The ability to be surprised is an important part of being creative. We mustn't leave it to chance.
Ask any of my friends and colleagues, and they tell you exactly how much I like to plan things. A new project? Let’s plan it! A major task? Let’s break it into smaller ones. A business trip? The agenda must be closed weeks before.
Ask my family, and they will gladly confirm it too: a family vacation? Let’s open that Excel and start planning the flights, the where to stay, what to see, the route, where to stop and what exactly we need to pack.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not bragging here. It’s not really a call for help either. For me, this is just a fact of life: the way I am wired. I need a plan, a fallback plan, and sometimes a rescue plan. I can deal with changes, but a good plan makes me sleep better at night.
OK, so a few weeks ago my Family and I packed our way-too-many suitcases (based on a predefined list) and boarded our flight (which we pre-ordered nine months earlier) to Italy for our well-planned family vacation. Of course, I couldn’t plan everything. After all, there are 12 rainy days on average in June in northern Italy with a rainfall average of 85mm, and nine rainy days on average in July. But that’s nothing a good Plan B couldn’t handle, so I managed to keep my anxiety at a reasonable level.
The first week was pretty much according to plan until the time came to move to our second stop near Lake Lugano. As soon as we arrived, it started to rain – a fact that required adjusting the probability of having another rainy day tomorrow based on three different weather forecast services. But that was nothing compared to what happened the next day.
The following day became (most unexpectedly) the highlight of our vacation. It was not only great fun – it was the most memorable day of our vacation. And not because it was carefully planned, but rather because it was one big surprise.
We arrived at the city of Lugano early in the morning just to find out that several major streets were blocked (which resulted in some pretty hard conversations between me and our GPS). But there was a perfectly good reason for that. We discovered that on the exact same day the city of Lugano was hosting the annual Harley-Davidson European HOG (Harley Owners Group) Rally. As soon as we parked our car and started to explore the city, we realized that the real attraction wasn’t any of the attraction we read about. The real attractions were the hundreds of bikers, the gorgeous bikes, the music, the atmosphere, the merchandise – it was all those things we didn’t expect that are going to make this day so unique.
It wasn’t only the fact that we didn’t know in advance about the rally that caught us by surprise. It was the extreme clash between the everything and everyone that took part in the rally, and the Swiss lake-side city acting as the background for the event. These two opposites created a surrealistic view which amplified the feeling of surprise and kept it alive throughout the day
OK, so should we stop planning? Should we just aimlessly wander around without expectations so we can be surprised? Well, no. But…
We mostly operate in a world that demands (or just encourages) us to be planned. Even our brain is wired to identify patterns we know and expect. But this doesn’t mean we should aim for everything to be anticipated. On the contrary: this is what makes surprises so interesting and memorable.
The ability to be surprised is an important part of being creative. We mustn’t just leave it to chance.
Whatever you do, and whatever the level of your planning is, make sure to leave some room for surprises. Yes! Make this room for surprise part of your plan. Embrace the opportunities to be surprised, and learn to love them and even to look for them actively.
From a different perspective, make sure to create surprises for your clients or audience. Unlike the surprises you experience, these surprises should be carefully planned (and not just left as placeholders in your plan).
One great (and simple) way to create an opportunity for surprises to happen is to mix things that seem unrelated. The introduction of hundreds of bikers to the quiet city of Lugano was not only a surprise by itself. It was the fuel for many little surprises throughout the day. It created a magical atmosphere, instead of just short temporal surprise.
So, are you ready to let go a little and be surprised? Are you ready to surprise someone else? Try it! You’d be surprised
Using seempli Lidor works with individuals, teams, and organizations seeking to develop, master, and apply creativity.