The Elements of Surprise
Aug 14, 2013
This report relates what professionals believe creates surprise, how they respond to it, and how the effects of surprise can be mitigated. RAND researchers interviewed representatives from 13 diverse professions and identified some common coping strategies, such as relying on past experience and trying to reduce the level of chaos in the environment.
From CEOs to Navy SEALs: How a Select Group of Professionals Prepare for and Respond to the Unexpected
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This report relates what professionals believe creates surprise, how they respond to it, and how the effects of surprise can be mitigated. To understand how different professions respond to surprise, RAND researchers developed a framework that categorizes professionals' responses to surprise in terms of the time available to respond and the level of chaos in the environment, then conducted discussions with representatives from 13 different professions, including former ambassadors, chief executive officers, military personnel, and physicians. RAND observed that the interviewees all used common coping strategies, such as relying on past experience and trying to reduce the level of chaos in the environment. However, there were also important differences in the responses taken by different types of professionals: "strategists" (e.g., CEOs and foreign service officers) focused more on controlling anger and ego, and communicating and coordinating with others, while "tacticians" (e.g., medical practitioners and SWAT team members) — who typically have a shorter response time — focused more on controlling panic and buying time. The report concludes with recommendations on how practitioners can better prepare for and respond to surprise.
Why Study Surprise?
Research Objective, Definitions, and Initial Conceptual Models
What Strategies Are Common Across Professions?
How Does the Level of Environmental Chaos Affect Practitioners' Responses to Surprises?
How Do Strategists Differ from Tacticians in Dealing with Surprise?
Surprise as an Opportunity
Helpful Lessons from Specific Professions
Key Observations and Their Implications
The research described in this report was prepared for the National Reconnaissance Office. The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.
This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.
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