What Neil deGrasse Tyson can teach us about business

Do you recognize the name Neil deGrasse Tyson? He’s an astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, host of the 2014 version of the show Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. Why would this brilliant scientist be a regular guest on The Daily Show on Comedy Central? Why would he have made appearances on The Tonight Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brien?

Astrophysicists are not sought-after guests, right? Dr. Tyson is, though, and his popularity continues to grow. Without deliberately doing so, he’s sharing a crucial lesson with all of us who are not astrophysicists.

Why do we like Neil deGrasse Tyson so much?

Is it because he’s a brilliant astrophysicist? Do you know any astrophysicists who are not brilliant? Is it because he’s on TV at lot? Nope. The vast majority of people on TV couldn’t sell out the Overture Center (like he did on Jan. 26 of this year). Is it because of his great mustache and tendency to wear solar system-themed vests? Hmm … maybe.

Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyota Industries (parent company of Toyota Motor Corp.) died in 1930. However, an idea he devised can help us figure out why we like Dr. Tyson so much. Are you familiar with the 5 Whys concept? When you have a question or problem, ask “why” five times to help you find the answer or solution.

Neil deGrasse Tyson continues to rise in popularity

  1. Why? He’s on TV more and more.
  2. Why? Companies will pay a premium to advertise during his programs.
  3. Why? Consumers have a positive association with him.
  4. Why? He makes people feel smarter.
  5. Why? He takes really, really complex topics and makes them simple.

What’s the lesson for business owners?

The last “why” from the example above is the critical answer from which we can all learn. Our customers know we’re smart, especially when it comes to the business we’re in. What makes them trust us, though, and what makes them want to do business with us is when we are able speak in terms they understand. Regardless of our industry, there are complex topics involved that we know much, much better than our customers.

What if Neil deGrasse Tyson just wanted to show everyone how smart he was? He could give incredibly complex presentations and have the audience’s head spinning in less than 60 seconds. What kind of appeal would he have then? He would amaze a group of his peers, but most people would just be confused. Dr. Tyson, better at astrophysics than almost anyone else on the planet, is able to take incredibly difficult concepts and put them in terms a 10-year-old can understand.



Don’t you love it when you feel smarter as a result of learning something new? Think of the last time you helped your customers experience this sensation. They initially knew very little about the solution you would offer to their problem, but because you took the time to teach them, they became much more educated buyers. Then, when they chose to do business with you, there was no question in their minds that they were making the right choice.

Marketing is getting people to buy things that they are glad they bought. Manipulation is getting people to buy things that they later regret. You can have more of the former, and nearly eliminate the latter, by following Neil deGrasse Tyson’s example. Talk to your customers in terms a 10-year-old can understand. You don’t need to be on TV to do this, though. You can …

Use your website to teach

Because of the technology we all have available to us, we can now teach our potential customers online and not even have to be in their presence. Have you read my article on how to use your website to teach your customers? Once you have, start turning your website into an awesome teaching tool by making complex ideas simple.

Spencer X. Smith is a Waunakee-based business consultant.

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