Santa Claus in an airline safety video?

Delta's holiday safety video

Can you think of anything more boring than an airline safety announcement? When the flight attendant or video starts telling me how to fasten my seat belt, I quickly glance at nearby exits and then return to perusing the SkyMall catalog for cool things I don’t need.

The last time I took a long flight was shortly before Christmas. The Delta Airlines safety video included elves, Santa Claus and a sweet little old lady bearing gifts. I can’t say I watched the whole thing, but I didn’t tune it out.

The video received more than 335,000 views on YouTube. These viewers were not a captive audience on an airplane. They were watching because the video was surprising.

The second chapter of “Made to Stick” is titled “Unexpected.” Sticky ideas contain both surprise, to get our attention, and interest, to keep our attention.

Once we get people’s attention, how do we keep it? Consider the storyline of a good movie. According to screenwriting guru Robert McKee, a great script is designed so every scene is a Turning Point.

“Each Turning Point hooks curiosity,” McKee said. “The audience wonders, What will happen next? and How will it turn out? The answer to this will not arrive until the Climax of the last act, and so the audience, held by curiosity, stays put.”

Curiosity is a powerful emotion. It gets us to follow the news teasers to the 11:00 news. We want to find out the rest of the story about firefighters battling a fire or the latest drug problem in our community.

Chip and Dan Heath close the chapter with two examples of audacious ideas that provoked both surprise and interest.

The first was an engineer at Sony who in 1953 proposed the idea of a “pocketable radio.” This was in the days when radios were pieces of furniture. Surprising? Yes. Interesting? It kept Sony engineers working (and the company growing) for four years to create a small radio. The first pocketable transistor radio sold 1.5 million units. And it put the small upstart company on the world map.

The second is President John F. Kennedy’s announcement about putting a man on the moon. Surprising? Yes. Interesting? The idea engaged tens of thousands of people for almost a decade.

This is the second of eight posts about “Made to Stick,” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.