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Surprise! or Design?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the role “surprise” plays in design and business strategy. Last month, the Sequence SF office was treated to a lunchtime talk by Soren Kaplan, the author of a new book called Leapfrogging: Harness the Power of Surprise for Business Breakthroughs. He was in town to deliver a Ted Talk about the subject and we were fortunate enough to get a sneak peak.

Soren discussed how “surprise” can be used as a strategic tool to make bold, success-building, innovative business moves. Citing a range of brands from Four Seasons to Intuit, he illustrated how business leaders were able to take their brands and offerings to an entirely new place by taking advantage of unexpected, seemingly accidental, insights.

As I listened to him speak, I wondered if embracing “surprise”, as Soren described it — as an exciting approach to business innovation — was actually the process of design thinking. I wondered if the business leaders he mentioned could be characterized as attentive observers with good listening skills,  open minds, and a willingness to experiment. This is how I would portray a great designer. Perhaps these business leaders were not actually embracing “surprise” but were thinking and behaving like designers… and in their leadership positions, were able to take action on their discoveries and drive success.

But all of these things are only part of the “surprise” equation. To make this truly work, Soren said to “trust your gut”, without fear of being wrong (or even right; sometimes our guts tell us that difficult and gnarly change must be made). In other words, throw out the spreadsheets and formulas meant to vet and validate ideas — or at least give that intangible, imaginative inner voice an equally important place at the table.

I might still consider Soren’s “surprise” to be design thinking. But when it comes down to it, what it’s called doesn’t matter. What does matter is changing the conversation about design and business innovation from tactics and certainty to one about awareness, thoughtfulness, and the resulting intuition. It’s exactly the kind of design we practice at Sequence. We call ourselves a creative development agency, but perhaps we are also “surprise” engineers.

You can find out more about Soren Kaplan’s book here: http://www.leapfrogging.com/

Written by Cheryn Flanagan. Cheryn is a Design Director and Experience Lead at Sequence; she helps brands craft meaningful customer experiences across multi-channel, digital landscapes.

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