Surprise in Social Settings

Posted by  Andrew Rixon —October 18, 2005
Filed in Communication

Two powerful ways of making sense (in a weickien way) are:

  • Using frameworks to ‘frame’ data
  • Getting people to explain and explore surprises

The first technique of placing data into frameworks is common. Shawn posted a great example of such a technique here.

I like the surprise approach. Asking ‘what has surprised you’ is a great way to generate surprise as well as helping a group to make sense of what’s going on. It’s interesting that this approach doesn’t seem to work so well on lone individuals. For instance, if I ask you, “what has surprised you today”, you probably might struggle to come up with something surprising. Yet, be placed in a social setting and it seems that surprises are ripe to occur.

About  Andrew Rixon


  1. Matt Moore says:

    It also depends on context. I did a lessons learned execise with a project team where I interviewed each team lead (I would have prefered to do it as a workshop but there you go). One question I asked was about surprises or unexpected events. The project management team said: “Of course there were no surprises, it was all in the project plan!” Interviews with others uncovered some major unexpected events – that certainly weren’t in the project plan.
    Some conclusions:
    1. One person’s surprise is another’s normality.
    2. Talking about the unexpected may be seen as an attack on competence (the expert foresees everything). This can be reduced if other experts admit to their surprise about something.

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