Made to Stick: Unexpectedness

Following up on my initial post on the book, Made to Stick, I wanted to touch on the second of the six major factors that contribute to making an idea sticky – unexpectedness.Surprised Baby Before I do that, I’ll list all six factors here:

  • Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness
  • Credibility
  • Emotions
  • Stories

Unexpectedness is sometimes equated with shock value. I would argue that urban legends like the one Made to Stick starts off with provide a certain amount of shock value that makes the unexpected all the more memorable, but shock value is not necessary to achieve unexpectedness. If shock value was a requirement for sticky ideas, then most of us would be out of luck.

A great example of unexpectedness in the book comes from Nordstrom. Like many companies, one of Nordstrom’s core values is great customer service. Snooze, right? But, then follow up that core value with anecdotes like this:

  • A refund is given to a customer returning tires even though Nordstrom doesn’t sell tires
  • Items purchased at another store are gift wrapped by a Norstrom’s sales person
  • A Norstrom’s salesperson warms up a car for a customer on a cold winter day

Imagine going through Nordstrom’s orientation as “just another salesperson”, hear the spiel on “customer service is #1” and then be surprised by the examples above. The idea of “great customer service” just took on a fresh new meaning due to the unexpectedness of the examples.

After reading the book I thought about former North Carolina men’s basketball coach Dean Smith and his simple motto of “play hard, together, and smart.” Wow, thanks coach. Next you’re going to tell us to give it 110% and remind us there is no “i” in team. But wait, Dean Smith backed up his simple message with unexpected behavior. Most assume that a coach is going to be happy with a win and upset with a loss. Not so with Dean Smith. He didn’t like losing, but if his team played hard, together, and smart, but came away with a loss, he praised them. If the team didn’t play hard, together, and smart, coach Smith would not be pleased with his team’s performance.

Both the examples of Nordstrom and Dean Smith show that unexpectedness is not necessarily driven by extraordinary events or stories, which I find quite encouraging.  Now I just need to master the concept in real life!

Leave a comment