot more about what else we could understand more fully through the process of sharing and allowing others to teach back to us.

| Culture

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