Creating the Curiosity Gap
Anytime you’re pitching your idea, there’s one clear hurdle you need to get over in order to succeed: someone else needs to find your idea irresistible. The thing they’re looking for when they listen to you is information, but it’s a certain kind of information that will actually win them over: they’re looking for a Curiosity Gap.
When Tamsen was the Executive Producer of TEDxCambridge, she discovered she could tell in an instant whether or not she found an idea irresistible. It had to do with whether or not the information she received answered two questions: 1. Does this help me achieve something I or my audience was looking for, some goal I have? And 2. Does it tell me what’s different about the idea that makes it a new, different way to achieve that goal? This creates the Curiosity Gap because question 1 is known, but question 2 is unknown, and the brain can’t tolerate that dissonance.
But if you find the Red Thread of your idea, you’ll have the answer to both questions. We start with the Goal: what the audience can agree that they want. How do you find the idea they don’t expect, the unknown? That’s the Problem, Idea, and Change. The statement (or combination of statements) that is most unusual, unexpected, or unique to you is where you want to have your focus to provide the audience with that crucial unknown element. Put your Goal (your known) in a short sentence with your unknown and you’ll have a powerful hook to get almost anyone’s attention for your idea.
- Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath
- “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are” – TED Talk by Amy Cuddy
- The Red Thread Weekend
Somewhere between you’re having an idea and it having the impact it could have on the world, lies a moment, a moment where somebody other than you has to find your idea as irresistible as you do. Sometimes it’s a gatekeeper who’s going to hire you or bring you in to share that idea, sometimes it’s the person you’re most trying to reach in the audience, deciding whether or not to keep listening. Either way, making your idea irresistible is a key to making it as big or bigger than you think. I’m Tamsen Webster of TamsenWebster.com and that’s what we’re talking about this week on Find the Red Thread.
In that moment where someone decides whether or not your idea is irresistible, they’re really looking for a couple of things. Well, first, of course, we can guess that they’re looking for information. But we need to make sure that we are providing the right kind of information to get that yes, to irresistibility. Now, that kind of information is fairly well-known but it’s something I discovered only after looking at idea after idea after idea as executive producer of TEDxCambridge. Now, while I’ve retired from that role, the lessons are long lasting.
Now, what I discovered was that I could tell, in an instant, whether or not I found an idea irresistible. And it didn’t have to do with just the topic— sometimes the topic in itself was interesting— it had to do with whether or not the information I got about that idea told me two things.
One, did it help me achieve something that I was looking for? Did it help me satisfy a goal I had for the event? And the second thing was, did it tell me what was different about the idea? About the approach that was a new different way to achieve that goal? In other words, it needed to make me feel confident that I knew what the talk was about but also curious about how it worked that way.
That combination of known and unknown is well-known to create something that’s called a “Curiosity Gap.” If you want to know more about this, read Chip and Dan Heath’s great book, Made To Stick. But a Curiosity Gap, which is a gap between something you know and something that you don’t, is a kind of gap that your brain hates to leave open. And so, when we can create that in the minds of someone who is a gatekeeper for an idea, meeting professional, potential reader, conference attendee, publisher or agent; then we’ve got the qualities that make an idea irresistible. But within the Red Thread, you already have the answer to that.
What somebody wants with something they don’t expect can be found in the Red Thread of your idea. What somebody wants is their Goal. It’s the thing that they’re looking for, or if you’re speaking to a meeting professional, it’s the thing that they know their attendees are looking for. So that’s the audience goal.
Now, how do you find the thing that they don’t expect? Well, that’s pretty straightforward as well. You’re going to look at your Problem, your Idea and your Change and find the one or the combination that is the most unusual and most unique to you. Because think about it: your Problem Statement is your unique perspective on how is it that people have an incomplete perspective on the Goal in the first place. What’s different about how you look at the Problem than how other people look at the Problem? That could be unexpected.
What could be unexpected is the Idea that’s at the core of your message? Something that you discovered from your research or from your work, or some new application of a very old idea that we haven’t seen before.
And third, your Change can also be a source of unexpected paths to those Goals. It can be a way of collecting those Goals, Problems, and Ideas that other people haven’t put in place. Is it a new process? Is it a different combination? A new approach that we haven’t seen or thought of before?
When you take your Goal plus your Problem, Idea, or Change and put those into a sentence, then you have your Red Thread in a short, simple way that can be articulated to somebody else. My favorite example, and though she didn’t use me to do this, is using Amy Cuddy’s talk on power posing that’s on TED.com. The way that I would describe the Red Thread of her Idea is that it’s about how to use body language to overcome impostor syndrome. The “overcome impostor syndrome” is the audience goal. The “how to use body language” is the unexpected piece. We haven’t heard those two things together before so that’s what makes that idea irresistible, not only for the organizers of TED, but also for the viewers on TED.com when they start to get that perspective when they read the description.
So when you’re trying to get through that gatekeeper to your big idea, you’re trying to make sure that your idea makes it to a broader audience— make sure that you can summarize that idea in one simple sentence. Keep it under the length of a pre-expansion tweet. Keep it under 140 characters and make sure it includes a combination of what people want with what they don’t expect. Because that combination makes your idea irresistible.
I’m Tamsen Webster of TamsenWebster.com. If you want help finding what makes your idea irresistible, look at one of my Red Thread Weekends. We do them every couple of months, they’re a day and a half where we focus on building out the concepts behind your idea, that Red Thread statement for your idea, plus starting to think through a detailed outline and descriptions to get past those gatekeepers. If you enjoyed this episode, please give it a great rating on iTunes or share it with a friend. I’m Tamsen Webster of TamsenWebster.com and this has been another episode of Find the Red Thread.