The ancient principle of playing the expected against the unexpected — zheng /qi — applies to both war and business. In chapter 5 of the Sun Tzu text, we are advised to engage with the zheng and win with the qi. In business, the formula is more like “bring’em in the door by meeting their expectations, and keep’em coming back by surprising them with delight.”
The key point, though, is that surprise is in the mind of the surprisee. As Boyd put it, you can’t surprise anyone. All you can do is try something with the intention that the opponent/competitor/customer will be surprised. Maybe, maybe not.
So how do you surprise people, like Apple customers, who are expecting to be surprised? Over and over again?
As Brook Crothers observed in a recent column on cnet, most potential customers were puzzled about what the new iPad was supposed to do for them.”Yeah, I kind of see what you mean,” was a common response to a new feature.
Other reviewers, though, seem absolutely blown away be at least two of the new capabilities. One, for example, said that after experiencing the new retina display, he could never go back even to an iPad 2. Another was entranced by the speed of the new iPad’s true 4G connection: There was no lag. Apps functioned instantaneously, even faster than on a wired broadband connection. The wait for data to download, which has plagued computing since the days of the telephone modem, is now over. And all of this (and more) for the same price as the iPad 2.
Is this unexpected? Delightful? Only you can answer that, and the success of the device, and the sales fate of future devices, depends on how many people decide that it is. If it just meets expectations, even if those expectations are high, then a marketing opportunity is opening. For someone.
For now, at least, Apple is riding the wave of its past zheng / qi successes:
So, this confirms my Apple Shiny Slab Theory. In short, certain buyers will, zombie-like, march to the Apple store and part with their cash. Yeah, they have vague ideas about new cool tech, but it’s all very vague.
And, come to think about it, it’s still a little vague to me as well. That’s never stopped me, though. ["Do consumers really understand why they need the new thing from Apple? No, they don't, in many cases." Brooke Crothers, March 17, 2012, http://news.cnet.com/8301-13924_3-57399321-64/some-people-dont-have-a-clue-as-to-why-they-need-the-new-ipad/]
[As an aside, zheng / qi used to be written as "cheng / ch'i," which has the advantage of being pronounceable in English.]