Book review: The Click Moment, by Frans Johansson

Innovation will come if you harness 'complex forces' and embrace randomness. Andrew Davidson enjoys a pithy look at how to germinate great ideas.

by Andrew Davidson
Last Updated: 01 Oct 2012

BOOK - The Click Moment: Seizing opportunity in an unpredictable world, by Frans Johansson

Here's a great new idea: get this book, it's really quite fun. Picking up from where he left off with his previous publication, The Medici Effect, Swedish-American academic Frans Johansson investigates the interplay between creativity, diversity and luck to find what lies behind the world's best innovations in this snappily titled tome. It is, like business academic Johansson himself - who is tall, tan, hunky, and the son of a Cherokee mother and Swedish father - not what you expect, and all the better for it, being ferociously anecdotal and never less than entertaining.

In that, he follows the current vogue for pulling business and popular culture together. The fall of Nokia, the rise of Viagra, the adaptability of Microsoft, the popularity of Angry Birds, the speed of fashion chain Zara, the invention of the burquini are deconstructed against the genesis of the Arab Spring, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight novels, Serena Williams's tennis success, Picasso's productivity, the Lost TV series, the Little Lebowski shop in New York, the Rubik's Cube, even how to win at scissors-paper-stone, a game so random you can't strategise - or can you? Who knew that starting with stone was the best opening gambit? Unless your opponent has read this too...

The sheer variety of stories discussed is worth the price of a ticket alone. The serious point in all this is that we live amid a technological revolution every bit as profound as the 19th century's Industrial Revolution. Opportunity is all around us, if we can only embrace randomness and complexity, and prepare for that click moment when a great idea germinates. But how?

Johansson argues for some commonsense approaches, which can seem rather banal in summation: get out more, meet different people, try a lot of new things, make a lot of small bets and then push big behind the ones that look as if they might take off. For anyone who has read Walter Isaacson's compelling biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs, this is old news and confirms the template for those in companies where science and humanities collide. Push employees out of their bunkers to talk to others from different disciplines - via cafes in atriums, communal loos, regular social evenings - and see what pops up.

At the heart of it all is a conundrum: we are reluctant to court randomness because we live in a society where planning and predictability are virtues, yet we need randomness to increase our chances of success.

Johansson also posits the existence of 'complex forces', the interconnected mesh of relationships that push events beyond the predictable, which we have to harness. The proof of their existence is that actions often have unintended consequences, such as when Barbra Streisand tried to have aerial photos of her Malibu home removed from the internet, and only succeeded in increasing their circulation online. That became known as the Streisand Effect.

But is that complex? Or was Streisand naive to think her heavy-handed approach would go unnoticed? Johansson's advice is not to try and manipulate these forces, but attempt to create a project that such forces can 'hook onto'.

More useful is the feel Johansson gives for how to alight on the right or wrong idea. He is insightful on how Nokia lost its grip on the mobile world, comparing the 'rules' of the phone market with conventional games such as chess and tennis, where skills and competencies can be enhanced with practice, and success is easier to predict.

He cites how Nokia's then-CEO, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, completely underestimated the iPhone. 'A niche product,' he huffed a year after it launched - then has fun reminding us of all the journalists and analysts who backed that up, adamant that Jobs' gambit would never dent Nokia's share.

All were experts and all got it wrong, as the rules had changed. Welcome to the revolution, where the logical approach to future strategy could torpedo your firm.

So where does that leave us? Better prepared after reading this, I would argue, though you need to know which game you are playing. I suspect Johansson's compulsively bitty style may also have more to do with the lecture circuit that now props up publishing - it would work brilliantly with PowerPoint - than a thought-out approach that would help innovation.

At times, it is all a bit Gladwell-lite, until you want to shout that it might be easier just living life rather than over-examining it. But it is a terrific read, smartly researched, full of stories you find yourself repeating to others: 'Did you know ...'

And now you know, I'm starting with paper. Or am I?

Andrew Davidson is a longstanding MT contributor and editor at large

The Click Moment: Seizing opportunity in an unpredictable world

Frans Johansson

Portfolio Penguin, £14.99

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