Don’t Be Surprised, Prepare the Surprise Yourself

Here is a great quote from Ioan Tenner in a post on the strategy of surprise:

Significant surprise is a life event. Neglect this subject and your fate may be of the led and of the losers.

The surprised lose initiative, stumble and take hasty decisions they will regret. They submit to choices crafted by other people while surprisers gain advantage.

What else to do with the unexpected than to suffer it?

I claim that we can do better: we can prepare against surprise, for surprise and we can even prepare the surprise ourselves.

Thanks to Geoffrey Morton-Haworth for tipping me off to Tenner’s post. He did so in a comment on my post How to Think About the Future.

The point that I was trying to make there is that in a complex world, it is close to impossible to predict or control the future. But we can try to influence by experimenting. Complex systems co-evolve with those within the system – so while we might not have control, we can have influence.


In a longer post on the topic, which is well worth reading in full, Tenner discusses strategies for preparing the surprise yourself. He includes some excellent advice for getting people to buy-in to the surprise that you come up with:

If you want to avoid the “built-in” negative reaction of people being surprised with something new, make a rule of being slow, easily foreseeable, with many warnings.

Do not start where you are, do not start where the newness is – far ahead, but where people are. Start always from the people towards the newness and not from the unknown towards the people. Start with the understood, the usual and the accepted.

To cushion surprise follow well-known and familiar patterns, plan steps and rituals of passage to reassure. The newer the content, the older the form!

That’s pretty good innovation advice. Because as we know, having the great idea (preparing the surprise) is only part of the process. We also have to get the idea to spread.

And that’s the hard part.

Still, it’s better than being surprised.

(Picture from flickr/DailyPic under a Creative Commons License)

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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3 thoughts on “Don’t Be Surprised, Prepare the Surprise Yourself

  1. I like the idea of coming up with a suprise i.e. a surprisingly novel and great idea, and then dropping hints to make it less of a surprise after all. Perhaps even expected.

    Reading the latest apple rumours seems to be a case in point

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