#205: How to Ramp Up Curiosity (Even When Using a Controversial Topic) - Part 1


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Most of us avoid controversy because it brings up too much pushback.

But what if you were able to get your very controversial topic across and delight your clients? Let's find out how to ramp up that curiosity and controversy-level without alienating your clients.

Click here to read online: Ramp up curiosity.


Do you know the exact date the Earth was created?

If you lived in the 18th century, you learned that the world was created on Saturday, the 22nd of October, 4004 BC. And not just any moment on 22nd October, but “on the beginning of the night”. This idea of the Earth being just 6000 years old is preposterous to us living in an age of science, but back in those times, the only geology textbook was the word of an Irish bishop and theologian called James Ussher.

It was in this world that James Hutton came up with his theory of the Earth

James Hutton is called the founding father of geology. In 1747, Hutton had just graduated from medical university. He was a bright young man, but his sexual exploits and drunkenness got him in trouble. He got his lover, Miss Eddington pregnant.

This scandal caused her to be rushed away to London to give birth, and Hutton went into self-exile from Edinburgh to a small family farm in Slighhouses, Scotland.

It was at this remote, damp, seemingly boring place where he came up with the theory of how the Earth was formed.

While observing the side of a hill, he noticed bands in the cliff face. Over time, he realised there were possibly hundreds of bands of sediment laid one on top of the other, compacting itself into rock. Hutton's great insight was that the creation and destruction of land wasn't one day in October, 4000 BC, but instead a remarkably slow build up over time.

Today, in the world of science we have a term for this slow build up of land. It's called “sedimentary rock”. He mulled over these ideas for over 15 years, trying to drum up enough courage to put them forward.

Then in 1785, he presented his radical idea to the Royal Society of Edinburgh

The Society rejected his theory almost immediately. And as if that were not enough, the members of the society branded him an atheist. Hutton was God-fearing, and he must have felt the sheer weight of how his ideas were being rejected out of hand.

History is full of instances where ideas were too controversial to be accepted. Ignaz Semmelweis concept that washing hands saves lives was considered to be bizarre, Alfred Wegener came up with the concept of continental drift and was thoroughly rejected. Nicholas Copernicus was sidelined because he stated that the Earth was not the centre of the Universe.

And we too are faced with scepticism when we present an idea. While our ideas might not be as earth-shattering as these great scientists, they're still very important to us. The only problem we have is that our concepts are controversial. They're ideas that are very hard for clients to digest, and therefore we tend to stay on the safer, more boring side of life.

But what if there were a way to present your controversial idea?

And what if you could do it in various media. Would it be possible to create an info-product that went against the grain? What about a webinar or seminar that was a bit different from what clients expect?

In this series, we'll look at books, articles, and even sales pages and see how you can take on the biggest and most controversial point and give it the spotlight. And we'll do it by using the power of objections. Let's find out how objections work and how and when to use them to maximum effect.

Let's do this in three parts.

Part 1: Why you should not discard a controversial idea Part 2: How examples, case studies and practical demonstration reduces pushback Part 3: Three real life applications: article, sales page and info-product.

1: Why you should not discard a controversial idea

What caused the slow decline of newspapers?

If you were to ask this question to most people today, the answer would likely be quite prompt. Most people are likely to say: It's the Internet. The news online is free and can be accessed at will.

It can be tweaked to your taste, has video and other interactive content—plus, it's searchable. It's not hard to see that the Internet was the most dominant factor in the decline of the newspaper industry.

Except there's a neat little graph that tells a different story

If you started the graph back in 1945, you'd notice how the trend heads south. 1955 has fewer readers per household but is better than 1965, which in turn is better than 1975. As you hurtle through the years, the readership drops precipitously as we get to 1995—and the Internet as we know it today didn't even exist back then.

In his book called “The Content Trap”, professor Bharat Anand, brings up a concept that we'd consider to be quite odd, if not outright controversial.

However, the very nature of the controversy is what jolts your audience to life

If you were to read an article on “how to increase prices”, you'd be likely to be interested, but something that talks about “how to decrease your prices” might seem controversial and ignite a much higher level of curiosity.

But is this controversy really necessary? Can't we get our ideas across without having to raise hackles all the time?

It really depends on the situation

Take for instance the formula that most marketers tended to follow. Marketing strategies comprised of finding an audience, a target audience. Once you knew who you were targeting, you needed to state the features and benefits of that product or service.

This sequence of events would get you your desired result, or so it seemed. Which is why we ran into instant pushback the moment we started speaking at small events in Auckland and parts of New Zealand.

