We’ve been asked by a client to highlight some of our favourite TED talks every two or three weeks. Because right now a couple of us are reading Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, we’ve been thinking about where ideas come from and how good ones happen. Pattern entrainment is what creates expertise—we see a set of conditions and we’re able to put them together to make sense of them based on our expertise. That’s fantastic, and it helps us be better leaders, coaches, writers, and partners. Unfortunately, it can also be innovation stifling as Dave Snowden points out. Snowden suggests that pattern entrainment is the enemy of innovation in complex settings because we simply can’t see past our expertise and into new possibilities.
This is where Steven Johnson helpfully takes us in his TED talk about where good ideas come from (click here to see it).
His sense that we need gathering places for ideas to bump up against one another builds on Taleb’s notion that putting experts together to magnify their expertise (common in the world of organisational silos) creates a weakness in the system. Some of that might be because there are no stressors in the system—so important for developing innovation. But some of that might also be because there is no possibility for the idea sex that Johnson talks about.
In any case, it seems important to wonder about where we each get access to new ideas that pull us out of our pattern entrainment and allow us to combine in new ways with different kinds of thinking and action. What will you do this week that will get you a perspective far out of your usual understanding? And perhaps more importantly—how will you listen to that perspective instead of writing it off as too different (too wrong/ignorant/misguided/etc)? How do we learn from difference rather than ignore it or coax it back into patterns we understand? Steven Johnson will help with that, and surely Taleb and his Black Swan or Antifragile books will stir your pot.
(The picture today is the Starbucks in Old Beijing. There’s a way that it is itself both an example of pattern entrainment–and the ways big corporates are taking over what used to be local gathering places–and it’s also oddly out of place in that cultural surround. It would have been a bad place to go to bump up against new ideas, though, because on the day I was there, it was totally empty.)