The stodgy Soviet-looking Russian Police Choir, formally known as the Ministry of Internal Affairs Choir, has discovered a key to leadership communications: being shticky. With a spirited rendition of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" at the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, the unlikely vocal ensemble demonstrated shtickiness that helped them get really lucky at becoming an overnight sensation. In the days since, the performance has been tweeted and commented on by millions, including journalist Beth Stebner, who noted quite shtickily in her New York Daily News story lead that the group was "'Putin' on the hits."
The Russian Police Choir reprised its performance on NBC's TODAY, dancing with Jenna Bush Hager, Al Roker, and some of Team USA's medal winners. And during an interview with Meredith Vieira, the choir leader known as "the General" said through an interpreter that while they had performed in many places, they had yet to fulfill a dream of singing in the US. After this, that dream is likely to come true very soon.
What makes them so shticky? They hit upon an opportunity to play up a contrast and generate the unexpected.
"Shtick" is derived from the Yiddish word for "piece," but came into popular parlance in the US when used to describe the signature mannerisms or phrases employed by comics. Today the word extends beyond the comedic or theatrical to mean, as Merriam Webster's dictionary defines it, "one's special trait, interest, or activity."
In the case of the Russian Police Choir, what you see is a group of somewhat dour police officers, who after all are part of an internal Russian police apparatus better known for intimidation than for having fun singing and dancing to pop music. It's East meets West, the Hammer meets the Lover, grim meets fun. It's a collision of archetypes. And that's why it works so well.
And when you think about it, it is shtickiness that helped fuel the success of Daft Punk, the creators of "Get Lucky," in the first place. Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, the two French musicians behind the group, have shied away from the camera. They found their shtickiness in a signature look and air of mystery, which involves hiding their faces behind masks or helmets. (Not to mention that it's a simple tune that just drills its way into your brain.)
In today's overhyped, over messaged world, those who break through and grab our attention are those who are shticky. But lest you thought Shtickiness is only the purview of performers, think again. Astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson has it. Writer and author Gloria Steinem has it. Physician Mehmet Oz has it as well. Each of these individuals, while mining success from entertainment media, is well respected in a far different field.
Tyson, as one of the most eloquent teachers about the cosmos, defies the image of the nerdy and awkward scientist who can't relate to people. He's been known to say, for example, that he didn't kill Pluto's planetary ambitions, but simply "drove the getaway car." Steinem, with her drop dead gorgeous looks, worked as a Playboy "bunny," and then wrote critically about it, setting her on the road to status as an icon of the feminist movement. Mehmet Oz stepped out of the operating room and the image of the cold, unfeeling surgeon, to help millions of people better understand their bodies. Those who command "shticky" defy convention, but do so with purpose: to connect and communicate.
Businesses and nonprofits alike can find their shtickiness without being silly. In business, especially in professional services, it can be very hard to distinguish yourself from the competition. What will make the difference is the persona of your company or your product.
Steve Jobs at Apple created not just a signature look for himself, but a corporate persona that was innovative, clean, and user-sensitive. Michael Dell "took it to the people" with the first computer sales marketed directly to the consumer. And Howard Schultz built a sidewalk coffee kiosk into the Fortune 500 Starbucks empire, with a persona that reflects the business of community-building every bit as much as it does the creation of designer coffee drinks.
In the nonprofit world, there are many humanitarian aid organizations working in spheres that range from urban neighborhoods to war-torn countries. In the latter arena, Doctors Without Borders may be among the best known because of its fearless persona, going in first where others might not go to deliver needed medical care. Closer to home, the Salvation Army draws its greatest attention from the bell-ringers who elevate shtickiness to a noisy holiday tradition that's impossible to overlook.
Thanks for the reminder, Daft Punk, but getting attention, getting noticed, getting heard is not about getting lucky. It is about making your own luck. And in the 21st century, shtickiness is an essential part of that equation.