It may sound obvious, but I have come to realise how important the people we meet in our lives are, especially how they can open up new opportunities and networks to us. Thinking about events that have happened in my life, especially recently, I’ve been wondering what would have happened if I’d not met these people, the ones who have had a positive domino effect on the adventures I’m currently experiencing. There are songs that have tackled this over the years like George Michael’s Turn a Different Corner or the film Sliding Doors.
I was discussing this the other day with a group of friends and George Bailey came to mind! Who is George Bailey you might ask? George is a character from one of the greatest films ever made, way back in 1946 called, It’s a Wonderful Life. There are no spoilers here but for those who don’t know the film, it’s about George, a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman who gets into financial trouble and sees no way out. At his lowest point he meets Clarence, an angel who shows George what life would have been like if he had never existed! Early in the film it shows George, as a child, saving his Brother Harry’s life, when Harry falls through the ice at the age of 9. In the film Harry goes on to be a war hero, saving hundreds of lives at sea. If you haven’t seen the film go watch it, go watch it now!
Later in the film when Clarence is showing George what life would have been like without him, George discovers his Brother Harry’s tombstone and the following scene plays out:
Clarence: [Explaining] Your brother, Harry Bailey, broke through the ice and was drowned at the age of nine.
George Bailey: That’s a lie! Harry Bailey went to war. He got the Congressional Medal of Honor! He saved the lives of every man on that transport!
Clarence: Every man on that transport died. Harry wasn’t there to save them, because you weren’t there to save Harry.
Maybe a little extreme, but a perfect example of what life would be like if the people we’d met on our journey never came into our lives, therefore not opened doors or had a positive effect on it.
Two weeks ago I was very lucky to be asked to facilitate a workshop of amazing ‘out of the box’ thinkers where we were discussing “How do we Drive Innovation in Victoria?” It was an inspiring group of people from varied industries and back grounds including true entrepreneurs, global change makers and innovation directors of large multi-national corporates. The night uncovered some fascinating insights and ideas. This opportunity has introduced me to some very smart people who are opening doors for my varied ideas and adventures. It got me thinking of my network and how I actually got an invite to such an exclusive group of thinkers.
Without naming names this opportunity played out as follows. Three years ago I was the Regional Director of a company where I worked with a great EA. I’d always been a massive TED fan and in 2014 we both went along to the TEDxMelbourne event. At the event we bumped in the EA’s friend, who we will call “Hug Girl”. She’s called Hug Girl because I have never been hugged so hard by a stranger when first introduced! She was fun and bubbly and was a volunteer for TEDxMelbourne. I didn’t see Hug Girl again for a while but I occasionally heard stories of what she was up to. Last year, City526 was founded and at our first Edutorial Breakfast, Hug Girl came along. The subject of the breakfast talk was Ideation. The talk really resonated with Hug Girl and she went off and spoke to a client of hers who runs a brilliant consultancy firm. This consultancy, to quote their website are “an ideation firm, that works with companies that are on a mission – to create innovative products and services that change their competitive landscape.” These guys contacted me and were fascinated about what innovations and ideas I was attempting to introduce to my companies and teams. In particular they were interested in the roadblocks and obstacles I was facing in bringing different thinking to business, especially big business. I did an interview for their magazine a few weeks ago, which will hopefully be published soon, and I was asked to be part of the Innovation Workshop to work out How do we Drive Innovation in Victoria?. This whole chain of events came from meeting my EA and turning a corner which made us bump into Hug Girl at TEDxMelbourne. That one event, 2 years ago, is now opening doors in the most left field but exciting places which will fill these pages with new blogs for years to come! Now I know everyone has stories like this and you could say it’s just life, but again it’s led to me to start thinking of how networks lead to innovation and ideas being spread.
Another person in my network who is a good friend and amazing thinker is Agustin Chevez, Gus for short. We were recently talking about innovation and what it meant to actually give an innovative idea traction. There are many great innovative ideas that do not see the light of day and a lot of that has nothing to do with the quality of the idea, service or product. The problem is the lack of the right network to gain momentum to get the idea out to the people, by the right people. The tipping point if you will.
I recently listened to the audio book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. A great book which I highly recommend. In the book Malcolm Gladwell looks at ideas that stick and what takes them to a tipping point of success. Malcolm states that one of the main reasons an idea gains momentum is because of the network of people that get the message or the idea out to the world. The three main types of people you need in your network are:
- Connectors – People with a special gift of bringing people together. They are usually intensely social and know a lot of people, but it’s not just the number of people they know it’s the quality of the people they know.
- Mavens – These are the people in our network who accumulate knowledge. Mavens not only want to help, they like to help and they are not driven by financial gain. They are your ‘sponsors’ if you like.
- Salespeople – These people in our network are skilled in persuading people to buy-in when they are unconvinced on what they are hearing.
Mavens accumulate the knowledge of the idea and start to spread it, connectors are the social glue who spread the message wider and to the right people and the salespeople are critical to help convince the world that the idea is worth investing in, whether that investment be time, money or effort.
One such example which Gus gave me is Penicillin, as explained in this great TEDx talk Watch Here. We all know the story that Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928 when he left some petri dishes in the corner and noticed that bacteria wasn’t growing around a mold. Now unbeknown to me Penicillin was actually discovered by Persian soldiers around 1500 BC when they carried moldy cakes and used them to rub on soldier’s wounds as they discovered the mold had healing effects. Fast forward to 1870 in Europe when Lister, Tyndell, Pasteur and Joubert find that mold inhibits bacterial growth. 1897 and Ernest Duschenes discovers that a penicillin mold kills E.coli bacteria. One year before Fleming in 1927, Clodomiro Picado Twighlight publishes a paper on the use of penicillin. Even when Fleming himself discovers Penicillin and publishes a paper in 1928, no one takes notice! It’s not until 10 years later when Harold Florey in 1929 builds a team and a very powerful network of peers that anyone even starts to show interest. A further 2 years of working tirelessly finally gets the message out to the right people, the world listens and penicillin finally becomes the miracle that it had promised to be for more than 3000 years!
So what made Florey successful in making this “innovation” sticky? It wasn’t the idea or discovery, that had been around for thousands of years. It was his commitment and his network. His network drove this innovative discovery to see the light of day.
So what’s my point to all of this? Well my point is that it’s our networks that take us to the tipping point of success, and make our ideas and innovations stick. It’s our networks that matter as much as our great ideas. We need our Connectors, our Maverns and our Salespeople. So concentrate on your network. No matter how small the gesture, how quick the introduction, surround yourself with amazing people and expect the unexpected because you never know when anyone in your network will make an introduction and start a domino effect to an amazing journey and adventure. As Clarence says to George, “It’s a wonderful life”!!!