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By drake.baer | 09-04-2012 | 8:00 AM
9 Moments Of Career-Making Serendipity
Numa Numa Makes A Pop Hit
The First Night I Dreamt Of Edward Cullen
Who Are You Wearing? Diane Von Furstenberg
Howard Schultz Bumps Into Brilliance
Perfecting Cake Takes Many Tries
Less Shark, More Jaws
George Shot First
Aheda Zanetti Invents The Burquini
Marcus Samuelsson's State Dinner Strategy
Unexpected and career-altering shifts are at the center of The Click Moment, Frans Johansson’s book about randomness--and serendipity--in business. Fast Company has gathered nine more examples of click moments, along with advice from the author as to how to generate them in our professional lives.
In 2004, a pop group called O-Zone released a song “Dragostea din tei” in Romania. It caught fire in Europe that summer: it was recorded in a dozen languages, and, at one point, five versions of the track simultaneously made French top 20. Yet they could not pierce the U.S. market--that is, until a Gary Brolsma, a Staples employee in New Jersey, made a video of himself singing to the track. He posted the video online, linked his friends, and shortly became the Numa Numa Guy. Now the video is believed to be the most watched in the history of the Internet, with more than 1 billion people having seen it. It became one of the first viral videos, and in so doing, helped make “Dragostea din tei” a hit in the US as well--a success that was totally unpredictable.
Stephenie Meyer woke from a dream one summer morning: a boy and a girl were talking in a meadow surrounded by forest. They were in love, but there was great tension as the boy, a vampire, thirsted for her blood. “As soon as I had a free moment, I sat down at the computer and started writing so I wouldn’t forget it,” Meyer said in an interview. Soon she had completed a 498-page novel. The protagonists? Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. At the urging of her sister, she sent the manuscript out, to be ignored and rejected by all but one publisher. Yet Twilight would become one of the bestselling books of all time--and before that, Meyer had never been published. Meyer’s rapid success illustrates one of Johansson’s main theories: that in games that have shifting rules, success can be achieved with little preparation. “She has achieved incredible success without even a fraction of the skill and hard work that someone like Serena Williams has put in(to tennis),” Johansson writes, since fiction is without a fixed ruleset--unlike tennis, but like business.
In 1972, the then-President’s daughter, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, set out to give a speech, but first had to choose what to wear. “I was always looking for clothing that traveled well and felt soft and comfortable, plus allowed me to move around quickly and freely.” she told Johansson. She decided on a casual skirt from Lord and Taylor and a matching wrap top. Her speech was televised--and the skirt’s designer, Diane von Furstenberg, tuned into watch. Seeing the matched top and bottom, von Furstenberg had an insight: why not turn the paired pieces into a dress? “The dress was nothing, really--just a few yards of fabric with two sleeves and a wide wrap sash,” Diane said. But it turned into a sensation: her business grew by 600% in the first year; by 1977, she was shipping more than 25,000 units a week. Yet by 1978 her dresses and DVF suddenly vanished from the scene, victim to fashionable forces beyond her control. “We can’t escape the role randomness plays in our success or failure, but we can utilize its tremendous and enduring power,” Johansson writes. And a lucky break came again for von Furstenberg: in the ‘90s she returned to New York to discover that college girls were pulling her old dresses off vintage racks. She re-launched her clothing line and now has shops in 65 countries.
In 1983, Howard Schultz, then Director of Retail Operations and Marketing for Starbucks, went to Milan to attend an international housewares show. The Seattle company was not yet ubiquitous; they were still in the business of beans and homebrew equipment. Schultz took a break from the conference schedule to sample the local flavors, and discovered that the Italian’s city’s cafés were packed. Sipping a latte, he realized that people weren’t drinking coffee because of the equipment used, but because of communal experience--that was the business for Starbucks, a Most Creative Company. “It was like an epiphany,” he wrote in his autobiography. “It was so immediate and physical that I was shaking.” How did Schultz stumble upon this insight? He took his eye off the ball. “As ironic as it may sound, it actually pays to schedule time to do something unscripted and unplanned,” Johansson writes, with a suggestion. “Leave some flexibility in your schedule. Then, make sure you use the flexibility to explore something unrelated to what you are doing or follow up on a curious idea you have been considering.”
