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Book Review: The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World by Frans Johansson

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Amidst layovers in my recent international flight back home, I got a chance to grab Frans Johansson’s recent book – The Click Moment. Everyone’s life is filled with moments that have defined some very significant actions of theirs – afterwards. For many, childhood dreams have gotten fulfilled by sensing and responding to those special moments – what Frans Johansson calls “Click Moments,” the name of his recent book aptly subtitled, “Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World.” In this fascinating book, Johansson weighs in a lot with his perspective of why some activities take very significant and focused efforts, whereas in some arenas people seem to have it too easy in being anointed with super success, name, fame and fortune.

Frans Johansson focuses on the interplay effect – assessing the interplay between diversity, creativity, and luck that he believes brings out some of the best innovations this world has seen. In his earlier book, The Medici Effect, which I read eight years ago, Frans listed the ways to bring intersection between different disciplines easy to manage and listed a few key things to make it happen ( taken from my notes dated eight years back):

These techniques include:
– Getting exposure to different cultures
– Broadening one’s knowledge and learning capacity
– Encouraging curiosity
– Reversing assumptions
– Taking different perspectives and points of view
– Randomly combining concepts
– Learning to be mentally prepared to see opportunities at the intersection when they present themselves
– Undertaking a variety of diverse occupations, interacting with diverse groups of people looking for connections in unlikely places, and producing a continuous, large quantity of ideas

– Striking a learning balance between sufficient depth and maximum breadth of knowledge and subject-matter
– Reading prodigiously and listening attentively and openly brainstorming
– aAllowing time for ideas to be properly considered (Johansson dispels the myth that deadlines and time pressure encourage innovation).

And now through this new book, in building this framework of reference, Johansson brings out differences across various fields in which humans get successful. Johansson believes the famous Malcolm Gladwell proposition of using 10,000 hours of focused efforts to gain mastery in a particular field is very right and highly relevant in rule-bound domains (sports like tennis, chess, etc.), but that need not be the case in respect of some other domains which call for different types of skills to succeed. He points to success stories like novelist Stephanie Meyer belting out bestselling books with her Twilight Trilogy or the Chocolate Room in Brooklyn, New York started by folks with apparently no experience in chocolate making. The argument built therein is that there’s a substantial part of business success that hinges in good measure on serendipity – essentially a crossover between complexity and chance powered by a drive made through “Purposeful Bets.” By placing purposeful and controlled bets one can lay the seeds of capitalizing on the efforts. The message out to the world is that it’s possible to increase the odds of leveraging unforeseen opportunities through such methods.

Some of the key illustrations here come to the aide of this idea – the ignominious fall of Nokia, the unexpected rise of Viagra, the continued adaptability of Microsoft, Picasso’s productivity, the Little Lebowski shop in New York, the Rubik’s Cube, the universal popularity of Angry Birds, the speed of fashion chain Zara, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels, Serena Williams’s tennis success, etc. The recurring theme herein is that in this age of technological revolution, in the interplay of the possibility of randomness and complexity, chances of the click moment happening, resulting in the germination of the new idea increases significantly, and for the prepared this should happen more often than not. And this is true across regions, domains, industries!

The method to make this happen is to get out more, meet different people, try a lot of new things, make a lot of small bets and then push big behind the ones that look as if they might take off. The often spoken mosaic where technology and humanities or liberal arts collide resonate the same theme. Coffee cooler talks, regular social meets, diverse settings, inter-disciplinary meets all are part of this mode of working – stroking the passion, the energy – and it’s the confluence of ideas in the intersection of powerful themes that the click moment happens. It can’t as a rule happen in still waters. Groundbreaking click moments can happen only with passion powered “purposeful bets.” Such thinking generally overcomes the walls of logical sense and catapults into the realm of purposeful bets and increased randomness. The logical mind – very essential for regular success – typically takes one in the direction opposite to finding the click moment, which can be defined as the door for extraordinary success.

For example, the steps that lead to defining a career success can be constructed using logical steps but the success stories in life overall will have elements of serendipity, randomness, and pursuit of chance-centric purposeful bets. While predicting trends, analyzing data for patterns are generally seen as the key to business success, and every business leader would be able to recollect those special serendipitous moment that made a huge difference to them and to business.

Luck, serendipity, and happenstance are real, visceral, and many times determie criteria for success – in everything. All the business plans, system support, and ‘best practices’ may not mean anything when they are not in alignment with forces of nature that shape the outcomes dramatically. The big puzzle here is at the center of this discussion: Everybody wants a predictable way to chart growth and success – whereas in this globalized world, where various forces are at interplay a dose of randomness can increase the chances of success. In a way, harnessing this randomness is the key to branching out into something new, or in building existing things rapidly.

It is difficult to believe now, but some technology leaders underestimated the vast potential for success of Google and the iPhone. The oft repeated great conventional wisdom and common sense do not guarantee one’s ability to spot emerging trends. The rules of the game are ever evolving, and that truly presents a formidable challenge to anyone who wants to ride the next big wave. There are many stories in the book of click moments making all the difference. The one I liked the most: Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp met one evening and coincidentally both loved collecting, and during the discussions asked the question – how do we find a way to digitally display all the collections? That led to taking a purposeful bet powered by passion and, despite not having great programming backgrounds, they persevered and got a technical team to support them, leading to the rise of Pinterest – one of the fastest growing social networks.

So how does one engineer those click moments? Johansson’s answer is to be open and be on the lookout for serendipitous moments. Definitely, steps can be taken to increase the chances by bringing into intersections different people, different domains, or cultures together as part of a business or an initiative – thereby setting the stage for a collision of ideas to germinate new thoughts based on unique insights and possibilities that would not have been thought of. The odds of getting those click moments increase with more variety and by placing more purposeful bets. Rovio came up with Angry Birds after 50 or so failed attempts – so passion and persistence here are the keys of success. The mantra is to follow your curiosity – think laterally, exploit intersections, be passionate and one will see an opening somewhere in the journey; the prudent ones grab it and build on. Purposeful bets – small and big placed over a time – can cascade into very powerful outcomes and one’s career, business, or life can completely change when such things happen and these chance breakthroughs can also be seen as ordained, tempered as they are with passion, planned pursuits with purposeful bets.

Frans Johansson is a very talented writer, capable of making mundane subjects look very interesting. He demonstrates this here again by presenting and elucidating in a highly interesting and informative manner great real life examples – making The Click Moment a compelling book to read.

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