5.18.2009

CBJ Book Review:

This originally ran in the May 18-24, 2009 issue of the Corridor Business Journal.

Pow! Right Between the Eyes!
Andy Nulman
Wiley Books, 244 p., $22.95

I love comedy, but I find that when people try to blend comedy and business advice, the results are usually so stale as to be off putting at best, worthless at worst.

That makes Andy Nulman’s book a – wait for it… surprise. His book, subtitled “Profiting from the Art of Surprise,” certainly tries to get the reader laughing at the same time he is learning, but it does so with just the right balance of mirth and worth that it is the rare example of a comedic business book that works.

Mr. Nulman’s key tenet is this: “The element of surprise is the most important aspect in contemporary business.” In a world where you can go into a McDonald’s in India and get a burger that tastes just like one in Cedar Rapids, or walk into any Walgreens and know exactly where to find the cold medicine, that might seem a strange thing to believe.

But, Mr. Nulman writes, the problem with the expected is that it doesn’t generate any excitement about your product. “The end result is a yawn-inducing, decreasingly effective, peasoup-esque haze.”

Surprise your customer – or better yet, your potential customer – and “it slices through the dreariness of the dreaded ‘murketing’ message.”

Once he explains why surprise is vital and describes what it is, he spends much of the rest of the book telling the reader how to do it. Here, Mr. Nulman’s background in entertainment is put to full use. He knows how to present a case study and make his pitch, engaging the reader at the same time he stresses key points.

Two important chapters, however, are the difference between the book being a novelty and being seriously valuable. In them, Mr. Nulman warns against undertaking marketing efforts solely for the sake of shock and titillation. In one, he shares what a surprise is not, while in the other he cautions that while there is value in surprise, done wrong it can have unintended consequences. Constantly raising the element of surprise can be just as boring as having no surprise at all, he warns.

For those looking for quick takeaways, the chapter “The Art of the Business of Creating Surprise” is the best destination. Over the course of 60 pages, Mr. Nulman offers several ideas and anecdotes about ways to use surprise to spread the word.

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