Be Open To Surprises

By MICHAEL GRABER & JOCELYN ATKINSON

The commercial world of research and development, product development and innovation can learn from the insights of poetry by applying the deep wisdom to its process and pipeline. A single line from a Robert Frost essay has the gravity to change the growth trajectory of a business: “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

If you change the first phrase to read either “no surprise for the inventor …” or “no surprise for the product team…” then you can conclude that the sentence reads “no surprise for the company.” In other words, if all R&D and innovation efforts simply make small adaptations to products and all solutions look basically the same, the results are predictable and the returns barely additive. No surprise.

When a company is brave enough to be open to surprises in its pipeline and business model, then it opens itself to being surprised with unimaginable top-line growth. This receptiveness to surprise needs to be built into the metrics, the process and pipeline expectations; otherwise, the unimaginative sea of sameness will drown out the shelves and landfills of the world.

The planet has enough me-too products and cheap knockoffs already. The bland leads the bland in short-sighted product development efforts every day. The only surprise is that humans do not choose to reach higher and spend their energies creating really helpful and valuable products and services that make living better. As a species, we can do better.

We can surprise ourselves. We can take responsibility and push for new products and services that go beyond what we know today, beyond me-too products, and surprise ourselves and the market. We owe it to each other, to humanity and to the globe to surprise ourselves.

Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.