“Let’s begin to tap the astronomical, incomprehensible amount of talent in the brains of the 6 billion people on this planet, compared with which Newton is a match in the dark at 100 miles.” James Burke – Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, Episode 18 “A Fly on James Burke’s Wall”
How many moves does it take to get from the philosopher Goethe’s obsession with a friend of Beethoven to the invention of margarine? According to James Burke’s Knowledge Web, only 8 (visit http://www.k-web.org/public_html/Mystery-tours/Goethe_to_Margarine.html for the full story).
James Burke is a science historian and author, and anyone who has seen his “Connections” series is probably familiar with this line of thinking: progress is not the outcome of individuals or groups working in isolation, but the product of multiple individuals and groups, interacting and connecting, seeking to fulfill their own interests, and rarely having any concept of the ultimate innovation that comes about as a result.
Many innovations are the result of coincidences. But it’s not the coincidences themselves that lead to the innovation, but rather the creativity and ingenuity that were set free on a path paved by coincidence. Coincidence has led to two strangers coming into contact with one another, or someone recommending a book to a friend, or someone remembering a colleague’s previous failure. That last one is a reference to the Post-It note, which was born from Spencer Silver’s failed attempt at creating a strong adhesive. His colleague, Arthur Fry finding the need for a weak adhesive remembered Silver’s failure, which led to the Post-It note (full story here: wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-it_note)
But that never had to happen. Fry didn’t have to remember Silver’s failure. It’s not like there was some cloud-based, easy to navigate repository for this kind of thing. The point is, it’s not really the coincidence that is important to innovation, so we might be able to take that out of the equation.
In fact, if we take the opposite approach, I think we can speed up and multiply opportunities for innovation within the enterprise. This is most easily evident via the activity stream, and some theoretical examples can include:
- I learn of a coworker’s project that does not involve me, though I might have some previous experience, and can easily offer some ideas
- Sales informs the company of a new prospect, which turns out to be the former employer of someone from engineering, who can now offer some insight into the company
- Marketing posts about working on a video, and someone from finance has experience with video editing and volunteers to help
Of course, the above examples would only represent one “move”. Think about the potential for multiple connections, all working in harmony.