We were in church one Sunday in 2001, shortly after the film, A Beautiful Mind, was released in theaters.  My wife and I decided to make a go of it the Friday prior, and enjoyed it thoroughly. We had the official “AHA” moment at the end, which many people equated to the magic moment of the moviegoing experience.  Fast forward a few days to Sunday.  Our pastor had also just seen the movie.  And in his sermon, he proceeded to reveal the ending.  The congregation groaned.  Those who had seen it knew the movie was (in their minds) ruined for anyone who hadn’t. 

I understood their frustration, but for me, it wouldn’t have mattered a bit.  In fact, the pastor’s revelation would have taken the edge off for me during the movie.  Why?  I’d know what was coming.

As a risk expert, there are few conditions more satisfying than knowing outcomes.  Moving the meter on probability from “unknown” to “certainty” is a very big deal. 

What prompted this?  I was browsing the Signals catalog, and came across this T-shirt:

(www.signals.com)

Now, think about your world. How wonderful would it be in your personal or professional life to know the outcomes? Imagine knowing that your car is going to actually last a full decade.  (Mine’s nine years old right now).  Consider knowing that your client is going to renew the contract as long as you don’t raise your rates.  Envision a world where you can walk your dog without a leash with impunity because you know you won’t run into that crazy shih tzu down the street.

That level of certainty would definitely afford some comfort.  Wrestling with an incurable diagnosis, I think I’d like to know (at least within 6 months) when I have an expiration date.  But then again…

People who share spoiler alerts only do so because they have foreknowledge. And foreknowledge (or clairvoyance) is a powerful thing. 

I am a junkie for watching movies a dozen times or more.  Gladiator? Braveheart? Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan? You can drop me in on any scene, and I can tell you what led up to it and what’s coming.  I can spot the bloopers (like the air tank that flips over a chariot in the arena) and dispel the myths (like the one that Ricardo Montalban wore a plastic chest in Khan.  He didn’t). And from the moment the film starts, I can tell you (as the Signals T-shirt does) who lives and who dies. It’s fun knowing the nuances.  It’s fantastic being able to walk out for ten minutes and return without worrying about missing high drama.

Bring on the Spoilers!

We often claim that we need the mystery and the surprise of not knowing the ending to have a satisfying life experience.  I would contend that any time we have the opportunity to know the outcomes, we have the opportunity to leverage those outcomes to our best experience.

Want to improve the life experience of others? Give them predictable outcomes. Two starter approaches? Spoil the clock. Spoil the feeling.

Spoiling the Clock

You know life’s timing more than you realize. You have a clear understanding of how long it takes to accomplish your achievements. You have a good sense of when impediments may slow you down.  You can factor them together to spoil the outcome of the timing of almost any event.  And if you might miss the mark? You can spoil that by sending out early warnings about your impending delays. Ultimately, what happens? You become as predictable as the ending of a movie on the Hallmark channel.  Not as saccharine, perhaps, but definitely as predictable.

Spoiling the Feeling

There’s a very specific set of feelings associated with uncertainty—angst, frustration, disquietude, and weariness.  Being able to affirm positive outcomes affords the opposite.  Reassurance that you have minimized uncertainty gives those around you a sense that they have both a better feeling toward you and a better feeling on whatever is driving the relationship.

Spoiler Alerts?

We should welcome them. More importantly, we should enable them. We should open the door to being as totally predictable as we can possibly be.  We should embody the notion that the future is an open book, and we’re the librarians. Like my church pastor that long-ago Sunday, we should see the spoilers as an opportunity to teach positive lessons, rather than the ruination of an experience. 

Amen.