On the one hand we aren’t surprised by the uncertainty of everyday life, but on the other we believe that success can be analyzed and planned for. It is a revealing paradox. The implications are explosive and they obliterate every common-sense notion we have about strategy and planning.
The Click Moment is about two very simple but highly provocative ideas. The first is that success is random—far more random than we would like to believe. The second is that there are a number of specific actions that we, as individuals and organizations, can take to capture this randomness and focus it in our favor.
According to Johansson, strategy, planning, and careful analysis can no longer guarantee strong performance; today’s business environments are far too random and complicated. But when you dig deep into the actions of successful people and organizations, you’ll find one common theme. A turning point occurs—a major client signs on, a new competitor redefines the market, an unlikely idea surfaces—and they take advantage of that serendipity to change their fate. Consider how . . .
Each of these individuals experienced a “click moment”—a rare point of opportunity that was completely unexpected. But they capitalized on their luck in ways that paid off significantly and altered their organizations’ strategies and the course of their lives.
Johansson uses stories of successful people and companies throughout history to illustrate the specific actions we can take to create more click moments, place lots of high-potential bets, open ourselves up to chance encounters, and harness the complex forces of success that follow.
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Frans Johansson is the bestselling author of The Medici Effect. Raised in Sweden by his African American/Cherokee mother and Swedish father, he now speaks to audiences worldwide, from the boardrooms of America’s largest corporations to villages in developing countries. He has founded a software start-up, a health-care firm, a hedge fund, and the innovation firm the Medici Group. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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THE CLICK MOMENT
Frans Johansson is the bestselling author of The Medici Effect. Born and raised in Sweden, he has founded a software startup, a healthcare firm, and a hedge fund, and is currently CEO of strategy and innovation at the consulting firm The Medici Group.
I wish I had read this book many years ago. Maybe I would have worried less about whether I knew what I was doing or not—and more about simply getting going. The truth is that we are all in some way stumbling on the road to success. The thing that makes this book so compelling is that it provides a roadmap for how to think about that journey.
Many of the lessons of this book are ones I had to discover through my own process of trial and error. Luck not only matters far more than we’d like to believe, but it is also our best chance to stand apart. As such, there is no one single master plan for success; every journey is unique. Sure, there are actions we can all take to improve our chances—get the best schooling, expand our networks, outperform our peers to that coveted promotion—but they are susceptible to the unexpected turn. What do you do when your best-laid plans come undone? And they inevitably will.
That is why Frans’s message is so powerful. For once there is someone that takes seriously the notion that some things are out of your control and mistakes will happen—and that your success hinges on essentially “making your own luck” by taking advantage of “click moments” that you never could have foreseen.
Frans’s first book, The Medici Effect, focuses on why intersections of cultures and industries are a hotbed for innovation and creativity. The Click Moment explores how to harness the unexpected ideas and click moments that come out of such intersections. It chronicles amazing moments that changed the course of individuals and companies, who in turn have influenced our everyday lives in unexpected ways. It is also filled with plans that go awry and the knowledge that, in the end, if we keep pushing, if we keep trying, we will eventually break through. I know this now. And so will you.
In my life, for example, whatever plans I had have changed a million times over, and the click moments that opened me up for opportunities to succeed were completely unexpected. After leaving culinary school, I just knew that my future was in France, because that’s where the best food in the world was made. Or at least I thought so at the time. It just did not work out that way. My skin color became a barrier, but that crushed dream gave way to another opportunity where I learned that amazing food is found all over the world.
My own journey has taken me from Ethiopia to Sweden; to France, Switzerland, and Japan; to New York and to becoming a force in revitalizing Harlem. This was not the pathway my twenty-year-old self imagined I would ever take. But it’s a pathway that was marked by unexpected opportunities. For example, I got the chance to head upmy own kitchen at Aquavit because the former executive chef suddenly died from a heart attack. It was a tragedy, but it also meant that my career changed. I now had an opening to try something different, and it allowed me to present my own ideas around tastes and flavors. The unspoken truth around success is that so much of it is so difficultto plan for or to predict.
The Click Moment has allowed me to more deeply understand the pivots in my own journey. With these insights and the how-tos Frans shares in his book, I know I can more purposefully create intersectionswhere the unexpected happens, recognize a click moment, and make the most out of these opportunities—essentially, I now have an unfair advantage over luck and chance.
At every step of the way, windows of opportunity opened and closed, some of them worked and others did not. Th e hallmark of a great career is never the brilliance of the person behind it—it is the person’s tenacious and stubborn willingness to keep trying until the chips fall in his or her favor. Work hard, try different things, stay unique, but never believe that you can predict what will happen next. Instead, stay open to the possibilities and be prepared to switch plans if things don’t go your way.
