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How are you connecting the dots?

Connecting the dots. It’s all about connecting the dots. And it’s never been more important and more relevant than it is today in this information overload world we live in. Or is it?

I don’t claim to have all the answers on how to connect the dots but I recently received an interesting comment regarding this unknown activity and it got me thinking about it. My buddy basically says that those of us who engage in curation/filtering are crazy.

Why?

Because since we curate information that we find useful for others, we’ve got ideas to spare. We’ve got ideas about how to have ideas and then some.  And if you curate information about diverse topics, we have ideas about stuff that doesn’t make sense to the majority of people. And this makes others feel overwhelmed because we can criss-cross from one topic to another.

On that last point is where a lot of ‘dot connecting’ happens.

Connecting the dots isn’t easy. When we actually do connect the dots, it usually happens when we’re not even thinking of connecting them. But those of us who curate content on diverse topics (new terminology for sharing content), have a higher possibility of connecting more dots because we engage with more information. And the wider the better.

I remember when I first started using Twitter, my main areas of focus were (and still are) technology, social media, marketing, design, innovation, psychology, neuroscience, physics, management and leadership. But pretty soon I just focused on ‘curating’ content about my passion: innovation.

Focusing on a single topic allowed me to connect with a very specific group of followers (you know who you are), and pretty soon I started to get noticed. This served me well. The problem with that is that that’s not what I’m all about and didn’t want to fit into a box.

So I started tweeting about diverse subjects again, and a funny thing happened: More than a few people who had been following me because I curated about innovation, asked me to go back and focus only on innovation. There were others who immediately started complementing me and thanked me for being broad.

Naturally, one sees a connection between all these topics and how they all play a role in a company’s ability to innovate. But do you see a connection between other topics such as biology, physics, celebrity gossip, pop culture, etc, etc, etc? Most likely you don’t.

The point is that: Diversity breeds innovation.

But it’s not as simple as it sounds. You also need to engage and talk with diverse types of people who work in different domains. Social networks make this part a lot easier than before but there’s nothing like face-to-face conversations or even a phone call.

It is the connection between these conversations and observations where strategic insights are born.

Remember: The more diverse knowledge the brain possesses, the more connections it can make when given fresh inputs of knowledge, and fresh inputs trigger the associations that lead to novel ideas.

Here are a few ways to help you connect the dots:

Pay Attention

Consuming information isn’t just about reading, seeing and hearing it. It’s about understanding, observing and listening. It’s about looking beyond the obvious, and seeing deeper. The key, is to know what you’re looking for.

For example, if you’re looking for clues as to how the economy is impacting consumer spending, you’ll look at the typical economics charts. But are you looking at how companies are changing their marketing practices?

Just today, I noticed a tweet that says that P&G is now marketing to America’s economy like it does to Mexico and the Philippines. That’s a big red flag.

The point is you shouldn’t be tracking just one thing, but you should be paying attention to each topic individually.

What matters is that you make connections

A few weeks ago I posted a list of sources where you can find all sorts of ideas that may or may not become disruptive. The idea is not to takes these ideas as a given, but to use them as starter points for your own ideation.

What you don’t want is to fall into the trap of trying to make the same connections everybody else makes. Make new connections and feel proud that only you see them.

One of the key is the ability to ‘associate’, to make connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas. Cultivate it and make it your new key creative skill to master.

The Strategic Third Eye

It is known that us humans have what’s called attention blindness, the basic feature of the human brain that means when we concentrate intensely on one task, we miss almost everything else happening around us. This feature of our brains, makes us blind to good ideas. And because no single person can see everything, we must organize ourselves in a way that everyone has a say at the table.

From HBR:

No one person ever sees the whole picture. Our brains aren’t built that way. But as a group, we can select the right partners and the right tools to distribute expertise and assignments to compensate for what we lack. My organization calls this method “collaboration by difference.”

Looking at this way, if  you’re making connections and have drawn them up in a board, wiki, mind map or document; it’s time you bring in some fresh eyes to look at your connections and see what they see. These set of fresh eyes should be people from diverse backgrounds that don’t know anything about your business.

One good practice is to cultivate and establish an outside network of people who can aid you to generate strategic insights. These unrelated connections should spark new questions and observations that have not foreseen. Call this group your Strategic Third Eye, because that’s exactly what they’ll be to counter attention blindness.

I’m sure there are a lot more ways to connect the dots that I have not heard of, I’d love to me know if you have any further ideas! And as always, let me know what you think in the comments :)

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  • Anonymous

    As they say, there is no perfect product only perfect products. Like what happened to a spaghetti sauce company who made different kinds of sauces that is perfect for different segments.

    • http://www.game-changer.net Jorge Barba

      Hi Jeff,

      We must not get into the trap of trying to pleasure everyone. Yet Apple comes to mind when it tries to focus on only one segment (geeks, designers) and ends up sliding into the mass market.

      Cheers,

      Jorge

      • Anonymous

        Sorry I did not make my comment clear. the spaghetti company made different variations of the red sauce (in big tomato chunks or with more garlic or with more basil) targeting the same segment, those who love red sauce. So, yes its not good to please different markets; red sauce only not white sauce.

        My belief in the case of Apple is thatthey are after the “cool” market, slicing the market with the behavior knife rather than demographics knife.

        • http://www.game-changer.net Jorge Barba

          That’s a great observation. Behavior over demographics. The behavior ended up appealing to most everyone because of that focus.

          Thanks,

          Jorge

  • Kevin McFarthing

    Good points, Jorge.  Diversity brings more creativity, and more potential routes to market for innovation.  The Strategic Third Eye principle is also useful for idea generation.  Bringing in the “naive challenger” who doesn’t know why we do what we do, who isn’t constrained by the subconscious prejudices of the past, can make everyone else think differently.
    Kevin

    • http://www.game-changer.net Jorge Barba

      Hi Kevin (@innovationfixer:disqus ),

      Good point. I would also say it’s useful throughout the innovation management process, though actual contact with the customer is the best Third Eye scenario there is :)

      Thanks,

      Jorge

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  • Alonsolopezdecastilla

    Disagree about HBR quote: “No one person ever sees the whole picture. Our brains aren’t built that way.”

     @alonsolce – Innovation is that, our brain has no limits, our brains are still in transformation

    • http://www.game-changer.net Jorge Barba

      @alonsolce, I agree with your view that we are always transforming and are in constant fluidity without limits. But at any single point in time we can’t be aware of everything. Are you aware of everything at any single point in time? 

      Even the stuff that’s not in front of you, the stuff that’s in people’s heads? Can you tell me what’s going to happen tomorrow in every part of the world? The brain is lazy, we have to break that laziness with these types of schemes/methods. Aiming to see everything is valuable, like pursuing perfection, but we won’t get there.

      • Alonsolopezdecastilla

        You have a point. But we don’t have to know everything, that’s because we use innovation tools, to build an organic and sustainable process.

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  • http://www.jawbrain.com/ Jason Williams

    Love this! One of my favorite quotes (author unknown) is:
    “If you want to connect more dots, you’ve got to put more dots on the page”

    • http://www.game-changer.net Jorge Barba

      Hey that’s a good one! Thanks for sharing :)

  • http://www.jawbrain.com/ Jason Williams

    Another relevant resource here:

    “Meet lots of different people without trying to extract value from them. You don’t need to connect the dots right away. But if you think about each person as a new dot on your canvas, over time, you’ll see the full picture.” Tony Hsieh

    http://www.inc.com/magazine/201302/rules-for-success/rule-2-tony-hsieh-maximize-serendipity.html