Connecting different dots, and making friends with stories
I listened to a rather marvellous podcast last week. It featured Jerry Colonna, the founder of the coaching company Reboot, alongside legendary marketer, author and entrepreneur Seth Godin.
As I noted on Twitter, this conversation felt like listening to jazz after a long pop playlist.
It felt a little weird at first with an unusual time signature and rhythm – softly spoken, minor key not major.
— Bryce Roberts (@bryce) May 19, 2018
After some time, you get into the groove and appreciate the subtle touches that most pop music doesn’t have because it’s been processed and compressed. This conversation was like a low-key neighbourhood jazz bar featuring the two resident players who just have this kind of music in their bones.
Anyway, amongst the various topics in the discussion, two came out at me, both of which were intertwined in the same part of the podcast.
First was the two types of work (I’m paraphrasing Seth & Jerry here in a slightly hacked together way, apologies):
- There’s the work where we know what to do and then there’s the work of ‘this might not work’. And the work of ‘I know what to do’ is the factory, it’s the assembly line, it’s the stopwatch. And we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that that’s safe work because it’s someone else’s responsibility
- Where a technology and innovation and culture make things better is when we’re confronting something that might not work, where we’re crossing a kind of abyss of unknownness, dancing with our fear.
Second was connecting dots vs collecting dots.
the collecting part’s not hard, it’s the connecting part that’s hard.
In this specific case, Seth was referring to the Ethiopian chicken story he told (worth checking out).
He wasn’t ‘friends’ with the story yet so was hesitant to tell it, but wanted to test it on people as collecting that story wasn’t particularly hard – connecting it was.
More broadly I believe he refers to collecting dots as badges of honour; things that work, where we know what to do and what to expect. They’re companies, projects, processes.
However, if you think about a different set of dots there’s something else to consider.
These dots are less polished, misshapen, or strange colours. Sometimes they’re so small we barely notice they’re even dots at all.
These dots can be stories. They can be ideas, data, postcards, diagrams. Almost anything really.
Collect the things you think but never say. (This is what I call the “back pocket” strategy, after something I learned from Russell Davies back in the GDS days.) Sometimes, there are things your team or organisation would like to say, but for various reasons it cannot. Rather than just let those things fester somewhere then get forgotten, write them up as if they were being published. Put those things in a safe place. One day, even if they still cannot publish them, future-you might appreciate the memories they contain.
So while collecting dots may not be hard, perhaps there’s something valuable in collecting these different type of dots. The unsaid ideas, the out of date noticeboard notice.
If you’re collecting dots, it makes it easier to connect dots.
If you’ve got lots of different types of dots, there are more ways to connect them.
When you can both collect and connect, wonderful things can happen.
Maybe there are some different dots you can first collect, then connect.
Because that’s where the second type of work starts from.
Just like looking for the different dots, it’s hard.
But it’s worth it.
A bit like jazz I guess.