October 16th

Surprise me. There is so much noise that the only way to be heard is with an act of surprise, but even then the setting can completely eliminate the surprise.

In a famous test on awareness1, a group of university students divided into two teams to pass a basketball back and forth. Observers were asked to follow the exercise on a TV, and while watching, they were assigned the task of counting passes made by the players wearing white. During the experiment, a female in a gorilla suite cavorted across the court, plainly visible on the TV screen. She even waved at the camera. When asked about the gorilla, most people asked, “What gorilla?”

The gorilla should have been a surprise. The gorilla should have been a pattern interrupt, but it failed. Why?

Well, the magic of our minds allows us to filter out background noise and other irrelevancies. If we couldn’t filter things out, we would be frozen into inaction, overwhelmed by sensory input. In this case, the pass-counters were concentrating on white (the passing players uniforms) and the fast-moving ball. The gorilla was black and didn’t touch the ball, so was disregarded and filtered out by most minds. The counters were also in a safe environment and the gorilla did not act in an aggressive or threatening manner. Therefore it was invisible1.

Can this ever happen to our marketing efforts? Of course it can! Most of the time we are all ignored. So to get traction, we need to gain visibility by sharing mental focus. When a mind is busy working, we will never get traction.

Hey! I’m talking to you!

We are all guilty of preoccupation and a focus that filters out everything around us. So the timing of a message, the venue, the location, the context, and so on are all critical to getting attention and being able to connect with a trigger in the mind.

If I could make your computer screen go black, except for flashing text that read “FATAL ERROR – HARD DRIVE FAILURE” and run an audio file of a grinding noise, that would get your attention. What if I then displayed an animation assuring you that this was only a test, but you could prevent it from ever happening to you by “clicking the following link”? If you didn’t click the link, I could replay the original message with the question, “Are you sure?”

Surprise and timing are important. What would an animated screen of a wizard hunting down and slaying a googlepeed look like? Pretty funny I’d bet.

You are warriors, and you should be aware of surprise as a powerful tool and weapon, and that the perception in our minds can be fogged. You warriors practice the magic of surprise and misdirection to achieve wins, for yourselves, your customers (or cohorts), and their clients.

Warriors, you will use these tools to succeed beyond belief. So it is written.

1. Simons, D.J. and Chabris, C.F. – Gorillas in Our Midst: Sustained Blindness for Dynamic Events. Perception 28, 1999: Pages 1059 – 1074.

2. Simons, D.J. and Chabris, C.F. – The Invisible Gorilla. Crown Publishing, 2010. eBook.