Sometimes life simply throws you a lot of curveballs. But it is from those curveballs that new and exciting opportunities will start to emerge. You never know what awaits you.
Heading into the fall of 2004, ABC was dead last among broadcast television networks. Then, on September 22, something surprising happened and its fortunes changed. That was the night Lost debuted. The program came out of nowhere and delivered 18.7 million viewers to the struggling network, making it ABC’s most-watched dramatic premier in nine years.
In a world of reality shows, Lost was a breath of fresh air. Centering on the survivors from an airliner that crashes on a mystical island, the show seemed like a sure-fire winner. It attracted an incredibly intense fan base that passionately dissected all the clues revealed in each episode. The plot was so intricate that the origin of a “smoke monster” from the first season wasn’t revealed until the sixth. Critics and fans agreed that the island’s “mythology” and the slow unraveling of its central mysteries made the show great. It must have required an incredible amount of planning to even get on the air.
Except the exact opposite was true. Many of the story elements that Lost fanatics loved were ideas the producers thought were too crazy to work. The show, it turns out, was a byproduct of a meeting between Damon Lindelof and J. J. Abrams. At the time, Lindelof was a writer on the modestly successful Crossing Jordan, and Abrams was the creator of the popular series Alias. Lindelof desperately wanted to write for Alias, and after years of trying to make a connection, he received a call from a mutual friend.
“Good news,” she said, “You can meet him. Bad news, it’s a ridiculous idea about a plane that crashes on an island.” The idea didn’t come from Abrams, but from ABC executive Lloyd Braun, who became infatuated with the notion of a scripted version of Survivor. He asked Abrams to rewrite the pilot, but Abrams declined, agreeing to supervise a writer instead. Lindelof thought the idea was insane, but saw an opening—if he could pitch a few good ideas for this “stupid plane crash” show he could propel himself to a writing position on Alias.
During their meeting it was clear to both men that Lost would never make it, so they pitched increasingly crazier ideas to each other. Abrams wanted random noises on the island to scare the viewer. When asked what the noises would be, Abrams responded, “I don’t know, it’s never going to get picked up.” But it did. Things happened so quickly that Lindelof didn’t have time to write the script. Instead, he handed in a twenty-page treatment, which Braun unexpectedly approved, along with Desperate Housewives, which turned out to be the biggest success of the 2004–2005 television season.
For his part, Braun was promptly fired for approving a $12 million television pilot that didn’t even have a script for a show idea Michael Eisner, the CEO of Disney (which owns ABC) thought was “never going to work.” When Eisner graded all the pilots ABC approved that year, he gave Lost a two out of ten. The man who developed the two shows that saved ABC was out of a job before they even aired.
Now, if the world moved in a predictable way, nothing in this story would make sense. In such a world we would expect the intricate mysteries on the island of Lost to be carefully planned. In such a world we would expect a successful producer such as J. J. Abrams and an executive such as Michael Eisner to realize that Lost had amazing potential. We would expect a writer such as Lindelof to strategize about how to get on one of the most influential shows in TV history, not how to get off it. And we would, of course, expect the person who developed Lost and Desperate Housewives to be rewarded, not fired.
But the world does not move in a predictable way. The story behind Lost actually makes a lot of sense. The implications are mind-boggling.
This book is about two very simple but highly provocative ideas.
The first one is this: success is random, far more random than we have come to believe. The second is that there are a number of specific actions that individuals and organizations can take to capture randomness and focus it in our favor.
The reason people tend to consider these ideas provocative is because success, we are often told, is a result of strategy, planning, and careful analysis. Luck, on the other hand, is a force that lies outside of our control. This book rejects these conventional perspectives and proposes a useful and compelling alternative.
At first blush, these interconnected ideas may seem at odds. If success is indeed random, how can any actions truly improve our chances? If celebrated companies, such as Starbucks and Google, or small businesses or investments or even one’s career and love life all are the result of serendipity, then there is no point in directing our efforts in any particular direction, is there? But in fact, acknowledging the power of random forces does not render us powerless. Quite the contrary.
There are a number of specific actions you can take that will open you or your organization to chance encounters, unexpected strategies, and complex connections, just as there are certain actions that will enable you to capture randomness and seize opportunities. These actions set us up for greatness in an unpredictable world, and I will explore them in detail later in the book.
