Though not at all a morning person, life necessitates that I’m an early riser. Often before the sun these days. But because the shrill of an alarm clock threatens to stop my heart and leaves me cranky and jittery all day long, I don’t use one.
I wake naturally, at the time I told myself I must before fading the night before.
I have a friend who also does not wake to the sound of an alarm, though two separate clocks shriek for her to notice them each morning. Sometimes for an hour. Much like folks who live next to the tracks, she doesn’t hear the train roaring through her bedroom every morning.
Unexpected = Surprise + Interest
For most people, the effectiveness of an alarm clock rises from our brain’s sensitivity to change. Chip and Dan Heath explain in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die that “smart product producers” take advantage of this design:
They make sure that, when products require users to pay attention, something changes. Warning lights blink on and off because we would tune out a light that was constantly on. Old emergency sirens wailed in a two-note pattern, but modern sirens wail in a more complex pattern that’s even more attention-grabbing. Car alarms make diabolical use of our change sensitivity. (p. 65)
The authors’ chapter on Unexpected makes the argument that for an idea to be sticky, it must not only capture our attention (hence, the use of surprise that trips our brain) but also must hold our attention by having interest.
It seems my friend’s alarms might get her attention, ever so briefly, but they lack the ability to maintain her interest long enough to get out of bed.
Ultimately, they propose, once we’ve identified our core message, we seek to communicate it in a way that messes with our brain’s ability to guess what’s coming — and then employ “uncommon sense” to keep us interested in what comes next.
I know that as I read this book I’d be wise to look the way I communicate and seek to practice these sticky ways. And I’ll do that. But, and I want to be careful to say this without reducing the Gospel to no more than “an idea,” I’m finding that Jesus had this sticky thing down way before the dawn of duct tape.
Already we know that He was masterful with Simple. And if I dare boil the truth of the Gospel down to a single word (the core), I might like to try access. Isn’t that what the small gate and narrow road are about?
At least once He demonstrated His ability to use the unexpected to capture attention and hold it tight.
Consider: Shortly after His arrival in Jerusalem to the soundtrack of cheering crowds, Jesus made a stop at the temple. Rather than following the expected path — paying His atonement money, purchasing an animal and sacrificing the thanks offering like any young, devout Jewish man would have done — Jesus tore through the Court of the Gentiles tossing tables, spilling money, cracking a whip and sending a tightly packed crowd into terrified mayhem.
His bizarre behavior shocked a complacent crowd. He got their attention.
I’ve long had this idea that the scandalous scene at the temple equally shocked Jesus when He arrived, provoking this loss of control in a spontaneous fit of rage. But then I consider He must have known before He arrived.
He was God, for one thing. He knew stuff.
And He’d been coming to the temple at Passover for over 30 years. The exploitation in the courtyard was nothing new.
And if that’s not enough, He’d been there the night before.
He left quietly, but returned the next day, His fire fully stoked.
This was no thoughtless, knee-jerk reaction — it was purposeful.
He drove His fierce explosion through the temple court to shake loose a stranglehold that a gang of priests and moneychangers had on access.
Heath and Heath teach that a sticky message will employ “uncommon sense in the service of a core message.” (p. 75)
If the core message is access, look at what Jesus’ fury was all about.
Adult males were required to pay a half shekel of atonement money at the temple. They came for passover from all over the region, but often lacked the native coin necessary to pay the sum. The moneychangers there in the courtyard would gladly change their foreign coin to the proper shekel — for an exorbitant fee.
The poor, especially women, would purchase a dove for their offering, unable to afford a more luxurious animal to sacrifice. The priests ran a dove-selling racket, profiting from inflated prices.
And the animal inspectors would often reject a perfectly acceptable lamb for some feigned blemish, only to require the bearer to surrender the defective lamb and purchase another, again at captive market prices set to line the pockets of the priests and marketers. And those defective animals? It would come as no surprise to see them back in the pens for sale to another hapless pilgrim.
Here, in the temple of all places, where God called His people to meet with Him, access was cut off in the name of heavy weights and bulky profits. The priests and merchants and religious leaders moved God further and further from the people He loved and who sought the delight of His fellowship.
Into that outrage rushed a fearsome Jesus, the gentle healer and hillside rabbi. He turned everything upside down and in so doing proclaimed to the heavens that He came to give us access.
Did it work?
Indeed. He captured their attention.
It was uncommon sense in the service of a core message.
I’m even later this week than last, but the discussion of Made to Stick goes on over at High Calling Blogs. Stop by and read Laura’s post, Unexpected Journey, and stop by to see the posts from other participants. For previous posts in this series, read here.