The Power of Distraction

Greetings. For most of the past twelve months I have allowed myself to be distracted. Wandering around looking for new ideas and possibilities to share with our customers, imagining new ways to unlock the genius in all of the people we work with, exploring new topics for my next book, learning about the work of innovative nonprofit organizations as I try to find the right new opportunities to volunteer, and spending a lot of time thinking about creative approaches to some important challenges that our family (and most families) seem to face. Doing my best to be distracted as I acknowledge the importance of innovation in every aspect of life. Because its hard to make progress if we are not moving forward, stretching our thinking in new ways, and being different in ways that matter. And the best way to do this is by being distracted and wandering around in a world filled with ideas, insights, energy, and sparks of inspiration.

Unfortunately, most companies and organizations think that innovation is all about looking inward rather than looking out. When faced with the need to solve a pressing challenge or to seize a great opportunity, they quickly decide to hold a “retreat”…a well-intentioned but slightly absurd activity that brings together a bunch of their smartest people to brainstorm in relative isolation. Hunkering down at a remote conference center or in a very private conference room they do everything possible to avoid being distracted, as though distraction is the real obstacle to innovation and progress.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Times Square

In “The Necessity of Strangers” I shared a simple notion that I call the 99 Percent Rule. It states that 99 percent of all new ideas are based on an idea or practice that someone or something else has already had. And it suggests that instead of hiding, we are more likely to create breakthroughs by engaging the world head on. Instead of retreating, we should be regularly exploring. Getting out and looking for the brilliant ideas of others, around the corner and around the globe. Instead of relying on our internal knowledge and expertise we should be casting a much wider net.  Then using the most brilliant ideas of others as a starting point for reimagining our businesses and industries in fresh and more compelling ways.

In today’s and tomorrow’s economy, the folks who are easily and purposefully distracted are likely to be the ones who win.

Cheers!

Google vs. Humans

Greetings. There are many days when I worry that Google has become the “de facto” source of all knowledge. Students, including our own children, use it as the most essential “go to” place in doing homework assignments. They also use it as an easy first stop for answering most of the essential questions that arise in the rest of their lives including finding out about the best new artists, the latest movies, and things to do. Adults use it as a quick reference for insight on products and services, and to get referrals for the best neighborhoods to live in, the best schools to send their kids to, the best vacations to take, the best places to dine, and the best doctors to use. And companies of all shapes and sizes turn to it as the quickest and best way to research customers, competitors, and even prospective employees. Not that all the world’s information is owned by Google, but for most of us it has become the principal gateway for finding out about stuff that matters.

At the expense of humans.

Now I’m sure that there are humans at Google…very smart humans…but I’ve rarely had the pleasure to talk with them.

Remember the “epic” battle in 2011 between IBM’s Watson supercomputer and Ken Jennings, the exceedingly smart (or should we say “trivial” in a good sense) Jeopardy champion who had won on this gameshow an amazing 74 straight times? It was a battle to see if a computer was smarter at trivia than a well-versed human. Well Google has taken it a step further. Rendering all of us humans as somewhat deficient providers of knowledge.

And that has interesting implications for all of us.

Not that I find Google to be unhelpful. And, truth be told, I use it a lot of the time. But I’d like to think that I use it most often to find remarkable people and ideas to connect with and that it is simply the start of a process of being curious, learning new things, and then making new connections so I can start meaningful conversations with actual humans that increase my understanding, stretch my thinking, and enable inspiring collaborations.

Because in an era when all of us tend to rely on the internet and Google for more and more guidance, I still believe that real sparks and breakthroughs happen best when we challenge ourselves to engage new people…especially people with ideas, perspectives, training, and life experiences that are very different than our own.

google-search

We win in business and in life when we get beyond the world that sits conveniently at our fingertips and connect with others in new and compelling ways.

Cheers!