On the virtues of the unexpected
Much of our life is spent living in the land of expectations met. What happened yesterday happens tomorrow. I drink the same coffee, use the same toothpaste, greet people with the same expressions. We assume the expected and value it. More people rate McDonalds high because they offer the same things everywhere than because it serves great hamburgers. Where it gets interesting is in the ways unanticipated events can help us break up the usual terrain in enriching ways.
The unexpected happening is more zestful than routine, but it takes alertness to spot it—let alone to find a way to build on it. A scientist at Searle drug company was on a team developing cancer medications some years ago and was interested to learn what a non-toxic mix of ingredients would taste like. To his great surprise, and against all prediction, it tasted sweet. From that curious moment came NutraSweet. A nice payload.
I once worked with Bob Higgins, the CEO of Transworld Entertainment to learn what created raving fans in their 1,000 plus entertainment stores. Time after time we learned that the expected created satisfaction. (I know what I will find in your stores.) It took something not anticipated however, to create raving fans. A frequent example was a store associate driving to a home to deliver a birthday gift purchased remotely or in other ways going the “extra mile. Surprises trump routines and Trans World built in strong incentives for store staff who provided them.
Here’s an irony. The unexpected can happen by a person following a practice is that just what they always do but which is not expected by others. Pam and I bought a Troy Built rototiller, then the gold standard for gardeners. Ours stopped working and I took it to the factory in Troy, New York. When I picked it up, I was told there was no bill. I saw the note on our machine: “No charge. D.L.” I learned this was from executive Dean Leath and called him. He told me that the part was expensive but should not have broken even after eight years. Wow was that unexpected. I bet I sold five or more of their rototillers by telling that story.
The unexpected is all around us, but we do have to look for it. As Louis Pasteur said, fortune favors the prepared mind. So, hop off your beaten paths. I expect that of you!