The Power of the Unexpected

There is a store in New York City called LittleMissMatched.

This store took off on the idea of mismatched socks.  Socks are always meant to be a pair, worn one on each foot, and they should match.  This is the EXPECTED norm.

Its founders Arielle, Jason and Jonah went “against the grain” and created a $5 million idea, just by being unexpected.

Now they sell mismatched earphones, flip flops, gloves, and even a bike and helmet.

The other day I was watching the hilarious Bharti Singh. She was at her wittiest best making jokes (and even heaping insults) on all the celebrities that were present at the show.  At the end as she was about to sign off, she said that she made fun of those present and ……. she was not afraid of anyone and they can just deal with it.  She walked away to a thunderous applause.

That last line stuck with me.  Usually people deliver disclaimers and even an apology, saying that the insults were done for entertainment, etc. etc.  In her case, Bharti went totally the opposite – UNEXPECTED – way.

Her line was as punchy as it was unexpected.

Whether it is a product, an idea, a story, a sale, or a performance, for something to be memorable, there has to be an element of unexpectedness.

Think back to the movie frames that you remember, the jokes that you can recall, the memories you have.  I bet they had something unexpected about them.

I am slowly beginning to not only appreciate the power of the unexpected, but also beginning to internalize the concept in my work.  I experimented with this in my last two presentations – with huge success.

You can spring something unexpected to diffuse a situation, to dumbfound an adversary and even to surprise a friend.

Intrigue and knowledge gap go hand in hand.  The standard way is to ask a question which does not have an obvious answer.  For example in the book Freakonomics, there was a full chapter devoted to the drug dealers in Chicago.  The question that was thrown out was “Why do drug dealers still live with their mothers?”  The chapter then went on to explain, using a whole lot of data, that other than the top few, most drug peddlers did not make enough money.

In this case, the question was as intriguing as the explanation was unexpected.

At SAP’s annual conference in May 2015, there were hugely intriguing business questions all around.  Some of them were:

How do you grow 178% without growing at all?

How do you fit 600 million tons into a 216 million ton bag?

How do you know what your customers want when they don’t even want it yet?

How does a canceled flight arrive six hours early?

How can you make money on something if you already sold it?

Then when their product is demonstrated and you see its power in the answer to the question, the thought stays with you.

For intrigue to be even more memorable, the solution should be UNEXPECTED.

Of the suspense and mystery movies that answer an intriguing question at the end (who did it?) the highly successful ones are where the answer was unexpected.

I welcome any specific instances of “unexpected” that stayed with you.