"While on stage, he was asked what, exactly, he had done to create such a success. [He] hesitated for a bit before simply saying, 'If I knew that, I would do it again and again.'"
The Click Moment was written by Frans Johansson as a kind of follow up to The Medici Effect, his earlier book on insights, innovation, and intersectionality. Here Johansson presents two radical concepts: that success is mostly random, and that despite that, we can redesign our operating strategies to get more of it.
Success in most fields is random
"Your chances of success actually drop when you analyze the market and try to predict how to succeed. Because logic led you to conclude that path would be reliably successful, others will conclude the same thing and competition will be fierce."
This point is about a paradigm shift. There are a number of models that people have for how to be successful. One of the older models is based on a notion of innate talent. However, while there certainly are genetic predispositions to certain skills or fields, it has become clear that our behaviour matters a lot more. In particular, the 10,000 hours/deliberate practice paradigm has recently started to supercede the talent model, after Malcolm Gladwell promoted the research of psychologist K. Anders Ericsson in his book Outliers. But, The Click Moment says that this kind of success strategy holds true for remarkably few fields.
Why can tennis player Serena Williams, or chess player Susan Polgar, or cellist Yo-Yo Ma, succeed predictably after tens of thousands of hours, while pop artists, game developers, and product designers succeed much earlier in their careers? The former, Johansson argues, are “playing the same game over and over again. But the rest of us are playing in a world that is constantly changing and adapting through market forces. In one world, the rules of the game have remained static for decades or even hundreds of years. In the other, the rules of the game change all the time.”
Once this has been pointed out, it becomes quite obvious that when the rules that govern success are no longer predictable, the old strategy of practicing the same moves until you achieve “mastery” is not going to work. But what does work? That’s what the rest of the book, and the following two Insights are about.
Make time for serendipity
"In fact, ask yourself with some frequency: considering my current schedule, is it even possible for something unscripted or unplanned to happen? And if [it does], do I have the ability to do anything about it?"
Johansson cites some research from Richard Wiseman, author of The Luck Factor, who has discovered that it can actually make sense to talk about certain people as being “lucky” or “unlucky” even though there is no cosmic force dishing out luck. What luck consists of, by this model, is essentially opportunism: being able to spot and take advantage of serendipitous opportunities that emerge from the randomness that is life.
Now, this is Actionable Books, so how do you actually do this?
Well, in order to be able to notice and take advantage of opportunities, you need to have the space to feel comfortable doing so. There are several ways to do this:
- leave space between meetings
- leave extra time in your schedule when travelling
- do some of your work in public/social spaces
Do any of these sound promising to you? It can be hard to do this, since the time pressures close in. And yet, unless you’re a tennis player or a cellist, in the long term these chance opportunities contribute more to your success than one extra meeting crammed in the middle of your day. Most of the time the opportunities contribute very little, but without them it’s really hard to get a breakthrough, which means that your career will likely become stagnant.
Indulge curiosity and enhance intersectional thinking
"'I am just not as likely to learn all that many new things by simply staying within the field I know best,' she said. 'The other conference attendees have pretty much the same experiences, history, and worldview as I do.'"
The book describes a number of ways to do this, from finding the intersections of two different cultures that you’re familiar with, to designing your workplace to increase the interactions between members of different teams or people with different kinds of perspectives.
The one that most excited me was “crash a conference or gathering.” I made a note of this, and then shortly thereafter I went to my university’s events directory and tried to find events that interested me from all of the different faculties, so that I could become exposed to ideas that my peers and classmates weren’t, and to meet new people in diverse fields. Unfortunately, the site was poorly organized, so I wasn’t really able to do this effectively, but I think the strategy makes sense.
Why not take 3 minutes right now (set a timer!) and try to make a list of as many places as you can think of where you might find event listings that you otherwise would have missed. Magazines? Flyers? Well-connected friends in different fields?
Then, set aside some time later to look through those lists, find some specific events, and put them into your calendar. Of course, be careful not to end up with too many, as explained in insight #1.
So, if you’re playing a game with static rules, you want to practice for 10,000 hours. But in arenas where luck plays a larger role, why not just start by following your curiosity, practicing for the first 20 hours and then throwing yourself in and trying to make an impact?
I invite you to share, in the comments below, one thing you’re going to do to increase your chances for serendipity—either a way to find more opportunities or to expose yourself to ideas outside of your field(s).