Tom Shefchunas

The Law of Diminishing Astonishment

by on in Experience.

Let me tell you a story.

When I was younger, I worked at a local company. I wasn’t doing anything special… I just worked. The days were long, the work tough, and the pay was poor. But it was a job. And it taught me a ton. One of the things I learned was that there was no use in being lazy. The more I “messed around,” the longer the day seemed to take. So, I learned to put my head down and work hard. I would almost get lost in my work and the day would be over before I knew it.

Until the union rep tapped on my shoulder.

Without going into it… and without using the “colorful” language he used, he basically told me I was making the rest of them look bad because I was working too hard! I know this is not the case for all unions… but… it was for that one. I hated it. It seemed so wrong to me.

They literally walked around trying not to let anyone know what they were truly capable of… so sad.


When you do something that is a step above what people are used to… they are first astonished… then they get used to it. What was astonishing to them, because it was more than they were used to… is now normal. To astonish them again, you have to dial it up the next time.

I call this the Law of Diminishing Astonishment.

Here’s the thing. Most principles are morally neutral. They can be applied for good or for bad.  The example I stated above was obviously bad. The guys understood this principle so well that they would put effort into looking average so that no one else had to “dial it up.”

We use this principle in programming all the time… hopefully for good. We use it to “monitor” how much we put into programming. We LOVE programming at North Point and we could easily, if we’re not watching, put all of our eggs into that basket.

If we’re not careful, we will set a standard that is not sustainable!

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be excellent… I’m just saying we should be careful not to get ourselves into a crazy spiral that we will never be able to maintain.

Should you strive for excellence? Yes!

Be careful though… Be better than last week… but not better than you can be next week.

How can you apply this principle to your program or your leadership? How can you use it to understand people, and the reasons they react to you or your program?