Follow the Right Idea Threads

“I can’t recall a period of time that was as volatile, complex, ambiguous and tumultuous. As one successful executive puts it, ‘if you’re not confused, you don’t know what’s going on’.” – Warren Bennis

Yesterday we had the honor or producing an event with Ram Charan, surely one of, if not the, most sought-after executive and management consultants in the world. His presentation was indeed thought-provoking and inspiring, but I’ll just pick one of his insights to share here: follow the right idea threads. We got into a conversation during our interview that has become almost cliché about the rapidity of change, the compounding nature of change, the complexity and chaos of rapidly changing technologies and information, etc etc… In our interview I asked him how is it possible to keep up with it all – which is what many people try to do. He agreed that of course this was impossible and said, “The key is to focus on what matters.”

Well yes, but that doesn’t exactly tell me what matters, so I asked him how do you know what matters. He went on to explain it’s all about context and what matters to you, in your work, in your organization, the problems you are trying to solve – and your best approach must be to follow the idea threads that matter. What he meant is that while of course we can’t possibly digest the encyclopedia of our particular domain expertise, what we must do is follow the conversations where the center of gravity is. By attending a conference relevant to your field of expertise and interest, the keynote will drop a reference to a seminal study, and then you’ll go back to your hotel room and look up that study and follow that thread. These threads don’t always end in eureka!, but by staying close enough to the thinkers and ideas that matter, you can follow the right idea threads.

I have a personal example. I recently reached out to Arie Lewin, at Duke Fuqua School of Business, to request an interview with him around his seminal ideas of creating super-adaptive firms by globally sourcing ideas. During an advance call with Dr. Lewin to discuss content he referenced the work of Vivek Wadhwa. In my ignorance I had to ask him to spell it twice, but it sent me on a journey to read Vivek’s studies and listen to several podcasts and interviews he has given recently on moving labor markets and talent. Now convinced that Vivek’s work represents not only excellence that matters in the world, but also important to my discovery process on moving talent pools, I have a new idea thread to follow. It works like that – follow the right people and ideas and they will lead you to the next.

Enjoy the journey and find the right idea threads.