Now here is a surprising success principle! How can surprise possibly contribute to success? I will propose three ways. The key thing to realize is that surprise is essential to strategic advantage. Don’t squander it!

First, there is little to no advantage to revealing your intentions ahead of time in any kind of adversarial or competitive situation. Look at how Apple has been consistent in keeping mum about its initiatives and new developments. Secrecy is an obsession at the company, but it has many benefits in terms of surprise, among which: competitors are caught off guard when you spring your new products on them; customers are pleasantly surprised because they don’t necessarily know what to expect in advance.

Second, there is no advantage to revealing too much to others about your plans or decisions ahead of time. This is because, strategically, anything can happen. It’s better to surprise the market and competitors than to have to retract at the last minute or recant after the fact. As with Apple, surprise also generates a lot of free publicity for the company.

Third, surprise and secrecy contribute to freedom of action and freedom of manoeuvre in a strategic (i.e. adversarial) situation. If you signal your intentions ahead of time, your opponents can prepare directly for them or create better contingency plans to ‘head you off at the pass.’ Freedom of action is critical to seizing and maintaining the initiative, and these in turn are critical to maintaining an offensive spirit.

© 2012 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

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