Saul Kaplan: Surprise!

How many times has your boss said, no surprises? Bosses want everything to go down exactly as planned.  Of course they never do.  Maybe instead of trying to avoid surprises we should plan more of them.  When is the last time you genuinely surprised someone?  Did you delight a customer today with the element of surprise?  Did you do something so totally unpredictable that people all around you took notice?  Predictability is overrated and boring.

When the Saints tried an onside kick to begin the second half of the Super Bowl everyone on and off the field was taken by complete surprise. I thought at the time that the game was over right then and there.  The key was the element of surprise.  If you look at the statistics behind onside kicks it was a genius move by Sean Payton, the Saint’s head coach. Turns out that only 26% of onside kicks in the NFL work when they are expected late in the game.  The success rate goes up to 60% if the ploy is unexpected.  The Saints not only had the underdog, post Katrina thing, working for them the odds were in their favor.  The onside kick was a brilliant use of surprise and the Colts never recovered from it.

Lady Gaga is all about the surprise.  We expect her to surprise us with her look and art every single time.  Lady Gaga delivers.  Her appearance at the Grammy Awards was no exception.  Whether you are a Lady Gaga fan or not you have to be impressed with her capacity to surprise, provoke, and entertain.  Her outfit at the Grammy’s was unlike any I have ever seen and her duet with Elton John was equally memorable.  Lady Gaga is determined to be remarkable and to consistently surprise.  No easy task to be surprising when everyone is expecting you to be.  It isn’t my favorite genre (if you can call her music a genre) but I have to hand it to Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta for being surprisingly entertaining.

photo-saulMy friend Tony Hsieh has built an incredible movement and company at Zappos.  The company is built around the simple idea of surprising each and every customer with service beyond expectations.  It seems so logical and yet most customer service is awful and disappointing.  Not service from Zappos.  Just ask my wife and daughters who have been delighted on many occasions ordering shoes from the company.

The other day Tony emailed (time stamp Mon, Feb 8, 2010 at 4:53 PM) asking me to read an advance copy of his new book aptly titled Delivering Happiness.  I replied to Tony that I would be pleased to and he came back within minutes saying, thanks, we’ll get it out asap! I was busy working on other stuff and didn’t think any more about it expecting the book to arrive over the next few weeks. The next day, Tuesday at about 11:30, I was handed a package marked extremely urgent containing Tony’s book.  I was surprised and delighted to get the book so quickly but not at all surprised that Amazon announced in July it was buying Zappos for $850M. Now that’s Delivering Happiness.

Surprising and delighting customers is what every enterprise should be doing every day and yet so few do. So I’m thinking that we need to be surprising more often.  The next time your boss says, no surprises, maybe it is time to look for another job.  Find a boss and colleagues who are more likely to say, surprise me.


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