When Jon Payson and Naomi Josepher decided to open a chocolate café in Park Slope, Brooklyn, the knew they wanted to make the perfect chocolate cake. To that end, they tasted every chocolatey cake in New York, but none lived up to their ideals. They themsleves experimented but couldn’t get it right: the bitterness levels, sugar ratios, and the other elements of perfection escaped them for nearly a year: "It had to slide right off the fork and bring indescribable pleasure," Payson told Johannson. Johansson notes that Payson and Jospher made great use of one of The Click Moment’s main strategies: to make numerous small bets--what businessy folks call iteration--until a hit happens. Still, failing again and again gets old; it was passion that sustained Payson and Josopher through their confectionary misadventures. For Johansson, passion is the ultimate metric for potential, as “it gives us a sense of how much a person or team is willing to go through in order to become successful.”
Steven Spielberg really wanted to show the shark in Jaws--it was the title of the film after all--but no matter how much money was poured in, the predator was broken. And so the director decided channel Alfred Hitchcock: the shark remained hidden, signaled only by the marker barrels he drags around and the signature dun-dun-dun score. The new direction work--Jaws was the first blockbuster. “What all of this suggests is that we should actually pay great attention to unexpected consequences,” Johansson writes. “They indicate that we may have been fortunate enough to encounter something random, something we never would have figured out given even extensive analysis--something that can ultimately set us apart.”
In the original script, Obi-Wan Kenobi was supposed to survive. But midway through shooting Star Wars: A New Hope, George Lucas realized that the Dark Side just wasn’t looking fierce enough, but if Darth Vader killed Obi-wan, the power of the Empire would be obvious. And, with that insight, another followed, as Johansson writes, the elder Jedi’s spirit could become a guide to the young Luke Skywalker. When Alec Guinness, who was playing Kenobi, heard this, he nearly walked off stage. But, thankfully, he stayed the course, and his beyond-the-grave “May the force be with you” has become legendary.
Aheda Zanetti, born in Lebanon, raised in Sydney, was watching her niece play netball, (the Aussie version of basketball), when she had an epiphany. Her niece’s face shone with sweat, and Zanetti thought the overheating was a matter of dress: she realized that if she could create an active garment in the mode of Muslim traditional dress, she’d solve her niece’s problem. Eventually she came up with the Burquini--a head-to-toe swimsuit made with high performance fabric. Once launched, her website was flooded with orders. Now Zanetti has 23 employees and the Burquini is available to order worldwide--quite the serendipitous sequence. Her click moment is an example of what Johansson calls intersectional thinking: the art of combining ideas from different cultures--the further apart, the better. “If you try to combine a bikini with the idea of a sandy beach, for instance, it is going to be difficult to come up with a random or entirely new concept,” he writes. “But if you combine a bikini with a burqa the situation looks very different.”
In a world governed by randomness, setting yourself apart is one of the best bets for success: such was the case for chef Marcus Samuelsson (one of Fast Company's Most Creative People)when he bid to make a state dinner for President Obama in honor of visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Knowing that the other 16 chefs in the running would be cooking within the bounds of White House tradition--French American cuisine had been served at every state dinner since 1874--the fusion-thinking Samuelsson decided to differentiate himself, suggesting a menu of Indian-American dishes, including veggies from Michelle’s backyard garden. “The problem was that I was going head-to-head with 15 other excellent chefs. If we all proposed exceptional, but mostly traditional, menus it would be a crapshoot,” he told Johansson. “They would either accept my separate approach or they wouldn’t. If they liked it…I had no real competition. I would win.” Samuelsson was selected. While he can’t be certain that he could have won by sticking with tradition, Johansson writes that “by rejecting the expected he opened himself up to a number of immediate insights that separated him from his competitors and greatly improved his odds for success.”
Image: Flickr user Giorgio Montersino