Open a Jar of Mosquitos to Get a Buzz

Accountability Communication Contribution


Key Point: I have a regularly scheduled 60-minute weekly meeting with my boss, the company CEO. The other day, half way through our regular meeting, I realized he was fighting to stay interested. Sure, I was updating him on all the great stuff I had going on, all very important to me. But was I offering him anything really interesting or novel to help him with his agenda? By pausing and asking if he was getting anything out of our discussion, we redirected and went into a white board free for all… We ventured into new, potentially more impactful territory.

It made me reflect and remind myself, when spending time with someone we’re trying to influence (boss, colleague, sales prospect), we may bring more value to the relationship by asking ourselves the following questions: Am I teaching or sharing something he/she doesn’t know? Have I introduced them to material that’s unexpected, surprising or offers a new and novel solution to an old or new problem they care about?

I love the following story shared by Carmine Gallo in his recent HBR article.

“In his 2009 TED presentation on the impact of malaria in African countries, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates shocked his audience when he opened a jar of mosquitoes in the middle of his talk. ‘Malaria, of course, is transmitted by mosquitoes,’ he said. ‘I brought some here so you can experience this. I’ll let these roam around the auditorium. There’s no reason why only poor people should have the experience.’ He reassured his audience that the mosquitoes were not infected – but not until he grabbed their attention and drawn them into the conversation.

As neuroscientist Dr. A.K. Pradeep confirms, our brains can’t ignore novelty. ‘They are trained to look for something brilliant and new, something that stands out.’ He should know. He’s a pioneer in the area of neuromarketing, studying advertisements, packaging, and design for major brands launching new products.”

Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, analyzed 7,000 New York Times articles published during a three month period to see which ones made the most-emailed list. His research, captured in What Emotion Goes Viral the Fastest concluded that we are compelled to share something that makes a real emotional connection and gets our hearts racing and blood pumping. Anger and awe are two such emotions that drive people to action.

Character Moves:

  1. First of all, acknowledge that you will bring more value to relationships when you are capable of sparking a positive, emotional response from your “audience” by ideally introducing something new to them at the same time. The two elements: Novel and emotional, are more powerful together. You are the connector.
  2. Determine ways of being surprising and novel… Bring something “brilliant and new that stands out” as Pradeep suggests. I’m not suggesting this can practically happen in every interaction, however, by asking yourself the question, you may be surprised how much more effective you are in getting people’s attention. Open that jar of mosquitos.
  3. Look for the emotional connection. Ideally when people can connect a literal or metaphorical picture of a desired future state to what you’re discussing, they feel compelled to act. This often results in momentum and sustainable results based on value you have provided.

Creating the best buzz in the Triangle,