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.


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