A few years ago, a friend made me aware of a story on the success of a restaurant owner in New York. The ambitious man had taken his restaurant to the top within just a few years, earning the title “best restaurant of New York“. After the success of his first restaurant, the man managed to also take his second restaurant to the TOP3 best restaurants in New York. A reporter asked the man to the cause of his success, which the man described a simple but effective mechanism. He enthusiastically told that all the staff in his restaurants mastered the ABCD-principle to perfection, or Always Be Connecting Dots. With the ABCD-principle one tries to see everything from a customer perspective and anticipate directly to his or her needs. For example, if customers upon entry doubt the table they want to sit at, the staff immediately anticipates on this by describing the advantages and disadvantages of the different tables to make your choice easier. “If you take a seat by the window, you have a beautiful view, but you’re seated slightly tighter. On the wall side you have enough space, but you can no longer look outside.” Or when the kids are restless at the table the staff directly inquires if they maybe want to take a look in the kitchen.
It All Comes Down To Dots
Listen to the words of Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Seth Godin and you’ll discover what separates true innovators from everyone else.
In his famous commencement speech, Steve Jobs said:
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
Sir Richard Branson has a mantra that runs through the DNA of his companies. The mantra is A-B-C-D. (Always Be Connecting Dots).
In his manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams, Seth Godin wrote how students today are educated in “collecting dots. Almost none of it spent teaching them the skills necessary to connect dots. The magic of connecting dots is that once you learn the techniques, the dots can change but you’ll still be good at connecting them.”
Always Be Connecting Dots
Connecting the dots. It’s all about connecting the dots. And it’s never been more important and more relevant than it is today in this information overload world we live in.
The ABCD-principle immediately intrigued me, because it can be applied within any organization. And even though the principle seems incredibly easy, I’ve rarely encountered it. The customer perspective is not always key anymore anyway; one simply forgets their own organization’s right to exist by being consumed by the daily operational activities.
Connecting the dots isn’t easy. When we actually do connect the dots, it usually happens when we’re not even thinking of connecting them. But those of us who curate content on diverse topics (new terminology for sharing content), have a higher possibility of connecting more dots because we engage with more information. And the wider the better.
I remember when I first started using Twitter, my main areas of focus were (and still are) technology, social media, gadgets, marketing, design, UX, innovation, psychology, management and leadership. Naturally, one sees a connection between all these topics and how they all play a role in a company’s ability to innovate. But do you see a connection between other topics such as biology, physics, celebrity gossip, pop culture, etc, etc, etc? Most likely you don’t.
The point is that: Diversity breeds innovation.
But it’s not as simple as it sounds. You also need to engage and talk with diverse types of people who work in different domains. Social networks make this part a lot easier than before but there’s nothing like face-to-face conversations or even a phone call. And as a product manager, this is also why you always need to involve your team members to get their perspectives and expertise, and especially talk to as many customers as you can to learn about their challenges, goals and pain points.
It is the connection between these conversations and observations where strategic insights are born.
Remember: The more diverse knowledge the brain possesses, the more connections it can make when given fresh inputs of knowledge, and fresh inputs trigger the associations that lead to novel ideas.
The Strategic Third Eye
Don’t worry; you are not alone!
It is known that us humans have what’s called attention blindness, the basic feature of the human brain that means when we concentrate intensely on one task, we miss almost everything else happening around us. This feature of our brains, makes us blind to good ideas. And because no single person can see everything, we must organize ourselves in a way that everyone has a say at the table.
No one person ever sees the whole picture. Our brains aren’t built that way. But as a group, we can select the right partners and the right tools to distribute expertise and assignments to compensate for what we lack. My organization calls this method “collaboration by difference.”
Look at it this way, if you’re making connections and have drawn them up on a board, wiki, mind map or document; it’s time you bring in some fresh eyes to look at your connections and see what they see. These set of fresh eyes should be people from diverse backgrounds that don’t know anything about your current project.
And if you are (with) an organization where the customer perspective is not always key anymore: One good practice is to cultivate and establish an outside network of people who can aid you to generate strategic insights. These unrelated connections should spark new questions and observations that have not foreseen. Call this group your Strategic Third Eye, because that’s exactly what they’ll be to counter attention blindness.
There is an untapped element of surprise when “connecting the dots” in the offline world. People are still not used to being “wowed” either offline or online. And even when they sometimes feel a slight moment of delight, they adapt really quickly and raise the bar, expecting that from any future engagement they have with another product or organization. Again, this is an ongoing opportunity to change expectations and you need to do it consistently. So, make sure you and your team members will Always Be Connecting Dots.
What are you doing to connect the dots and delight your users?