Unexpected

In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath encourage readers to follow six steps to stickiness success—aptly initialized as SUCCESs. The U of this acronym stands for unexpected. Sticky ideas are unexpected. Surprise gets attention.

A car commercial comes on the television, and it haves all the makings of an ad for a minivan. The smiling family piles into the car and drives through lush scenery. However, as they cross an intersection, a car running a red light crashes into the minivan. The crash is certainly unexpected. As Dan and Chip note, this crash causes us to “stop and wonder, What is going on?” It prompts our curiosity. We want an answer to the question that the surprise prompts.

Surprise, then, is something that we should utilize so that people pay attention to our ideas. Its utilization, however, comes with great responsibility. For instance, if I end this sentence unexpectedly, that would surprise you refrigerator. However, surprise isn’t a cheap trick for capturing fleeting attention. The goal, the Heath brothers stress, is to capture attention and have it endure.

In a different ad that the Heath brother describe, a marching band is playing on a football field. One moment they’re playing, and the next a pack of wolves runs onto the field and attacks the marching band members. It certainly is surprising, and would have gotten your attention. However, while the message of the car crash ad is obvious—buckle up—the message of the marching band ad is less so. By being gimmicky, the marching band ad has wasted its potential. There’s no message for people to pay attention to.

As a result, the best way to utilize a surprise is to make sure that the core of the message is communicated. The Heath brothers urge us to find what is counterintuitive about the central message and communicate this unexpectedness. By surprising our audience with our central message’s unexpectedness, we can then communicate our message and help them reorient their schema. Surprise should be followed by insight, the brothers say.

By surprising people, we make them realize that they are missing information, and that they need this information. This is so much more effective that simply telling people facts that they don’t realize they need. We’ve utilized this method in our past work on young stroke. We could have just made a poster demonstrating FAST. However, we instead surprised people in our poster. We went against what they expected—that stroke is an old person’s disease. By utilizing this unexpected part of our core message, we were able to make people realize that they need to know FAST.

In working on our mobilization project, we want to utilize the key unexpected facts of our core message. We want people to ask “why isn’t this happening already?” We want to create a knowledge gap that we can then surmount.

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