By now, we all know what it takes to become successful: as Malcolm Gladwell revealed in Outliers: The Story of Success, with a steady diet of 10,000 hours’ practice, we can become experts in our field. And yet, examples abound of novices who dive in and thrash the competition. What did Reed Hastings know about video rentals before starting Netflix? Very little, just as Jeff Bezos was inexperienced in book sales before he launched Amazon. How did they evade this iron-clad law?
In The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World, Frans Johansson offers an explanation. The 10,000 hour rule works well, he says, only in environments in which “the rules don’t change and you can figure out what you need to do and do it better than anyone else.” If you want to become a classical musician, a tennis star, or a chess Grand Master, starting early and getting in your hours is essential. But most fields aren’t like that. Instead, he says, “many of us don’t know what we need to do,” particularly in fast-changing industries like technology – or fields that are impacted by it. “Sometimes when the rules change, the unexpected can become our friend,” allowing newcomers with insight (like Hastings or Bezos) to succeed where others have not. “That’s why we have to invite the unexpected, rather than keeping it at bay.”
To create better ideas, he says, the first step is creating more ideas. “People who change the world try to execute far more ideas,” he says. “Picasso ended up with 50,000 paintings, and that relates to unpredictability – if you could foresee what would be important, you wouldn’t waste time with things people didn’t think were worthwhile.”
Another key driver of innovation is having a broad range of perspectives at the table. “Diverse teams create far more ideas, an exponential increase,” he says. “If you can make a unique connection, that can lead to 30 more ideas right away. Better ideas come from further apart.” Indeed, he says, “Diversity drives innovation, and if you’re better at diversity, you have an edge.”
In your own life, says Johansson, you should ask yourself: “Are the people you work with always the logical choice?” If so, you might be in an inadvertent rut. Even if you think you don’t know a diverse array of people, Johansson says “we’re always encountering people who are different from us,” whether it’s people on airplanes or extended relatives with vastly different vocations. Too often, he says, we shut down those encounters prematurely. “You’re often trying to figure out what the end goal in the conversation is – and you ignore [the connection] if you’re not sure of the end goal.” But that can be a costly mistake. “If everything is planned in your day, by definition, that’s preventing something unplanned from happening.”
Finally, he says, we have to be willing to fail. After all, most new ideas don’t work, and that’s OK, as long as you’ve limited your risk with “little bets.” Notes Johansson, “With Angry Birds, there were 51 [less successful] games before it. Many times, you do things where you can’t fail. People say, ‘I’ll do research.’ But how can you fail at that? It’s important to put yourself out there.”
Where do you get your best ideas? Do you believe you can increase the amount of serendipity in your life – and if so, how do you do it?