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Runoff

 

Water, I think, is the most amazing substance we know. Bar none. It has properties no other substance has and it is arguably the very stuff of life.

Water flows in channels. We call these channels rivers, streams, creeks, and so on. Water responds to gravity and drifts downward, slowly, in the controlled grooves of habit and centuries. That's what water does.

But when there is too much water, say, after an abundance of rain, the water swells in its familiar - even controlled - channels and while it threatens to spill over the banks of the channel that contains it, it's somewhat rare for a flood to occur in any given area. Floods are not habitual. Repetitive in great infrequency, perhaps, but the flood is an uncommon act.

Flood is a loss of control. Sometimes, people know from history how the water re-channels when a flood occurs. And so they seek to steer it. They create spillways and emergency canals. When chaos erupts, it quickly subsides due to careful planning. The flood and its violent threat become... a harmless runoff. Tragedy averted.

Entrepreneurs and economists and politicians should study flood management. All of these folks are in the business of flow dynamics. The only difference is that water can't buck gravity. But if a crowd or money can begin in one well-defined and frictionless groove, then they'll likely continue - like water flowing downriver.

What happens though when there is a swell? Where does the runoff go?

We think about this in terms of phone systems and lobby design and change / release management, but we don't think about it in terms of competitor collapse. We're not prepared for sudden chaotic victory. (Iraq is a great example of this - we won and then what was the plan? It took a few years before we recognized Petraeus' genius with this.) We're not prepared to notice or care about that slow trickle toward a disruptive innovation.

And I'm not sure that we're able to really track flow. Outside of our own org and - to a lesser degree - our industry, where does it all go?

In this surprising time, isn't an awareness of the flow around us critically important? Because crowds and rivers of money often choose paths we didn't intend, like water. We don't expect water to buck gravity, but somehow we expect anti-gravity when it comes to people. We forget that we aren't the only attractive body in the system.

And I think this is the reason that people who focus on what ought to be and fight for that meet only marginal success. They should instead recognize what they can't control and simply, "Go with the flow."

 


by Brett Rogers, 9/15/2008 2:26:50 PM
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