Hmm. It’s an odd title, I know. But I’m betting there’s a chance it made you click. Because it tossed up a question: where did those bananas come from? Is it some kind of typo? Does the writer have a neurological disease forcing him to yelp fruit names at odd cantaloupe kiwi moments?
Happily, no. I simply use it to prove a point. If you want to create content that people want to read, add a pinch of unpredictability. Look out there’s a wasp on your eyelid!!! Okay, not really.
Roll the Dice, Baby
There are a few books I return to like old friends — Catcher in the Rye, Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly — because they teach me something fresh each time I scour their pages.
But perhaps the best two examples are Yes Man by Danny Wallace and The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehardt. In the first, a real-life young Brit pledges to say yes to absolutely everything, with predictably awesome results (gets obliteratingly drunk, hosts a TV show, nearly wins the lottery).
Meanwhile The Dice Man, while a fiction, spawned an entire cult of people dedicated to randomness. The premise is simple: shake up your life by allocating decisions to the roll of a dice. Should I kiss this girl? If I roll a three or a five, I will. Should I quit my job? I’ll do it if a six comes up.
Read these books and I guarantee your eyes will hoover up the stories just as mine did. More importantly, they should electrify you. Because they show what’s possible when you don’t just think outside the box — you burn the box to boil a stew of awesome sauce.
Why Randomness Rocks
The short answer? We thrive off excitement. Twists and turns might not be the shortest route from A to B. But sometimes the route from A to Moscow to a Toys R Us in Kenya to B is the one you remember best.
You know what wouldn’t work without unpredictability? The concept of comedy. Take one of the basic concepts of joke-telling. It’s called the incongruity theory. At its most basic, it means that a situation is set up in the pre-amble. The punchline then explodes our expectations, forcing us to quickly rethink what we know. That moment of surprise is why we laugh.
A terrible example is: Two fish are in a tank. One turns to the other and says, “Hey, how do you drive this thing?”
For great examples, we need only turn to Emo Philips, the shaggy-haired maestro of oddball standup comedy:
- Always remember the last words of my grandfather, who said: "A truck!"
- When I was ten, my family moved to Downers Grove, Illinois. When I was twelve, I found them.
- Women like courtesy on a date. I got in trouble once; I didn't open the car door for her. Instead, I just swam for the surface.
No doubt because I need serious therapeutic care, I seem to have chosen jokes with a very dark payoff; a fishy underbelly of laughs: the grand-dad pancaked by an 18-wheeler; the family abandoning their kid; Emo leaving his date gasping for air at the bottom of a lake.
But you can’t deny they take us for a twisted ride in less time it takes to read a tweet. That’s pretty impressive.
I’m starting, at last, to stagger towards my point. Like an octopus on a unicycle, unpredictability makes for a memorable image. It shocks us, like the dice man’s adventures, out of our everyday thinking. It starts a conversation.
Maybe that’s why the best cameos in films are ones that come from nowhere. Remember when Bill Murray popped up in Zombieland? Wham, suddenly a great film bubbled with a sudden slice of magic, because we haven’t been prepped for it.
Fun fact: I once interviewed Ruben Fleischer, director of Zombieland, and asked him:
If you could reanimate anyone as a zombie, who would it be?
I would choose, haha – would they be in zombie form, or human form?
They’d be in zombie form. So if it was Elvis, it would be undead Elvis.
That’s pretty funny. Um, I’d say zombie Hitler. So I could kill him again.
I challenge anyone to come up with a better answer than that.
No, but Seriously the Point Is
We all like to go find something that works and stick with it. Brands are no different. Which is why so much commercial content today feels like a sleeping pill for the eyeballs.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Imagine if Volvo (an old-fashioned brand known more for car safety than kookiness) promoted their vehicles… by having Jean-Claude Van Damme do the splits between two trucks hurtling down a highway?
Oh wait, they did that already. And it got 80.5 million views on YouTube. It’s difficult to think of a more unexpected idea than using an 80’s has-been (sorry, Jean) like a bendy stuntman spokesperson. And it works. Go Volvo.
It takes guts to think this way, but it also jolts us dead-eyed consumers into paying attention. More importantly, it allows us to re-evaluate brands with a smile on our face. Suddenly we see them as organisations run by creative humans, rather than sallow-faced drones with excel spreadsheets for hearts.
So be weird. Be bad at shaving: by which I mean, go against the grain. Take people to an unexpected place — they’ll thank you for it. Banana banana.
Great moments in weirdness:
Salvador Dali (an artist who was so cool he had a pet ocelot), delivers a lecture in a deep-sea diving suit, nearly suffocating in the process
An ex-Harvard student recalls the glorious eccentricity of a professor, who broke off a physics lecture to teach students how to survive a bear attack. “I do not remember anything else from that course,” the writer admits. “I can’t even remember its subject. But I do remember the bears.”
These 20 insane tips to nail a job interview never fail to make me giggle (“Always make eye contact and if you have two interviewers, train your eyes to work independently like a chameleon.”)