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Good or Bad - Surprises Have Much to Teach Us

When was the last time you were surprised by a result at work?

Perhaps you missed your quarterly target by forty percent. Or maybe you overshot it by thirty percent. Or maybe a product launched nine months late, and no one can say exactly why.

Most of us hate surprises. Surprises imply a lack of control. They imply weakness. They imply fault.

Even when the surprise is a positive result, the underlying thought is, Why didn’t I know this would happen?

Because you didn’t. That’s why. And that’s perfectly okay. The world is complex. No one has all the answers (and only very silly people think they do). So rather than beating yourself up, why not look at the upside – there’s lots to learn.

Here’s how to make the most of your next surprise:

Challenge Your Existing Assumptions

When something unexpected happens, ask yourself, What would have to be true for this result to make sense? Drop the old ideas, best practices, and rules of thumb. Seek to understand the connections between the people, resources, processes, and interactions that led to the result. Why does the result achieved, good or bad, make sense?

Pull the Team Close

Pointing fingers rarely creates lasting change. It creates obfuscation, scapegoating and ass-covering. You want the truth (and you can handle it). So instead, get curious. Talk to your team. Talk to your customers. Talk to your suppliers. Talk to other departments. And ask a ton of (non-threatening) questions.

What did we miss? What changed? What remained consistent? What got in the way? Have we seen this before? How did x lead to y? How was that decision made? What is the new normal?

Keep asking until you fully understand what led to the surprising result.

Identify Opportunities

Surprises can reveal hidden opportunities that were not apparent before. They might highlight underserved markets, customer needs, or areas for improvement that were previously overlooked.

Focus on Solutions and Adaptability

How will you adjust your learning and development plan to prepare your team for managing new complexities and surprises as they arise? How will you change your processes, systems, and decision-making frameworks to create a culture of continuous improvement so that the next time you’re surprised, the team will continue to thrive?

At the end of the day, a surprise result is about expectations. You expected something to happen, and instead, something else did. It’s hard to let go of expectations – and let’s face it, the desire to be validated as a good leader/operator/implementor – and to take a good honest look at what was really at play.

But it you do, you’ll be surprised (wink, wink) at what you’re able to achieve.

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