The Power of Surprise: How to Make Ideas Stick
In today’s fast-paced world, ideas quickly come and go. Some are revolutionary, but most are quickly forgotten. So, what makes an idea stick and stand out from the rest? According to the book, “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath, the key to making an idea memorable and “sticky” is surprise.
Breaking Patterns for Maximum Impact
In order for an idea to be truly surprising, it needs to break our established ways of acting or thinking. Trivial changes are quickly forgotten, while unexpected ones demand our attention and make us re-evaluate our views. Take, for example, the surprise endings of movies like “The Sixth Sense,” “Empire Strikes Back,” and “Chinatown.” These shockers stick with us because they interrupt our preconceived notions and demand that we reconsider the entire movie.
Unexpected Ideas Demands Action
When an idea is truly surprising, it demands action from the recipient. It asks them to change their view of the world, or at least a part of it. However, there is a danger in overusing surprising concepts. Once an idea becomes expected, it loses its power to surprise us. For example, the heightened security alerts following 9/11 were unexpected and indeed sticky. However, after years of constant alerts, it has lost its power to surprise us.
Hook ‘Em and Reel ‘Em In
Surprise not only grabs our attention but keeps us engaged. When we notice something unexpected, we experience a powerful urge to understand it and integrate it into what we already know. The “Gap Theory of Curiosity,” as explained by George Loewenstein, holds that gaps in our knowledge cause us discomfort and pain. And that’s why mystery novels, movie trilogies, serial fiction, and potboilers rely on the need to keep us coming back or turning the pages to find out “what happens next.”
Using Surprise for Maximum Effect
Knowing how people react when surprised can help us make our ideas stickier. By “priming the gap” and introducing a surprising fact, we can get people’s attention and pique their curiosity. Just like how TV news spots use surprise in their teaser commercials during prime time, we can use it to our advantage to keep people interested and engaged.
The power of “Made to Stick” lies in how the six principles of stickiness interact and reinforce each other. Although no idea needs to satisfy all six principles, the more that it does, the more sticky it becomes. The unexpected is one such principle that reinforces others, and when combined with others, it multiplies the stickiness factor.
For instance, consider Einstein’s famous formula: E=MC2. The simplicity of this formula summarizes one of the greatest mysteries of the world in just five symbols. Its simplicity is unexpected, making it sticky and energizing decades of research in an attempt to prove it. The simple and unexpected formula is still a hot topic of scientific research today, a century later.
Surprise is an effective tool for making our ideas stick. It demands our attention, keeps us engaged, and invites us to re-evaluate our views. By introducing a surprising fact and promising an explanation, we can pique people’s curiosity and keep them interested. The key is to keep it simple, unexpected, and reinforce it with other principles of stickiness. So, why not try to incorporate surprise into your next idea and see how it sticks?