Sunday, June 28, 2009

The virtue of diversity

It's been a few months since I last blogged. This is partly deliberate, as I tried to experiment with diversifying the media channels to share my ideas. Besides the usual academic journals and conferences that I continue to pursue as an integral part of my day job as a professor in NUS, I have gone back to writing for the traditional print broadcast media (2 articles in the local newspapers & 2 in niche overseas magazines), done 2 overseas radio interviews, taken on more overseas speaking engagements than perhaps I should have (Hong Kong, Paris, Penang and Barcelona...), tried a couple of international webinars, and dabbled in more social networking sites (besides Linkedin, I've added Facebook, Academia, and Twitter).

In reflecting on my experiment with diversifying media outlets over the last few months, I came to 3 basic conclusions. First, different media are good for different purposes, so maintaining a mix of media presence is necessary. The local dailies remain the most effective in local reach; I have acquaintances whom I haven't been in touch for years contacting me after reading my articles in the local newspapers. Face-to-face speaking engagements are still the best mechanisms for reaching new, high power contacts; I not only generated a number of instant consulting/ collaboration invitations from these, but a steady stream of referrals as well. Social networking sites are good for consolidating prior contacts, although not that good for generating new ones.

Second, the diverse channels do have complementary effects. People who met me face-to-face at my speaking engagements subsequently visited my Linkedin homepage and asked to be connected. People who read my newspaper articles searched and downloaded my academic publications online.

Last, but not least, openness to exploring diverse channels is important to develop the kind of novel learning & discovery experiences that lead to what Johansson has aptly called the intersection ideas in his book, The Medici Effect. Basically, intersection ideas are novel ideas that emerge from combining and synthesizing ideas from diverse & unconnected sources, vs. directional ideas that incrementally refine or extend existing ideas within a single field or paradigm. As he persuasively argued in his book, truly radical innovations tend to come from intersectional ideas, not directional ideas.

Some of the more intriguing ideas I have generated over the last few months have emerged from the less common channels I experimented with. For example, I spoke in April at a World Bank-INSEAD forum in Fontainebleau (near Paris) which was primarily targeted at innovation policy makers & practitioners from the former Soviet Union. Although I had spoken in Estonia, Hungary and the Czech Republic and lectured senior Kazakhstan officials before, I claim no real expertise in these transitional economies, and had no intention to do research or make angel investment there. I was amazed, however, to find people from some of these economies who have actually read my stuff, and one of them raised interesting questions that gave me new thoughts about the role of entrepreneurship in economic development. The interactions also convinced me how important Russia is, even though no one from Russia was even there. Two serendipitous outcome emerged: one, I now have Moscow as one of the dots I plan to connect in the near future, and two, I'm now doing new research on the role of entrepreneurs as differentiation agents in complexity economics.

The bottom-line, then, is that if you want to have an innovative edge in what you do, try pursuing diversity of information channels. Explore more dots. You may be surprised by the connections that can emerge.


Marmalade said...

Prof: "I'm now doing new research on the role of entrepreneurs as differentiation agents in complexity economics."

How interesting!

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