Colliding Towards Innovation

My previous post on serendipity and randomness has caused a #RCUS (Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects via Saul Kaplan)!  Many of you have commented, shared personal experiences of Random “happy accidents” and cited “serendipity” research.  Thank you!

Let’s look at the 2nd letter – C: Collisions.  It originated in the early 15th Century as the Middle Frenchcollision from the same period of Latin collisionen, “a dashing together”. The definitions imply a variety of outcomes: 1) the act or process of colliding; a crash or conflict; 2) Physics: a brief dynamic event consisting of the close approach of two or more particles, such as atoms, resulting in an abrupt change of momentum or exchange of energy [emphasis mine].  While the first definition is rather violent, and innovation can arise from major clashes and conflicts, the 2nd definition is closer to type of Collision in #RCUS.

Think about the people you have met, collided into (virtually or literally), and the relationships and results – personal and professional.  Here are but a very few, examples:

  • A friend of mine deliberately collided with a very cute guy on the NYC subway (not Random) and 25 yrs. later, they are still married with a kid going to college.
  • Last year, I was on a flight, buried in my reading, as was the guy next to me.  For some serendipitous reason, we started chatting and now he’s a great client making a remarkable positive impact on his people.
  • Through 3 different collisions, I collided with the creator of My Little PonyÒ.  Sid Good is a terrific guy, fellow alum, makes me laugh a lot and together we’re working on some interesting ways to transform our region (and he’s going to BIF7!).

What do these have in common? In each of these, the collision caused a big change of momentum, an exchange of energy to say the least.  Something ‘new’ came from each of these: relationships, kids, ways to work, corporate cultures, products, and ways to collaborate.  The sum of the parts is indeed greater than the parts. The Collision formed new ‘stuff’ – intangible and tangible.  It’s not just about running into someone and having a nice chat; it’s about running into someone that creates enough energy to create more energy and more collisions.  That’s what is so exciting and energizing.  When you meet someone and create something together, isn’t that just amazing? It’s almost hard to express how profound it can be. This has, blessedly, been the story of my life at many levels, so I’m a little enthusiastic.  The power of the collisions’ outcomes can create solutions to wicked problems, can change ghettos into urban neighborhoods, can transform a stagnant corporation into a living company, can create vaccines for horrid diseases, and can change just one life.

So, my usual question – what collisions have been transformative for you? How did they happen? What new ‘thing’ came from them? Where will your next collision come from? Please continue to share your Randoms and Collisions in the comments, on twitter, or to me!  #RCUS on!

Be a Heretic!! Innovate

For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated with the word “heretic”.  Perhaps it’s the Devil’s Advocate in me (oh! What a pun!).  Perhaps its because I love being ‘heretical.’  Perhaps its because being heretical is key to innovating.  And this word has been around for millennia!

We usually associate heretic with religion, namely, the Roman Catholic Church: Inquisition, burning people at the stake, etc.  However, the origin is secular; the Greek hairein - “to take” that becamehairetikós - “able to choose” from the verb hairesthai “to choose”.  At the end of 2nd Century A.D., the Latin version haereticus already meant a ‘heretic’ – someone whose beliefs were false or sacrilegious vis-à-vis the teachings of the Catholic Church.  Haereticus became heretique in Middle French andheretik in 13th Century Middle English.  Interestingly, by the late 14th Century (think Chaucer), heretik, in addition to the religious connotation, added back its original secular meaning “anyone who does not conform to an established attitude, doctrine, or principle.”

No, this isn’t a treatise on entomology or religious doctrine.  This is about innovation.  Innovation is about challenging the status quo, accepted doctrines and conventional viewpoints.  Fortunately today, innovators do not get burned at the stake, exiled to islands or made into slaves.  But, in established institutions, they may be shunned, ignored or even fired.

If you want your business and organization to grow and make a difference (and a profit!), you need to encourage your heretics.  You need to give them support, air cover, outlets for exploring ideas, and venues to be heard.  No, this is no longer the Age of Aquarius; it’s the Age of the Heretic!


Innovation requires Lens Shifting

A while ago, my friend Jackie Hutter and I did a workshop on Leading Indicators for Innovation from 2 aspects: 1) how can you look around you for leading indicators of areas ripe for innovation; and 2) what are leading indicators in your innovation process itself.

Both are important, the first is more ‘fun’ so we’ll discuss it first and save the 2nd for another post.  Jackie coined the phrase, “Lens Shifting” which made me thing of this:

These guys are all working on the same physical plane, but for one it’s flat, for another uphill and for another downhill. It depends where you’re standing.  They are all on the same physical plane, but they all have different viewpoints.  We view things from our own perspectives and biases. 

Why are some people so good at understanding, and leading, future trends, behavior? Think Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett.  How do they stay cutting edge year after year? Well, they seem to view the world differently, to ‘Lens Shift’.  They are curious about the world, life, work; they’re open-minded; they set their minds on an idea and go for it, even creating the trend itself;  they’re confident in their ideas and act;  they don’t care about being different, not conforming.  Some say they’re ‘fearless’ and ‘risk takers’ – perhaps, or perhaps they define fear and risk differently – risk = status quo, not the undefined opportunity.  Mainly, they exhibit connectedness – in terms of people (social network & capital) and the ability to connect things together, to see patterns and relationships that most don’t see.

Before my oldest child started crawling, I crawled around the house to ‘baby-proof’ it.  Wow! What a totally different perspective! It was amazing.  Try it, even if your kids are grown.  Start looking at the world around you that way –your world, your (current, potential, non-) customers’s worlds.  Imagine what it could be.  We call that the “Parallax View”: a viewpoint from which you can observe and study something/somebody from a new angle, gaining insights unavailable before. Imagine what could happen if you tried this?

Here are some ways to start.  Jeffrey Phillips encourages us to look at rituals, like shaving, and think about how we could reinvent them.  Jerry Sternin improved malnutrition in Vietnam by looking at Positive Deviants – at those who, despite the circumstances and everyone around them, were doing better.  Tony Hsieh talks about hiring lucky people, but luck isn’t totally accidental, it’s serendipitous, and luck breeds luck.

I bet you are already doing some of this but don’t realize it or use it as best as you could.  Your customers’ and their customers’ business drivers are your leading indicators!  There are indicators all around.  There is the “Lauder Lipstick Indicator”, created after 9/11. There are job boards, real estate transactions, zoning permits that tell you the types of jobs, land & buildings, special capabilities your customers, or competitors, are looking at.  By reading, watching, listening, observing, you can find many leading indicators, without spending big money on market studies, that can help you provide very valuable solutions (and business models) to your customers.  Just give it a try.

So what are some of your leading indicators? Can you share them?

p.s. if you’re interested, you can get a copy of our workshop here and stay up on leading indicators!