Business strategist Frans Johansson, author of the The Medici Effect and The Click Moment, started off his opening keynote address at Safety 2016 by telling the audience he would show us the connection between termites and architecture, surgery and Formula 1 racing, windows and lotus flowers and ice and sleeping beds. This surprising list was used to prove his point that often, success is achieved through serendipity, or chance.
In fact, according to Johansson, in today's complex, volatile and random world, “the five-year business plan is obsolete, and going through the motions can no longer guarantee strong performance.” Johansson suggests that leaders look for what he calls “click moments,” opportunities, often serendipitous, to change course.
“The best chance to break new ground is to connect ideas in new and serendipitous ways,” said Johansson. “Success or failure can be one unexpected moment away.”
He said that business leaders tend to rely on “expertise and logic in trying to reach success. If you believe logic is your competitive advantage, then you have to believe no one else has access to logic.”
He discussed the business strategy of two competing car companies. Volvo, which ranks very high in safety attributes but low in design, and Audi, which ranks high in design but lower in safety. Both companies, employing logic, decided that in order to compete, they needed to raise the scores that were lower. So, Volvo worked on innovating “new” designs, while Audi sought to improve its safety scores. And when Johansson showed photos of the recent Volvo and Audi models, one thing was apparent: several Volvo models looked very similar to Audi models and, one assumes, Audi adopted some of the technology that helped Volvo’s success in safety ratings.
“Using logic to set yourself apart means you’re going to end up in the same place as everyone else,” Johansson pointed out. “The unexpected is what makes us stand apart.”
He suggested that leaders who want to truly innovate – whether it’s business or safety – “always look for opportunities to change the rules. We’re seeing that now where safety is becoming part of the business operations.”
As an example, Johansson compared Nike with Under Armour. Nike is a Goliath. It spends billions marketing its products to great success. Johansson mentioned rumors that have the company paying LeBron James as much as $1 billion for product endorsements.
Under Armour can’t afford to compete at that level. So the company “changed the rules” by redefining what it means to be “an athlete.” A video the company made to promote its products showing the athleticism of Misty Copeland, the first African American female principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre – while a voiceover offered lines from rejection letters she received from ballet schools when she was 13 – sent a powerful message and went viral globally and has over 10 million views on You Tube. The result? The equivalent of millions of dollars in “free” advertising.
Johansson encouraged the audience to “find inspiration from industries other than your own.” For example, a hospital in the UK was seeing a lot of errors occur in patient care as patients were transferred from the operating room team to the intensive care team. Rather than benchmark other hospital care strategies, they looked at Formula 1 racing’s pit crews, where different crews have different jobs and purposes but it all works seamlessly to keep the cars running at optimum capacity.
Another connection was made between Mick Pearce, an architect challenged to build Eastgate Centre, the largest office building in Harare, Zimbabwe, using no air conditioning. Pearce studied the self-cooling mounds made by termites. These mounds are constructed using a series of channels and vents that are opened and closed by the insects to maintain an optimum temperature.
Using biomimetic architecture, Pearce mimicked the structure of the termite mounds, allowing air to be drawn from continuously drawn from an open space between the two buildings by fans on the first floor. The air is pushed up vertical supply sections of ducts that are located in the central spine of the buildings. The fresh air replaces stale air that rises and exits through exhaust ports in the ceilings of each floor. Ultimately it enters the exhaust section of the vertical ducts before it is flushed out of the building through chimneys.
The result is that despite the soaring temperatures outside, Eastgate Centre remains at 72 degrees Fahrenheit and uses less than 10 percent of the energy of a conventional building its size. Not only is the building earth friendly and efficient, the tenants benefit from rents that are 20 percent lower than those in surrounding buildings that are cooled in a conventional manner.
In other examples of unexpected but potentially blockbuster connections, Johannson mentioned that scientists are studying the “lotus effect,” which is the self-cleaning property of the lotus flower. Dirt particles on the surface of the leaves and flowers are picked up by water droplets due to the micro- and nanoscopic architecture on the surface. This minimizes the ability of dirt to adhere to that surface. In a world with buildings that are 1,500 feet high and taller, window washing becomes problematic. Technology that is developed from studying the lotus effect could change the way windows are manufactured.
The ice and beds connection was made when, in an area of Sweden that is snow-covered and icy much of the year, a businessman decided to take advantage of the snow and ice. He first had an exhibition of snow sculptures, then an art show in a building carved from snow, then an event center made of ice and finally and most successfully, an ice hotel, which draws 40,000 people a year to the remote area.
“The world is connected, said Johansson. “But there is someone there making the connections.”