The earliest version of The Brain Audit did have the concept of Target Audience and Benefit, but it suggested that the most important element was the Problem. Not only was the Problem the most important, but it needed to show up before the Solution or any kind of benefit.

Controversial ideas don't always land on fertile ground

With The Brain Audit, we did get people saying that they loved the idea of the Problem. However, by and large, people felt the entire concept was negative. Why bother leading with the problem? they asked, especially when the solution has worked so well for so long?

What if clients respond badly to the problem? They liked the other parts of The Brain Audit, but the concept of the problem needed to go, or so it seemed.

The reality is that controversial concepts need to stay

When your audience is saying, “this won't work”, they're simply objecting. They're saying, “we can't see how this will work for me, and could you possibly be so kind as to give us some proof?” Which is exactly what Bharat Anand does in his book—and he does so at many levels.

First, he pulls out a graph of newspaper circulation per household over the past 70 years. Then, to bolster his point, he talks about a Norwegian media group called Schibsted. Schibsted published newspapers too, and their costs had spiralled upwards while the returns were horrific.

They had a loss of over 200 million kroner. By 2011, Schibsted had turned the ship around. Its operating profits were up to about $220 million—nearly 60% of the entire group.

Bharat Anand realised that controversy can be a friend

When you introduce a controversial idea, there's instant pushback, but also instant attention. The pushback is merely the objection that needs to be tackled. Once he was able to furnish the proof, that attention level morphs into intense curiosity.

The reader, or the audience, want to know more because their worldview has not only been changed, but there's proof to back up the sudden change. When presenting The Brain Audit to a sceptical audience, I had the same aha moment I could start off by being like everyone else or could choose to advance the idea of the Problem being the most critical element of all.

Which is why I'd go through a demonstration of picking up a piece of paper and crumpling it into a ball. That would get the audience's attention, but then I'd suddenly throw the ball towards the audience. Instantly people would duck or swing their heads away from the oncoming missile.

Without too much fuss, I was able to demonstrate that a ball of paper might get their attention, but when thrown at them, that very paper got far more people to react.

It's more than likely that you do things that aren't run of the mill

They may well be controversial, and it's easy to believe that it's safer to stick to the well-trodden path. However, all that's missing is the understanding of the objection. When James Hutton came up with his theory of sedimentation, sure he was ridiculed, but part of the problem was merely that he couldn't explain several facets of his theory.

Granite was considered to be the Lord's foundation stone—the first part of the Earth to be created. Hutton, on the other hand, claimed that granite was an example of a recent development. And, he suggested, that rock had not so long ago, been almost liquid.

See the controversy at hand?

Sure you do, but you also are hooked into the excitement that would follow if there were proof. And that's why the controversy concept is so very powerful. You push it towards your audience, and they, in turn, push back. They come up with every reason why your idea is nonsense.

As you get more objections, you are quickly able to figure out which one of those objections recur with the most frequency.

That's gold for you

Now you've got controversy, but you also know what's getting the most attention. And then, you also have proof. However, it's not always easy to overcome the sceptic with one level of proof. How much proof do you need and how do you present it?

Part 2: How examples, case studies and practical demonstration reduces pushback

What material makes up Saturn's rings?

Saturn's rings hadn't been a mystery for quite a while. Galileo discovered Saturn's rings in 1610, and by the mid 19th century, astronomers knew that there were two large concentric circles. However, no one seemed to know what the rings were comprised of.

And more importantly, why did they not somehow disappear or float away? Over 200 years had passed since Galileo, and the rings were mostly a mystery until the Cambridge college announced a competition to solve the mystery of the rings. However, they also wanted mathematical proof.

It's into this space, that James Clerk Maxwell entered

Just 25 years old, this physicist decided to take on the challenge, and he did so by the process of elimination. Saturn's rings could either be solid rock or ice. The second hunch was that they were liquid-based. The final possibility was that there were millions of tiny particles.

What Maxwell did was working it out by pure mathematics

Through maths, he showed that a solid ring would be bunched on one side of the planet. The liquid explanation didn't work either because they would be quickly broken up by physical forces acting upon them.

Which led to the final possibility: that the rings comprised of a large number of independent particles. What Maxwell did was to write an equation to tell you how many—yes, how many—particles would be needed to have the system stable.

In short, James Clerk Maxwell used the power of demonstration to get his point across. The fact that he used complex maths to do it is fantastic, but it also underlines that we can overcome objections through three separate methods. The beauty of overcoming objections is that you can do it either using just one, or even all three of the methods.

Let's look at the methods, first

• Examples • Case studies • Practical demonstration.

