I was at my desk in deep thought. I had just finished a warm cup of coffee and my only plan then was to switch to a relaxed playlist on 8tracks. There was nothing special about that day.
But then, my doorbell rang. I had received an envelope from a close friend.
To set context, the only time I received envelopes was the time when my college sent a monthly performance report card to my parents. So, when I saw an envelope — and from a friend — I did not know how to react.
When I opened it, I had a huge smile. It had a travel postcard wrapped up with a beautiful message — asking me to explore, to discover, and to be surprised.
Why are surprises good?
When what happens is not what I expect, I have to rethink my understanding of the world.
Surprises create saliency.
They create moments that break away from the clutter and shift our worldview — even if for a brief movement — in a way that rewires us.
One of the reasons birthdays are the most memorable days of the year is because we associate them with surprises. The rest of the year seems boring — until something happens that takes us by surprise. In life, surprises are generally under-rated.
As we age, time passes quickly — or so we feel. This happens because when we are young, we have a higher number of “newer” experiences, things that take us by surprise, like us a first date, first coffee, first failure e.t.c.
These new experiences give us a feeling that we are aging slowly.
As adults, the experience novelty wears off and hence, we feel old (terribly old).
Takeaway #1: Surprise yourself or one day you will die without experiencing anything remarkable.
If I were to nominate the best feeling ever it will be the feeling of getting surprised (for the good).
Putting Surprises To Work
Workplaces are crowded. There are a million tasks at hand and everyone is busy running the show. In general, attention span has gone down significantly and we don’t really know how to build it from the ground up.
So, how do we communicate our best work to a crowd who wants to listen but there are cats and business plans who own their attention? Surprise them.
Have a project in mind? Under promise, over deliver. Don’t satiate expectations because they normalize the effort. Instead, deliver above those expectations. This way, you will surprise people and get their attention when it is needed the most.
Your best resume on a paper is still a resume on a paper. Raghav Haran gives great advice on this: Instead of sending in your resume, show the potential recruiter what you can do for them.
Surprise them with you work — show how you can take the company from A to B.
This works because HR professionals receive thousands of applications every year. The only way to stand out is by engineering surprises. Who would expect a 23 year old to proactively attack a pain point by developing an application that solves it? No one.
That’s the thing with surprises — people don’t expect them.
So next time you want to stand out, or make your relationships work, make sure you can’t be predicted. Don’t let them define you.
Surprise people. And yourself.