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5 Reasons Surprise Matters (and how to embrace it)

by Lynette Silva

Cover of Book "Surprise"Recognize This! – Surprises happens. Our connections with others help us better enjoy the good surprises and weather the bad ones.

I love my job. I know I’m lucky I get to say that. Why do I love my job? Lots of reasons, but at the top of the list is the people I get to work with every day – both my colleagues at Globoforce and the customers who enrich every project I’m involved in. It’s those intimate connections with people and what we learn, do and achieve together that make work fun.

That’s why I’m excited about the upcoming WorkHuman conference. (June 8-10, in Orlando, FL. Register here and use code DIBLOG100for a $100 discount.) The entire event is all about how we can all love our work when we learn to appreciate and respect each other in positive ways to build deeper and stronger connections. I’m honored to lead one of the panel discussions: “Unexpected Innovations: Changing How We Think about a Human Workplace.” The panel will showcase four of the speakers/authors, giving us a chance to unpack in more detail their thoughts around important concepts in a WorkHuman workplace – Surprise/Happiness; Romance/Meaning; Play/Productivity; and Failure/Risk-Taking. (Check out more information on many of these sessions in this post: 8 Upcoming Talks You’d Be Crazy to Miss. Seriously.)

As I prepare for the session, I’m absorbing their books. There is so much wisdom and insight I’d like to share with you. So for the next four weeks, I’ll be sharing a book review from each author. First up, Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected by Tania Luna and Leann Renninger, PhD. I greatly enjoyed this book and took away many personal life learnings.

1) Embracing Surprise Is Important – Surprise is, in a way, all about giving up control. About allowing yourself to be in a place where you can be surprised and to experience wonder. Our world today is nothing but surprise – constant change and the surprise it brings us. That’s why learning how to use surprise to our advantage is so powerful.

“It’s training in the skills that separate people and organizations that thrive in this new world from the ones that can’t stomach the volatility… They are the skills that turn our work and our lives into meaningful adventures.”

2) Surprise Requires Connection — Surprise must be a shared experience. When surprising things happen to us, we naturally want to share with others, building deeper connections.

“Keeping an emotionally and cognitively intense experience to ourselves isn’t just difficult; it can lead to physical illness.”

3) Trust, Stability and Vulnerability Are Critical for Embracing Surprise – Recognition and appreciation play a key role in building trust, which is necessary for us to give up control and accept the unpredictable. Stable connections in the workplace keep us focused on what matters most. Vulnerability does not mean weakness, but openness.

  • “Trust is a psychological safety net that allows us to let go.”
  • “Setting stable ground builds resilience and makes even the worst surprises bearable. Social support is particularly effective at creating stability… Stable and supportive people can also help us gain clarity and just plain remind us that we matter.”
  • “We cannot connect unless we leave ourselves open to the unpredictable delights and disappointments, joys and sorrows of relationships.”

4) Adapting to and Using Surprise to Our Advantage Requires Improvisation – People most adept with surprise “accept that surprises will happen without trying to avoid or predict them.” Improvisation is a terrific way to build this skill because it requires two things in particular – focusing on others and staying in the moment.

“Improv performers agreed that the most important rule in improv is listening to your scene partners rather than thinking about yourself… The same advice applies offstage. In times of uncertainty, turning our attention to others allows us to move more swiftly and make better choices. It also allows us to help others look good, which builds trust and community… The most exciting performers trust that they’ll find themselves someplace better than they imagined, which is precisely how they get there. To improvise, we have to stay with the moment we’re in instead of chasing a moment we want.”

5) Practicing Gratitude Gives Us More Reasons to Be Grateful – I suggest taking the advice in the book one step further. Yes, reflect every day on what you’re grateful for. But then make the extra effort to express your gratitude through recognition by telling the target of your gratitude why and how they’ve given you a reason to be grateful.

“One of the best predictors of life satisfaction is how much gratitude we feel on a regular basis. More gratitude = more joy…. When we get what we expect (even if it’s wonderful), we feel nothing. No surprise = no gratitude. Actively practicing gratitude is the only way to flip on the switch voluntarily instead of sitting around and waiting for gratitude-inspiring surprises to happen.”

Stay tuned next week for wisdom from Tim Lebrecht and his book, The Business Romantic.

How do you handle surprise? Is it something you seek out or try to avoid?

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5 Reasons Surprise Matters (and how to embrace it)
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5 Reasons Surprise Matters (and how to embrace it)
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Recognize This! – Surprises happens. Our connections with others help us better enjoy the good surprises and weather the bad ones.
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