Monday, July 22, 2013

Tuesday Interview - Frans Johansson on the Randomness of Success

Join me Tuesday, July 23rd, for a live and interactive conversation with Frans Johansson, author, entrepreneur, and innovation thought leader.

The Click Moment, Fran's most recent book, argues the provocative and counterintuitive idea that "success is random—far more random than we would like to believe." While the book is focused on the business world, I couldn't help but find striking similarities with the stories we tell about student school success.

In the book, Frans tells the story of a rock, paper, scissors (RPS) world championship. While mathematically the best possible chance for winning in RPS is throwing random "hands," the person who ultimately wins has almost always been following some particular strategy. While all the other strategies at a competition obviously did not succeed, the strategy of the winner is easily mistaken--by virtue of the winning--for being a correct or valuable strategy. It's not, of course, but it appears so especially to the winner. Success strategies, Frans argues, are almost always post-success simplifications of actual events, attributing to conscious plans what was often chance and randomness.

Let's take those who succeed in school. Do they work hard? Yes, mostly. Are they good people? Largely. Is their success in school actually the result of their independent individual hard work and goodness? Or how much of that success had to do with their family, their neighborhood, particular interactions with caring adults, or even the financial ability to not work and focus on school? I did a massive game of RPS with an audience in Colorado recently, and then made this same connection with student success versus the elephant-in-the-room factors which enable it, and was very suprised to sit across the table at lunch with an administrator who still said, "Well, the top ten percent will always bubble up."

Part of what bothers me about this idea of "the top ten percent" it's casual dismissal of our responsibility to see the inherent potential and worth of every student. Not that this administrator hasn't worked hard his whole career, and I'm certain he's done much good. But telling a story of student success as predetermined and not subject to random (outside the student's control) factors just doesn't seem accurate or fair. The other aspect of it that bothers me is the idea that our system truly serves about 10% of the students, and the rest are there to--what?--be labeled as having failed to learn? Unfortunately, I think that is a message that our institutions of learning send to most students.

I know there are deeper ideas here, and that I haven't even touched on the purpose of education, and whether what we see as success in school is actually "success" or just the ability to manage and perform well in a system that values conformity and compliance (which would play even more into randomness and chance than a system that valued agency and self-determination). Frankly, Frans is being generous to come on an education interview show and to allow me to stretch his ideas into this arena. But if recent studies I've read are even close (half of all US students are held back at least one year in school, and 25% end up dropping out, and 9% are medicated), then can we question the story we tell of success in school, and is it as flawed as it is in business? If so, what do we do?

The conclusion in the business world for achieving success, according to Frans, means "capturing the randomness and focusing it in our favor." We'll talk about what he means by that, and then we'll explore what that might look like in a learning environment.

Date: Tuesday, Juy 23rd, 2013
Time: 5pm Pacific / 8pm Eastern (international times here)
Duration: 1 hour
Location: In Blackboard Collaborate (formerly Elluminate). Log in at The Blackboard Collaborate room will be open up to 30 minutes before the event if you want to come in early. To make sure that your computer is configured for Blackboard Collaborate, please visit the support and configuration page.
Recording:  A full Blackboard Collaborate recording is at and an audio mp3 recording is at and at

Frans Johansson is an author, entrepreneur, and innovation thought leader who has spoken to audiences worldwide. He leads The Medici Group with the same passion, force, and energy he exhibits in his highly rated keynotes. He founded The Medici Group to move beyond simply inspiring through his talks, and instead work hands on with clients to help drive innovative growth and business transformation.

His debut, THE MEDICI EFFECT, was an international bestseller that shattered assumptions about how great ideas happen. His follow up book, THE CLICK MOMENT, obliterates the idea that in business you can plan, strategize, and analyze your way to success.

Frans has been featured on CNN’s AC360, ABC’s Early Morning Show, and CNBC’s The Business of Innovation series. Raised in Sweden by his African-American/Cherokee mother and Swedish father, Frans has lived all his life at The Intersection™. Prior to The Medici Group, he founded a software company, a healthcare firm, and a hedge fund. He has written articles on healthcare, information technology, and the science of sport fishing. Frans earned his B.S. in Environmental Science from Brown University and his M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

Follow Frans on Twitter at @Frans_Johansson. (Bio from Medici Group website.)

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