Measure 7 times, cut once - yes, we all like good surprises

Jan 26, 2016 by Brendan Jack

Everyone loves a good surprise, except that cranky guy in accounts - you know who you are, Tim. And bad surprises you can keep or file in the shredder. The element of surprise is a powerful tool in business. Capturing people’s imaginations and making an impression is fundamental to business and life. Creating wonder can give you an edge.

Humour is all about surprise. That punchline you never saw coming, the moral of the story, that juxtaposition which left you wanting more. Surprise is a creative element that comes in all shapes. It can be in a well-told story or a physical item revealed from your jacket pocket.

Horror movies, thrillers and whodunits will never go out of style – people are intrigued by the unexpected. Just take a look at the rise of the ‘lucky packet’ or monthly mystery boxes for sale online. Money gets paid for the promise of something fun or cool.

Get them in the mood

Surprise enhances the general mood, so consider not surprising anyone when someone’s angry or distracted. When they’re feeling good, you can make them feel even better. So choose your moments. Unless you’re Oprah and giving everyone in the room a free car… then you’re fine to surprise at any time. If you’ve got the budget, be like Oprah.

A surprise can make people feel special, that you’ve done something specifically with them in mind.

A husband or wife enjoys a surprise gift from their loved ones (unless again he’s Tim in accounts). Make your colleagues or clients feel special, in an appropriate way, to create rapport beyond just a working relationship. Send them tickets to your company box for a big sporting or music event, and suggest new ideas even after strategies are in place. It shows that you’re on the case for them, beyond what they’re expecting.

Surprise is also a good way to help re-connect with a client with whom you’ve lost touch.

Don’t only sell

Consider not going straight into your regular corporate PowerPoint presentation followed by a pricing PDF. Be a real human first, discuss something off topic – the expected tools can come later.

Sometimes being passionate about what you offer and delivering on promises is all you need to go beyond the norm.

Follow up with a word of thanks on e-mail or via social media or even a complimentary dinner – gifts don’t only have to be sent at Christmas time.


There are surprises that can scare and un-nerve, and they may actually be fun and cool. But know your audience, don’t ever do anything with bad intentions. The old “Behind you!” can get a laugh and reaction, just make sure not to have anyone jump out of their skin or put them in fight or flight mode. Getting attacked in a boardroom is almost never good.

Don’t freak people out, make them smile. Try to push the envelope but be responsible.


Words alone can surprise. What we say and how we deliver it can keep people engaged. Words are our building blocks. Think about what you say and when to say it. Supply the best words in the best order. For example, take a look at this joke with a fun storyline and try it out.

The extra mile

Going out of your way to help people is usually a much-appreciated surprise… going the extra mile is often unexpected. Sometimes even delivering on promises, on time, can be a surprise in a world where others needs and customer satisfaction doesn’t always come first.

Encourage creativity

A creative environment provides soil for surprise. Being in an environment where you can share ideas freely will always aid curiosity and novelty.

Managing expectations

Say what you mean, mean what you say.

Keep your promises – don’t surprise people in a negative way.

Get their products to them early, reach a target before the deadline. Compare this to an unexpected price increase, hitting a client with a hidden cost or presenting a snag that could’ve been red flagged earlier.

Showing character is more important than being a character… be a person of your word.

A bit of showmanship might not hurt. If you’re a character, then pull a pen out of thin air, show some respect, give your phone some air or lure them with a sweet prediction.

Summing up

Keep people engaged, give them a reason to want to see you again. Have fun, delight them. If it’s done in a genuine way then it becomes contagious. We are all curious creatures, keep feeding imaginations.

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