Safer Surprises

This is a story of two menus and two restaurant patrons.

The first menu consisted of three lunch selections, presented orally to the diners: “Meat, fish or vegetarian?”

The second menu also consisted of three lunch selections: “One course, three courses or six courses?”

Now to the two patrons. To the first, these two menus represented a grand adventure. To the second, they were a source of high stress.

Which patron’s response falls closest to your own?

Context matters, so let me fill in a few more details:

As the first patron, I loved the surprise of being carried along on culinary adventures on our recent trip to Portugal and France. I didn’t mind what I was served — I was willing to trust the chefs and enjoy the journey. I was not disappointed.

The second patron, another of the travellers we met along the way, was a self-described “picky eater” who hadn’t realized how much she preferred to control the details of her diet until a European trip took much of that control away from her. She was quite sure none of the options would appeal to her, and she was right.

For me, surprise almost always falls on the positive end of the emotional register. For her, at least when it comes to food, surprise is not appreciated. 

The experience reminded me of a recent conversation with a client. I mentioned how I love to retain an element of surprise when I am designing and facilitating workshops. Her response? “Surprise is not always welcome by everyone. As a participant, I strongly prefer to know what’s going to happen.” For me, it’s a stretch to consider that less surprise might make for a better experience. Maybe, like her, your default setting runs the other way?

Our emotional response to not knowing something can vary widely. It’s often a question of mindset, perspective and/or perceived safety. Stressful uncertainty and fun anticipation are objectively and viscerally actually not that far apart.

What might it take for you to flip the switch, for yourself and for your team members or participants, from an experience feeling stressful to feeling exciting?

Any guesses?

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