The Necessity of Strangers: A book review by Bob Morris

Necessity ofThe Necessity of Strangers: The Intriguing Truth About Insight, Innovation, and Success
Alan S. Gregerman

Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Brand (2013)

How and why it is imperative to engage, learn from, and collaborate with strangers

As I began to read this book, I was again reminded of how deceptively complicated the word “stranger” is. It could refer to someone we have never heard of, of course, but it could also refer to someone we have met or heard about. We know their name but nothing else about them. Then there is another type of “stranger”: someone we think we know well but really don’t. We have false assumptions, a mindset, about who they are and aren’t, what they can and can’t do, and whether or not they would be willing to provide or receive assistance.

Alan Gregerman wrote this book to explain how and why – with all due respect to the importance of one’s family members, friends, and associates — it is imperative to engage, learn from, and collaborate with strangers. “People who are very different from us are essential to our growth and success as individuals and organizations.” Just as Henry Chesbrough has devised an open business model, it could be said that Gregerman offers an open people model. How so?

“Each day we pass by more than one hundred people that could change our lives but we never make the time or effort to connect. The best way to solve any challenge or create any new opportunity is to begin by being curious about the world around us and realize that it is filled with remarkable people, insights, and possibilities.” Nonetheless, there are those false assumptions and, perhaps, at least some concern about being rejected and feeling embarrassed or even foolish.

He suggests a new paradigm individuals and organizations “wise enough” to incorporate exploration and openness in their DNA. Here’s its formula:

Business and Personal Success =
What I Already Know +
My Knowledge or Understanding Gap +
A Stranger (or Strangers) Who Can Fill It

His citation of one of my favorite Charles Kettering quotations is dead-on:

“Where there is an open mind there will always be a frontier.”

Gregerman devotes a great deal of attention to explaining how to develop the necessary mindset, one that embraces rather than recoils from exploration and openness. There are four core principles that provide its foundation: humility, curiosity, respect, and purpose. For those who are especially reluctant to become explorers of what is — for them — not only unfamiliar but perhaps terrifying territory, I presume to suggest one other: the courage to which Jack Dempsey refers when explaining that “champions get up when they can’t.”

These are among the passages that caught my eye:

o Questions that strangers can help to answer (Page 9)
o The Race to the South Pole (20-28)
o What Science Tells Us (30-39)
o From Mindset to Guiding Principles (51-56)
o Helicopters. Hairstyles and Cars That Won’t Collide (64-73)
o Finding the Right Strangers (78-84)
o Recognizing the Genius in Everyone (89-93)
o Rethinking Employee Engagement (96-103)
o Why Collaborate? (110-118)
o The New World of Customers (131-134)
o Understanding and Empowering Strangers (138-143)
o The Promise of Strangers (152-155)
o Changing the Game (158-163
o Getting Past the First Bite (174-176)
o Essential Tools for Implementation (189-201)

When concluding his book, Alan Gregerman acknowledges the difficulty while stressing the importance of “taking the first step” toward understanding the potential importance of strangers to us and (yes) our potential importance to them. He observes, “As humans we have the amazing ability to be open and to dream, imagine, explore, learn, connect, share, collaborate, innovate, and grow, to go big instead of going home. So get out there and find the stranger or the [strange] idea that could change your life.” Who knows? We may be that stranger or have that idea that someone else needs. Nothing ventured….

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