For now, however, it is enough to know that when you dig deeply into what underlies any personal or corporate success, you will see that one theme repeats again and again: somewhere, at some point, someone got lucky. They experienced a serendipitous encounter, an unexpected moment of insight, or an unplanned culmination of events. There was one instant when fate turned their way, a moment they can look back at and say, that was when it started. We all have these click moments, as I call them, and it is rather remarkable that we don’t give them more of our attention, because they can change our lives.
AN UNPREDICTABLE WORLD
THE MOLDAVIAN THEORY OF SUCCESS
One February morning in 2005 the Moldavian pop star Dan Balan woke up to a ringing phone. It was seven a.m. People didn’t usually call him that early, even considering the fact that he was in a Manhattan hotel and trailing Europe by six hours. Half awake, Balan answered and heard a friend on the line. “Dan, Dan, put on the TV, put on NBC,” his friend yelled. “The Today Show!”
Balan crawled out of bed and turned on the Today Show. The hosts were discussing a story about a video that had gone viral. In 2005 “gone viral” was not in the common vernacular, in fact YouTube had just been created. But apparently this video had been seen by millions of people around the world in just a few days—an entirely new phenomenon. Balan wondered why his friend had insisted he watch the show, but then they aired the video. And he knew.
The video was of a somewhat pudgy kid lip-synching into a cheap camcorder with the sound of a heavy dance beat playing in the background. It wasn’t a particularly good performance, Balan thought; he had certainly seen better. The song, unusually melodic, was in a strange language. But Dan Balan understood it. He should have—he had written it. Balan’s song was getting airtime on the most watched morning show in the United States. It was a remarkable turn of events. In the strangest of ways, Dan Balan had gotten very, very lucky.
The world is an unpredictable place. On the face of it, this does not strike most people as a controversial statement. It seems obvious; we experience unpredictability almost every day, from dramatic rises and falls in the stock market to our luck catching a lone cab on a rainy day. However, the import of such a statement is not as clear. If the world is unpredictable, then you can’t actually foresee whether your idea, project, or meeting will work out as planned. In fact, it might mean that the plan is outdated before you even start to execute it. And if you can’t logically plan your way to success, that must mean that success, when it happens, is a result of something unexpected—of something random.
This idea, however, seems radical to many people. On the one hand, we aren’t surprised by the uncertainty of everyday life, but on the other, we believe that success can be analyzed and planned for. It is a revealing paradox. The implications are explosive and they obliterate every commonsense notion we have about strategy and planning. Just ask Dan Balan.
In 2004, Balan’s pop group O-Zone released a song called “Dragostea din tei.” It launched in Romania at the top of the charts and spread like an epidemic through Europe. That summer it became one of the most dominant dance-club tracks in history. Within months the song had been recorded in about a dozen languages and all versions raced up the lists. At one point there were five different versions of the song in the French top-twenty music charts at the same time. The song was a phenomenon everywhere—everywhere, that is, but the United States.
At the epicenter of the music universe, O-Zone fell flat. The band signed a record contract with an independent label that didn’t seem to have the experience or resources to successfully market the album. And the timing was bad. “Dragostea din tei” came out at a time when techno-based club tracks were ebbing in popularity in the United States. The airwaves were dominated by R&B and hip-hop stars such as Destiny’s Child and Jay-Z. The song had no sales to speak of and got very little radio play. The band’s promoters decided to focus on their strengths, which, in this case, lay in the rest of the world. They pulled the U.S. marketing campaign and skipped touring the States altogether.
But only a few months later, “Dragostea din tei” came back out of nowhere to conquer the United States. Although it never achieved the same blockbuster status as it had in Europe, the song still climbed the charts without any visible promotional efforts at all. How did this happen? O-Zone’s strategy, after all, was to walk away from the American market.
O-Zone’s success can be traced to Gary Brolsma, a Staples employee from Saddle Brook, New Jersey. Brolsma was having a quiet day at home, sitting in front of his computer with his headphones on, listening to “Dragostea din tei,” lip-synching and making funny expressions. “I was just fooling around, having a good time,” he said about that particular moment, “and I recorded it.” As a joke, he uploaded the video to a site called Newgrounds, then sent the link to some friends. “They all had a good laugh, and I thought nothing of it.”
But some of those friends shared the link with other friends. One click led to another and the video caught on and became one of the world’s first truly “viral” videos. I recall catching the link on a political blog that had absolutely nothing to do with music or videos, Romania, or Moldavia. Brolsma became known as the “Numa Numa” guy and the video is believed to be the most watched in the history of the Internet, with more than one billion people having seen it. “Dragostea din tei” sho...
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