How Clusters Can Ignite Innovation and Success

Why does the centuries-old proverb, “Birds of a feather flock together,” have such importance for you and your organization’s long-term results?  Consider the impact on three significant industries by their respective, game-changing goliaths … each a card-carrying member of a cluster.

1. Jay Gould, Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan became industrial titans and financiers of the Gilded Age. They came to power in a time which experienced the most rapid economic expansion in our nation’s history.  It wasn’t necessarily the epitome of a tight knit group, though history shows that they did learn much from one another.

2. From Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 best selling book Outliers, the author suggests that timing is everything. Sun MicroSystems founders Scott McNealy and Bill Joy were born in 1954, while Apple’s Steve Jobs and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates took their first, respective breaths in 1955.  Each was then able to take advantage of the 1960s and early 1970s dawning computer age.  Gathering at local California universities and tech companies (H-P, for example) where coding could be done late at night – and for free! – the boyhood geeks bonded over a shared passion.  They also belonged to the same burgeoning computer clubs, all the while trading ideas and sharing dreams, subsequently forging the aforementioned iconic companies.

3. Finally there’s the film nerds, rule-breakers all. Some are now billionaires.  George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Brain DePalma, Francis Ford Coppola, et al redefined the movie industry in 1970s and ‘80s.  With a passion for “personal filmmaking” and overt disdain for Hollywood’s archaic rules, obsessive control, closed boys’ club and associated elitism, this band of bearded bards rewrote the rules of movie making.  Of the three examples, this troop was as close as brothers, living, drinking and carousing together, all the while becoming unprecedented geniuses in their field.

The Key Point:  An amazing thing happens when people with similar ideals cluster.  They stretch, challenge and celebrate one another other, causing each to grow as professionals and as a community.

How to begin “clustering”

The good news is that timing – when someone is born and their relative age to you – is not a factor within the context I’m proposing.  Rather, the critical success factor is finding others who share a similar, specific and big passion, often pining to fashion “new truths” in an important area or industry – to really shake things up in the name of a better way.

What drives your insatiable need to rupture the status quo?  What are you dying to change?  What are you on the cusp of?  There may already be a cluster that exists, or is just waiting to form.  What are you waiting for?  A decade ago when I challenged the accepted, archaic paradigm of how revenue is produced (sell, Sell, SELL!), landing on senior leadership-driven purpose and demand creation instead, I was shocked at how many people believed what I believed.  To this day, each is a close friend and lifelong partner in crime.

The Secret Ingredient to Effective Clusters

Effective clusters form because of the core, ardent, pattern-breaking passion, not because everyone thinks alike.  How boring would that be?  Embrace thought diversity while ensuring an allegiance to the cause.  Similarly, try to avoid the smartest people – the know-it-alls – as they’re usually “cluster-destructive.”  Would it surprise you to know that the previously mentioned film nerds were not particularly good students?  You want people who will not only support the overarching purpose of the cluster, but will also – collectively – help push the envelope.

The Key to Cluster Sustainability

Forget evolution.  What you seek is revolution!  If nobody hates it, nobody loves it.  Draw a damn line in the sand, and watch the fence-sitters – those who have been waiting (impatiently) for you to lead the movement – be drawn to you like a moth to a flame.  Their respective periscopes are up and scanning the horizon.  How will they find you?  The revolutionary nature of a cluster is its lifeblood and heartbeat.  There’s a oneness in clusters that can be invigorating, compelling you to not only do the best work of your life, but to achieve that which you might have not thought possible.

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Why leadership should trash their current business model, reject popular sales advice, operate like a startup, and leverage the new rules for prosperity to achieve explosive profitable revenue growth (PRG).