Are you ignoring the power of surprise?

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Courtesy Maria Soledad.

Matthew DeBord published an article over the weekend on Business Insider titled “Tesla has one huge advantage over every other car company”. The huge advantage? Free advertising.

It’s not just that people talk about Tesla. People love Tesla. I thought about DeBord’s article when I read Seth Godin’s blog post today. Here’s the last bit of Seth’s post:

We can’t easily change the dominant narrative that people have about us, we certainly can’t do it by insisting that our customers or colleagues bring more nuance to the table.

Instead, we can do it through action. Vivid, memorable interactions are what people remember. Surprises and vivid action matter far more than we imagine, and we regularly underinvest in them.

That last sentence really hit me. The power of surprises and vivid action. I’m sure I overlook that.

I think surprises and vivid action explain a lot of Tesla’s free advertising advantage. They don’t behave the way automakers are supposed to behave. We’re surprised that they only make a couple of models of cars. We’re surprised they throw lavish parties to introduce their new cars. We’re surprised they can build charging stations all over the country, which makes owning an electric car feasible.

Clearly surprise on its own isn’t a constructive approach. The surprise has to be pleasant. It has to be built on a foundation of respect, appreciation, and trust. But the pleasant surprise doesn’t stand apart from these qualities. I think that’s part of Seth’s point.

You have an ecosystem where respect, appreciation, and trust are built and nurtured, in part, through surprise and vivid action. It’s a chicken and egg situation…it’s hard to tell which came first. But if you can manage all of them, and leverage them in the right proportion, you can transform your career, your business, your life.

What does it mean for you? You can pleasantly surprise any of your stakeholders, in almost any way, on almost any day. The hard part is knowing what you want to do, putting your best effort into it, and then delivering in a visible way.

One of the easiest pleasant surprises is over-delivering on a relatively simple task. You were asked to throw together a couple of slides summarizing relevant macroeconomic trends for your industry? Great. Do that.

Then show some forecast data from a model you built. Or pick a lesser known trend, and add a slide explaining why you should pay attention to it as well. Or run a scenario analysis, where you explain how the market will evolve if these trends in head in one of three different directions.

Even if your over-delivery doesn’t land with your stakeholders, it’ll accelerate your development. You’ll be learning, and thinking, about things most other people aren’t. Anything you can do to differentiate yourself will help you accelerate your career progression.

Don’t ignore the power of surprise and vivid action. As Seth Godin mentions, the wider population under-appreciates these realities. It’s a perfect way to zig when everyone else is zagging.

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