Why we are determined to explain random success, especially when it is inexplicable
In an earlier book, The Medici Effect, Frans Johansson explains that this book is really not about the Medici family, although the community of creative people its members funded exemplifies all manner of exciting possibilities for collaborative productivity; nor is it really a “business book,” although Johansson asserts — and I wholly agree — that there are lessons to be learned from that community which can be of substantial value to organizations in the 21st century. For example, to corporations which rely on multi-lingual communications and multi-disciplinary initiatives to compete successfully in a global marketplace. So, what is this book’s core concept? The idea behind it is simple: “When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary ideas.” Steve Jobs would explain that such an intersection is a special place where “insanely great ideas” are born.
In The Click Moment, Johansson asserts that success (however defined) is random, “far more random than we have come to believe.” Also, “there are a number of specific actions that individuals and organizations can take to capture randomness and focus in their favor.” These are specific actions will increase the number of “chance encounters, unexpected strategies, and complex connections, just as there are certain actions that will enable the capture of randomness and the seizing of opportunities.” So, the intersection is the destination and the click moment is what may occur there.
“A click moment,” Johansson explains, “represents a sudden opportunity, a turning point that can push us in a new, unpredictable, and random direction. These moments are powerful because they allow us to stumble upon ideas that are not obvious or logical – ideas that may enable us to outwit our competitors. But by themselves these moments don’t mean all that much. In order to amount to anything they have to be followed up with some sort of action.”
Johansson offers several dozen real-world examples of such moments that have involved, for example, prominent CEOs such as Howard Schultz, Jeff Bezos, Bill Bowerman, Richard Branson, George Lucas, and Diane von Furstenberg. However different they and their click moments may be, all of them were the right person in the right place at the right place under the right circumstances. It may seem implausible and even unsettling that success can be so random, so dependent upon circumstance…but that is true. Brilliantly, Johansson explains how and why three approaches can “capture” randomness:
o Click Moments: “unexpected yet defining moments in time” as when Bill Bowerman created a spikeless sports shoe by “cooking” latex in a waffle iron until he had the prototype for a sole that would grip the track without harming it
o Purposeful Bets: They are “actions taken although we take despite not knowing whether they will work or not” such as the creation of the pilot for the television program “Lost”
o Complex Forces: They are the “unexpected and un-planned-for-consequences of actions that nevertheless lead to success” as when Gary Brolsma (a Staples employee) videotaped himself lip-synching O-Zone’s Dragostea din tei, then shared it with friends, the video went viral and was seen by millions of people around the world, the song (not Brolsma) “conquered the United States,” and ensured O-Zone’s success there and elsewhere.
No brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of the material (information, insights, and counsel) that Johansson provides in such abundance. As I worked my way through his lively and eloquent narrative, I realized that both success and failure can happen in unexpected, serendipitous ways, just as locating and then occupying the “intersection” that Johansson describes in The Medici Effect does not ensure that “breakthrough, high-impact insights” will then be generated. However, we should make every effort to be in the right place at the right time and under the right circumstances by “courting randomness.”
Frans Johansson reminds us, “An opportunity can present itself in the blink of an eye. It can happen when you least expect it. It can happen in an instant, when the various pathways of our lives come together in surprising ways and connect.” When it does and if we are receptive….