Embrace the Unknown — Expected the Unexpected

for organizations


c.os.org.wonder.05

This Domain-Level Guide is designed to be used based on the Core Model. Please refer to the Embrace the Unknown — Expected the Unexpected Core Practice before exploring this guide.

overview

The unknown is rarely a welcomed guest in the organizational context. Organizations are plan- and target-driven, and as such, estimations, predictions, and planning ahead are naturally favored. However, when taken to the extreme, avoiding the unknown also means missing potential opportunities. Creative insights are, by definition, unexpected. If they were predictable, they wouldn’t have been considered innovative. To generate more creative insights, you have to Embrace the Unknown.

When you wisely balance the planned and predictable with the unexpected, you can enjoy the benefits of both worlds. To make the most of the surprises you encounter along the way, take the time to marvel at them and consider the option to change your plan and turn them into opportunities.

guide

Take Unknown Paths

Creative insights and ideas almost always originate from the unknown. Staying exclusively on the well-known and proven paths will rarely result in discovering and utilizing new opportunities.

Consciously balancing the proven course of action with new experimental methods and unorthodox decisions is the key to achieving ambitious goals. When you go beyond just following pre-planned steps, you will encounter unexpected opportunities.

  • Balance the need to predict, estimate, and plan with the experience of diving into the unknown.
  • Plan to take some unfamiliar roads: not just detours in your way to a predefined destination, but roads that may lead to an unexpected one.
  • Don’t try to anticipate the value of such a path in advance. The value is in exploring the unexpected and not necessarily in the concrete results.
Proactively Add Islands of Unknown to Your Plan

When a plan is fully populated with predictable activities, its outcome is likely to be as predictable. To play with the unknown, you need space — you need time and bandwidth. The easiest way to achieve that is to include this space in your plan.

Making room for the unknown does not mean creating buffers in your plan. The Islands of Unknown should be populated with concrete activities that open the door for the unexpected. You and your team should be prepared not just to be surprised but to utilize the new insights you might have from the surprising action you take.

  • Embed Islands of Unknown in your plan.
  • Don’t confuse these islands with buffers. Plan concrete activities that embrace the unknown in these islands.
  • Take into account that whatever happens in these islands might impact the rest of your plan.
Make the Most of Unexpected Things

Planning to explore and experiment with the unknown must not come at the expense of enjoying and embracing surprises that you didn’t proactively plan. This kind of surprise embeds an even greater potential if you realize it might enfold opportunities that are worth pursuing.

  • Actively look for things that surprise you.
  • When something catches you by surprise, take some time to wonder at it. Let it leave a mark, Observe it, and marvel at it.
  • Consider the assumptions you might have had and how they might be challenged by the surprising revelation.
  • Consider how you can utilize the discovery and turn it into an opportunity. But even if you can’t come with any insight at the moment, register what you discovered in the Collective Mind Pantry.

examples

Example 1

When implementing a new feature in a product, plan dedicated time to experiment with implementing the complete opposite of what is formally required. It is almost certain that you will eventually through away this experimental implementation. However, the experience of implementing an “un-feature” can embed numerous surprising revelations that might serve you later when you go back to your mainstream plan.

Example 2

When you hear something that surprises you in a discussion, stop and take note of that. Use it as an opportunity to explore together the surprising statement and the reason it surprised you. Consider which assumptions you had that might be challenged now. And above all, seek an opportunity within this surprise, even if your immediate reaction is to dismiss it.

further exploration


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