‘As 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.”’ – Michael Simmons
Michael Simmons shows that Jobs had the ability to be a member of many networks, meaning that he was often the outsider, but this gave him a larger perspective than someone in a closed network, where everyone knows each other. Successful people, according to network theory, are those with more open networks. This goes against our tribal instincts and the norms of most of our institutions. Even the marketplace can be fairly homogeneous, with companies sticking to industry standard practices. But innovation often happens on the edges of disciplines. Jobs instinctively knew this with his innate curiosity.
If we cannot connect the dots looking forward, what can we do? In complex systems, self-organization can give the flexibility needed to adapt to things we cannot ever fully understand.
“Self organization works by a combination of attractors and boundaries. Attractors are things that draw components of a system towards themselves (gravity wells, a pile of money left on the ground, an invitation). Boundaries (or constraints) are barriers that constrain the elements in a system (an atmosphere, the edges of an island, the number of syllables in a haiku).” – Chris Corrigan
A discipline like PKM is one way of preparing the mind for life in the network era. Gary Klein, in Seeing What Others Don’t, looked at over 100 cases of how new insights occurred in organizations and categorized them as five main types. Three of these can be enhanced through the practice of personal knowledge mastery:
- Making better and more diverse professional and social connections.
- Increasing the chances for coincidences though social networks.
- Practising curiosity through new experiences.
Chance favours the prepared and connected mind. Only then will the dots have an opportunity to connect.