Saturday, July 31, 2010


"A true leader always keeps an element of surprise up his sleeve, which others cannot grasp but which keeps his public excited and breathless."
                            -  Charles de Gaulle

Most people hate surprises.   Look at all of the time people spend planning and preparing.  There are libraries of business school books and popular culture tomes on the art and skill of preparation to get what you want.

How boring.

Think back to all of the really cool experiences you have had and more likely than not they involve a pleasant surprise.  You can really accomplish a lot when you present a learner with a challenge they did not anticipate.  Humans rise to challenges in good ways, challenges get them out of their boxes, tests get their juices flowing.  These are all cliches for a reason - they are classic human behavior.

We have started instituting unannounced "final wrap-up exercises" in all of our programs.  They're basically tests that we do not really announce so they aren't expected and most importantly, they are unprepared for.  

It all started as an accident, really.  We were looking for a good way to fill the final day of a course with something other than the marketing pablum that we all hate.  So we asked ourselves, "What if we gave them fresh systems after lunch, a couple of paragraphs paraphrasing what we did that week, and asked teams of students to basically demonstrate everything that they learned during the week?"

What a wild success.  We could hear pages flipping and murmurs around the room - "When did we do that?" and "I think I remember this."  The groups help pair really good students with those who had trouble so no one gets left out.  And they all leave with a level of confidence in their abilities orders of magnitude higher than before.  And the instructor is left to mingle and mentor, reinforcing certain skills and just getting to know better the customers.  

It is by far the best rated section of the class by customers.  Hands down.  And it all starts with a surprise after lunch.

Now I am not saying all surprises are good.  That letter with the return address from the IRS is never good. But you can make your experiences memorable with some good surprises, and your customers will learn more.

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