How to orchestrate serendipity that leads to breakthroughs
Think of a tough challenge you’re facing right now. Conventional training would lead you to work through solutions, analyze, evaluate, benchmark, measure, and research your way to the cure, the solution, or the discovery. But, based on a conversation between Frans Johansson, author of The Click Moment and Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter—held at an event called The Intersection—there’s another path toward breakthrough. Johansson suggests that some ideas don’t come to us through a linear path. His theory is that you have to orchestrate serendipity to get to the “click”—a new way of thinking about your situation and the possibilities ahead.
Evan Williams agrees, “After all, who could Twitter benchmark against when we came on the scene? We were a mashup between social sites and tools like Facebook and instant messaging, with an altogether new twist that brought us down unexpected paths. We had to collide almost accidentally with aspects of gaming, news alerts, and even consumer promotions to devise a new platform.”
There are lots of things we can’t predict. But, according to Johansson, we can orchestrate situations that increase the odds that we’ll stir up our juices and land on new solutions.
How could Angry Birds have predicted that its 52nd game out of the chute would go viral?
Which forces could have been analyzed to determine that Sebastian Thrun’s online Artificial Intelligence course on udacity would attract more than 150,000 students?
Who could have envisioned that a mobile app for farmers in Ghana would multiply take home pay by more than 400%?
Ideas like those don’t arise through traditional analytical methods. They are the result of click moments that I believe can be applied to any team that’s stuck, any inventor who’s hit a dead end, and any organization that needs a new twist of fate.
I decided to use The Intersection event as a giant watering hole where I could hang out with people from entirely different work species. After all, the organizers designed the experience to do exactly that—put us in close contact with people from outside our own fields. And people whose very lives are the result of lucky intersections of experiences and collisions between fields. There was a 10 year old painter (Marla Olmstead)whose works are in the collection of a sports team owner (Leslie Alexander), a software guru turned foodie (Nathan Myhrvold), a baseball champ turned country musician (Barry Zito), a spiritual guru turned entrepreneur (Guru Singh), a reporter turned documentary film maker turned investment executive (Sheryl WuDunn), and the founder of LinkedIn (Reid Hoffman)—a platform that allows all of us to intersect and interconnect.
To share how it works, picture a situation you’re working on right now. Something that could benefit from an infusion of new thinking. [As my example, I’ll use one of the challenges I’m working on right now—how to scale an innovation curriculum on a global basis.]
WARNING—NOT EVERYONE IS NATURALLY WIRED TO CLICK. I’ve been in groups that are fixed in their mindsets and can only come up with innovations through incremental improvements on their existing ideas. That’s not the idea of a click—clicks are about connecting two completely different things—like a mashup of Sinatra and LMFAO. The purists will struggle.
A. “There are already more electric vehicle drivers in China than there are drivers in the United States.” [My click: “Why not leapfrog past the traditional distribution approaches and instead start with different people who are already ‘friendly’ to the ideas.”] [Your click?]
B. “A cashew nut initiative in Ghana provided data on price transparency via mobile phones and increased take home pay for local farmers by 200%.” [My click: “Maybe a simple mobile app that’s broadcast to everyone with results of the innovation team’s efforts to motivate everyone to stay engaged.”] [Your click?]
C. “Kytabu combined iTunes and textbooks to create affordable, tablet-based access to a curriculum” [My click: “Why not create short snippets of the curriculum that can be viewed and shared in small bites and encourage just-in-time innovation?”] [Your click?]
In case you don’t have time to read The Click Moment or don’t have access to an event like The Intersection, there are four easy ways to get started according to Frans Johansson:
- Take your eyes off the ball. Grimacing and tension are only part of the hard work equation. Try to think of something OTHER than the problem at hand to let your brain focus on things in a new way.
- Use intersectional thinking. Read a magazine you’d never ordinarily read. Attend a luncheon with a speaker in a completely different field.
- Follow your curiosity. If you love something, go with it. Like-minded people will most likely follow. That’s how Sebastian Thrun attracted more than 150,000 to his online course.
- Reject the predictable path. Force yourself NOT to take the straight and narrow road toward your next idea. Allow yourself to pursue the unlikely. According to Johansson, that’s how people like Howard Schultz started Starbucks and how new startups come on the scene every day.
What vexing issue in your life could use a good click moment?