Beware of random collisions with unusual suspects. Unless, of course, if you want to learn something new. In that case seek out innovators from across every imaginable silo and listen, really listen, to their stories. New ideas, perspectives, and value creating opportunities are in the gray areas between unusual suspects. It seems so obvious and yet we spend most of our time with the usual suspects in our respective silos. We need to get out of our silos more.
It’s human nature to surround ourselves with people exactly like us. We connect and spend time with people who share a common world-view, look the same, enjoy the same activities, and speak the same language. We join clubs to be with others like us. I want to belong to the non-club club. The only tribe I want to be in is a tribe of unusual suspects who can challenge my world-view, expose me to new ideas, and teach me something new. I founded the Business Innovation Factory to enable random collisions of unusual suspects.
I am reminded of the power of this simple idea as my friend Bill Taylor launches his new book,Practically Radical (a must read for all innovators). Bill is a magnet for innovation stories and a master storyteller. I’ve been a Bill Taylor fan since he founded Fast Company and was surprised when he showed up at BIF-1, our very first Collaborative Innovation Summit, back in 2004. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Bill loves searching for compelling innovation stories among the unusual suspects. He has attended all but one of our six annual summits to-date including co-chairing several of them. There have been countless random collisions. As I started reading Practically Radical I was immediately hit with a powerful reminder.
There it was, right at the start of chapter one, a compelling story about Providence, R.I. Police Chief Dean Esserman. I can’t think of a better innovation story coming from an unexpected place. Dean is a close friend and serves on the BIF Board of Directors. He has attended every BIF summit and has been a storyteller himself at several of them. The random collision between Dean and Bill occurred at BIF-1. Dean’s story is one of my favorite examples of looking for innovators in unexpected places.
When Dean was hired as the Providence Police Chief in 2003, he found a city where the crime rates were high and a police force that was troubled by corruption and distrusted by the community. People were afraid to travel downtown. What he’s done since is a great story of business model innovation, and he has delivered significant value to the citizens of Providence.
In six years, Dean transformed the Providence policing model from a centralized department where police were anonymous and came to the neighborhood after receiving a 911 call to a decentralized department with neighborhood substations and district commanders who are accountable for crime in the local community. His philosophy is that when police get out of their cars and into the life of a neighborhood they become trusted allies.
I have attended the chief’s regular Tuesday morning command meetings where a sophisticated crime tracking system displays crime statistics by district. Each commander is called upon to talk about crime activity in their district and what they are doing about it. The new business model is working, with double digit declines in the overall Providence crime rate. Who would have thought to look at a police chief as an example of innovation best practices?
It’s gratifying to be reminded of collisions enabled by BIF resulting in new connections, ideas, and collaborations. In chapter 7 of Practically Radical Bill shares the story of Jim Lavoie and Joe Marino, the founders of Rite-Solutions in Newport Rhode Island. It’s a great story of two entrepreneurs that have created a unique company-wide innovation culture including a very cool “Mutual Fun” internal stock exchange of innovation ideas and funded projects. How did Bill, Jim, and Joe collide? You guessed it, at BIF-2. I could also point to Boston Scientific founder John Abele’s fascinating story about his quest to locate the USS Grunion mentioned in chapter 8 as a result of Bill and John colliding at BIF-4, but you get the point!
Each of these collisions remind us that the gold is in the gray areas between us and increasing our surface area by opening up more random collisions is the way to mine the gold. We forget the importance of getting beyond our silos and colliding with more unusual suspects. There is no more important and rewarding role than catalyzing random collisions among unusual suspects. It’s nice to be reminded when it works. Here’s to colliding with the Practically Radical among us.
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