Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Connecting the dots

Every organization, by its very nature, organizes in ways that seem to make sense: skill sets, customer segments, day shift and night shift, functions, cliques, long timers and short-timers. If there are more than about 3 people at a company, specialization begins to take over and the first silos are seeded. It's natural, it's expected - in fact, it makes a ton of sense to divide and conquer, based primarily on what you're good at. Like-minded people partner up.

Of course, over time this specialization, whether it's by product or skill set or geography, starts to slow the communication between functions. Insulation, busy-ness, and laziness settle in - and before you know it you've started cultivating a "throw-it-over-the-fence" methodology for just about anything from design to finance to human resources. Dysfunction is born. Out of resentment. Out of misunderstanding. Out of expectation and stress and fear.

Silos suck. It's true. Specialization is necessary, but it breeds clubs and ivory towers and all manner of hostility, unnavigable processes and "we've always done it this way" mentality which tends to be a huge reason why established companies turn into dinosaurs and are flipped on their backs, helpless, by the next generation of young, disruptive and by-all-accounts "disorganized" start-ups and boutiques.

So here's a truth: large, organized companies value dot-connectors. And are also sometimes terrified by them. Dot-connectors can be perceived as foreign bodies. Large companies may defend themselves without really knowing why. Sometimes status quo is mistaken for stability. And stability is GREAT when you've established a niche, credibility, status and expertise. Gurus love to sit on top of the mountain because it never moves. Gurus don't tend to sit on top of a speeding truck going 90 mph through downtown Bangalore. (I know, I know - NO ONE goes 90mph through Bangalore).

So what's a dot-connector? Someone who can step back, squint, and see a different picture. Someone who collects a lot of information, across teams or products or functions or customers or industries or trends or geographies or cultures, and makes a new shape. Someone who builds on things that exist in unexpected and crazy ways. Or takes the picture and flips it over and says "What if we did it like this?"

Dot connecters are curious.
Dot connectors are brave.
Dot connectors are not afraid to look a little weird. Or outright insane.

Ideas don't just spontaneously occur.
Ideas are connections.
And ideas, by their very definition, are potentially dangerous, disruptive and destructive to the status quo: the silo.

Silos are like castles.
Ideas are like trolls toting boulder slingshots: we laugh at them until they rip the first humongous hole in the impenetrable fortress. And then we wonder if we can join them. Except they REALLY do smell terrible. And they look kind of ugly and.. HOLY SHIT they just ripped another huge hole in the castle.

Be a dot connector. Be brave and curious and weird.

Leave your chair. Leave your classroom or dorm or campus. Leave your department. Leave your product. Leave your building. Leave your industry. Leave your country. Leave your "comfort zone".

Expose yourself to some other stuff. Think dangerously. Talk to other connectors. Then bring it back.
And rip a huge, idea-hole in a castle of your own.