Engagement By Elimination

Many years ago, my art teacher showed me how to create engagement by elimination.

Breathing down my neck, he startled me by shouting:

“Stop trying to draw that horse, Andy! What you are sketching here is a highly-strung Arabian thoroughbred, which will never stand still long enough for you to get it down on paper.”

He had sidled up behind me, as I sat there in the little zoo behind the circus tent, and proceeded to give me a lecture at the top of his voice, so that all the other students and visitors could learn this lesson, too.

I cringed.

“Andy, what you need to do is to NOT draw the horse. Don’t even look at it! Draw everything around it first and just leave out the space where the horse will emerge!”

He was doing his zen thing again.

Draw without drawing.

See without seeing.

Uh oh!

But I complied, trying not to look at the horse as I sketched the context around it until – swoosh!

It was as if the white space I had left out for the horse started vibrating!

I touched the paper with my pen and within seconds it looked as if this horse was going to gallop right out of my picture!

“That’s it, Andy! See! Don’t focus too single-mindedly on your objective. Create the right context instead, and your desired object will emerge! Now how’s that for an Aladdin’s lantern, eh?”

I later learned that many leading artists applied the concept of elimination by creating white space in their paintings to stimulate the observer’s imagination. By leaving out key pieces of information in their works of art, they were able to get their audience’s inquisitive mind to fill in the gaps. Creating a vacuum is seductive, as our subconscious mind will invariably grapple with the fact that something is missing. Our curiosity drives us to try and solve the riddle the artist has presented.

Great art stimulates the mind by creating cognitive tension.

Essentially, the gap creates engagement.

As Matthew E. May describes in his book In Pursuit Of Elegance, there are three steps artists, designers, innovators, negotiators and business leaders must use, in order to create an irresistible sense of attraction to their product or solution. If you wish to create a strong sense of engagement and commitment in the people you encounter, try using the following steps:

First, arouse their curiosity by demonstrating a moderate gap in their knowledge (without becoming an obnoxious know-all). If they perceive the gap as being too large, it may seem like an insurmountable problem, which their mind may refuse to take on. On the other hand, if the gap is perceived as being too small, it may seem irrelevant and again fail to create engagement. So the trick is to make the gap just the right size, to generate optimum engagement.

As a second step, you should provide your counterpart with just enough additional, relevant contextual information to help them develop a solution to close the gap.

And finally, you should give them enough time to really engage and grapple with the gap.

Essentially, you want to allow them to draw their own conclusions.

This may sound like a dangerous approach, as you might incur a loss of control, but if you facilitate the process well, you will find the opposite to be true.

The great thing about this process lies in the fact that our mind absolutely detests a vacuum. At the same time, filling in the gaps is a satisfying process, which provides us with a great sense of completion, accomplishment, and significance - feelings we all deeply crave. By using this elegant process of engaging their creative mind, you get the people you engage with to invest in the creation of the final solution, for which they develop a strong sense of ownership.

In sales and business negotiations, this creates opportunities to get clients to willingly accept larger investments, at higher price-points, because they have already created a bond with the solution at a deep level of their being.

So, next time you find yourself working hard, trying to get people to engage and commit – don’t!

Instead, create an elegant gap, and let the cognitive tension generate the desired engagement and commitment for you!