Improve your business by deliberately creating chance encounters
If this is even half true, it means that the world we live in is not only changing rapidly, but the very rules that govern success and failure are also turned on their heads. An article in The Economist suggests that in such a world, if you want to be a good leader, you need to deliberately put yourself in a place where you can have chance encounters. These encounters will help to open your mind, trigger strategic intuition (read about this here), develop creativity and highlight opportunities.
As the great golfer, Gary Player, used to say: “The harder I practice, the luckier I get.”
Read an extract of the article below. And then create an opportunity for a chance encounter sometime this week.
In search of serendipity
Success in business increasingly depends on chance encounters
The Economist, Jul 22nd 2010
EVERY year, hordes of free spirits gather in the Nevada desert to “breathe art”, feel at one with the cosmos and sample the delights of Bianca’s Smut Shack. The Burning Man festival is radically anti-capitalist, with a strict ban on commerce and an emphasis on “self-reliance”. In short, it is not the sort of place you would associate with corporate schmoozing.
But you would be wrong, argue John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison. Their new book, “The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things In Motion”, celebrates unconventional networkers such as Yossi Vardi, the 68-year-old “grandfather” of Israeli venture capital. Mr Vardi attends or hosts some 40 pow-wows a year, including Burning Man. (It’s about art, sex and drugs, he muses, but “I was only involved in art.”) According to “The Power of Pull”, Mr Vardi is a “super-node”, one of the best-connected people in the high-tech industry. More than that, he is a role model: he excels in “managing serendipity”. His avid conference-going, for example, is not just for fun. By mingling with so many strangers, he finds that he often bumps into people who give him valuable information.
“The Power of Pull” is a book with a serious message. Annoyingly, the authors obscure this by bombarding readers with examples designed to show how cool they are—an uphill task for three middle-aged management consultants from Deloitte. An anecdote about young surfers in Maui is followed by some management lessons drawn from the World of Warcraft, an online game involving swords and hobgoblins. Messrs Hagel, Brown and Davison also unleash gushers of new jargon, from “creation spaces” and “maximising the return to attention” to the “serendipity funnel”. Schumpeter was tempted to visit some creative destruction on the book with a blowtorch.
Yet the authors’ core argument is surely right: today’s technology, especially the internet, is undermining the old top-down approach to business, which the authors call “push”, by giving individuals more power to shape their working lives. There are huge opportunities available to people who can figure out how to use the “power of pull”, a term the authors define as “the ability to draw out people and resources as needed to address opportunities and challenges.” They propose a three-pronged pulling strategy. First, approach the right people (they call this “access”). Second, get the right people to approach you (attraction). Finally, use these relationships to do things better and faster (achievement). For example, SAP has an online chat service for its NetWeaver software, where customers and staff can collaborate with the people who design it.
Clearly, the internet has allowed people to interact easily and cheaply with others who would previously have been unreachable, and social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn are spawning all sorts of new relationships and collaborations. The authors argue that change is both faster and less predictable than before, making traditional top-down planning trickier. And because things change so fast, knowledge is increasingly dispersed. Instead of drawing on a few, stable, reliable sources of information, managers today must tap into multiple, fast-moving, informal knowledge flows. Which brings us to managing that serendipity funnel.
When knowledge is dispersed, you are less likely to find what you want via a formal search. You may not even know what you are looking for. But you are more likely than you were in the past to discover something useful through a chance encounter. That is why, the authors argue, people need to organise their lives in ways that increase their chances of unexpectedly bumping into someone who can tell them something useful.
They offer three tips. One is to live near other brainy changeophiles. The old dream that the internet would allow such people to move to some tropical island or rural idyll and telecommute is unlikely to come true. Far from abandoning traditional business centres, creative people cluster together in places such as Silicon Valley, New York, London, Bangalore and Shanghai. That way, every social interaction is potentially profitable. When you are bored of watching your child play football and start chatting with the other parents on the touchline, there is a fair chance that they will tell you something interesting.
The second suggestion is to join Mr Vardi on the conference trail. When industries go through periods of rapid innovation, there is typically a flowering of new conferences to help people share knowledge. The corridor conversations at these shindigs are often more useful than the formal presentations, say the authors. To maximise serendipity, Mr Vardi cleverly mixes specialised conferences with the more eclectic kind.
The third tip is to make better use of online social networks, particularly to make contact with new people. Your friends’ friends, for example, may have knowledge or skills that you need. The authors expect these social networks to grow far more adept at fostering connections between people with similar interests. This, they reckon, will increase the likelihood that a chance encounter will prove valuable.
Learn or burn
What does all this mean for firms? They will have to shift from a command-and-control approach to one in which the company becomes a platform for employees to make the best possible use their pulling power. That will mean pushing more resources from the corporate centre to those employees who are most exposed to change. Employees should also be encouraged to spend more time nurturing their networks both online and off, and tweeting to their heart’s content. Firms that ban their employees from using Facebook or Twitter may suffer the same fate as the big wooden effigy at the Burning Man festival, which, as you may have guessed, goes up in flames.
Source: The Economist