Let's start with examples and go right back to the presentation of The Brain Audit

Faced with an onslaught of objections, it was essential to come up with the “roll the paper into a ball and throw it at the audience” trick. However, that was just the starting point. I'd then come up with an example to get across the point that the brain focuses on a problem, first.

I'd talk about how you might go out to dinner and let's say you were wearing a white shirt or white blouse. At dinner, there's a bit of an accident, and the pasta on the plate seems to fly towards you. Fortunately, the disaster is averted, and you get a tiny bit of orangy-red tomato stain on that white shirt.

The stain is almost pathetically tiny and will easily disappear when you have that shirt or blouse cleaned. However, the stain represents a problem. Then, you get to the state of obsession to somehow clean or at least minimise the redness on the apparel.

However, for some, practical examples are not enough

However, you could use a second, if you could, right? Which is precisely what I did as well. Because the most significant objection was that the problem represents a “negative view” of the world, I'd ask if anyone thought that weather forecasts were evil.

Let's say the weather forecaster was to tell you that a thunderstorm or hurricane was headed your way. Would that be a bad thing to do? Or let's say you went to a warrant of fitness for your car and you were told you'd need to change the rear tyre or you'd have a nasty accident.

Would those instances be negative or positive? In every situation, you realise that the audience shifts from the objection zone to moving across to your side of the fence. And all of this is done by simply taking on practical examples that you encounter in everyday life.

However, for some, practical examples are not enough

Proof—they want proof—and let's make it something that someone has written a paper on. Luckily there is proof pretty much everywhere, if you go looking for it (I hear there are people who you can pay to research for you as well).

To get back to the point, I'd found this interesting experiment by Dr John Cacciopo. The late Cacciopo was a neuroscientist ran a test. He showed his subjects three different sets of pictures.

The first was a picture of something positive—like a red Ferrari or a delicious pizza. The second picture would be a picture of something mundane, like a light bulb or a plate. The third would be a picture of a dead cat.

I'd tell the story of how Cacciopo would record the electrical activity of each participant's cerebral cortex.

The cerebral cortex, in turn, reflects the magnitude of the information processing taking place. And then I'd tell the audience what Cacciopo found. The brain reacts more strongly to stimuli it deems problematic.

Or to put it another way, when faced with a problem vs solution, the problem gets our attention. This cat vs plate vs Ferrari was a case study that quelled the objection but did so from another angle.

Which leaves us with the third method—practical demonstration

The crumpled paper was one way to demonstrate the power of the problem, but I'd put chairs between a participant and me. I'd then ask the participant to walk towards me. In every instance, they'd swerve past the chair.

Why the swerve? I'd ask the audience. The answer was pretty obvious, wasn't it? If you slam into the chair, you could hurt yourself. “The brain sees the chair as a barrier; a problem”, I'd explain.

Slowly, but surely the audience would have enough of examples to hold on to, thus getting to understand that as controversial as the “problem” may be, it's the way we do things in real life. It's the way we make purchasing decisions or just about any decision.

However, you have to pick your media

In an article, you might use an example and a case study. In a presentation, you might be able to have all three: the case study, the example and the demonstration. And when you read the same concept in a book, you could put in all three elements and have even more than one of each.

In The Brain Audit book, there's an example of dog poo and Lisa's laptop before it moves to the Cacciopo case study. On the very next page, we swing back to the flashy car vs your 1980s gas-guzzling sedan.

And then for good measure, there's a sort of demonstration where you're comparing between economy and business class. Or business class and first class.

It doesn't end there

There are examples of a slow computer, the weather report, the timing belt or cam belt in your car, and a coffee break. Yes, indeed, so many instances and that's only half the chapter. If you think it must be tedious to read so many examples slamming in one after another, you'll find to your surprise that it makes for easy reading.

If you were to pick up your copy of The Brain Audit today, you're bound to be amazed at how the controversy has been stamped out in a simple, elegant manner, by using a lot of examples, demonstration and one solitary case study.

Pushback isn't always permanent

In most cases, you have to look at the objections as your guiding light. They're telling you exactly why people get edgy when you bring up your ideas. Instead of trying to evade the objections, hug them tightly.

Then take those very objections and find the examples, case studies and demonstrations to drive home your point.

In doing so, you've done something quite familiar. You've rolled out the stages of The Brain Audit. The controversy is the problem—and we now know that the problem does get the attention of the audience.

And the objection quelling exercise is indeed the solution. This happy moment takes us right into the third part: how to use it for a sales page, an information product or an article.

Next Step: Have you read the The Brain Audit?Here is an except: Find out why clients buy and why they don't

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