The Hidden Connections


The title of this blog post come from an excellent book of the same name by Fritjof Capra that I would thoroughly recommend to you. However it also seemed appropriate for what I wanted to blog about, namely the value of connections we can make between disparate fields/ sectors/ organisations if we keep a sufficiently open mind to look for them. I think WhatIf call this 'jumping into different streams'.

The theatre director and the neuroscientist

This was prompted by a conversation I was part of yesterday with a theatre director and neuroscientist who were talking about the way they work. I won't name names as they are both very well known in their respective domains and I don't want to make this about specific personalities. However suffice it to say there was a lot more in common between the way they work than I think any of us really expected before hand.

Firstly, both claimed to be in the business of understanding how we observe things. For the director it was all about the way the audience engages with a play, or more importantly doesn't engage i.e. their mind wanders off from time to time. For the neuroscientist it was all about the way the brain processes visual information. But in essence they are trying to understand very similar things, namely how we process visual information.

Secondly, there was a very interesting discussion about the way they both build teams, either creative or scientific. There was a strong emphasis on finding people for their teams with a strong focus on their specialism but without ego. It was generally agreed that ego gets in the way of good group dynamics and it's hard to find the right balance of talent.

Needless to say, they are going to continue their conversation, and who knows it might yet lead to some creative or scientific breakthroughs. I'll keep you posted.

Extreme and not so extreme collaborations

For me the above conversation reinforced my view that there are usually a lot more connections between disparate fields than we can usually see at first glance. Let me give three quick examples. What are the similarities between the following apparently unrelated activities:

  • A theatre and an airline?
  • A F1 racing team and air traffic controllers?
  • An intensive care unit and a F1 racing team?

One way of looking at these examples would be as follows:

  • They are both in the business of selling seats.
  • They are both are in the business of making lots of quick decisions based on complex predictions about the weather, technology and other data. See here for a case study.
  • They are both in the business of operating on/repairing a patient/car in a high pressure environment. See here for a case study.

If we can start to see these hidden connections then there is opportunity to have a meaningful conversation that may lead to genuine insight and learning from another field.

Juggling and peripheral vision

Whilst there are these hidden connections out there it obviously isn't practical to spend your time thoroughly investigating other industries or fields as we all have enough to do already. However coming back to the theatre director and the neuroscientist, I would make the analogy with our peripheral vision. In other words our awareness of literally what is not currently focus.

Interestingly our peripheral vision can be developed – for instance jugglers tend to have better peripheral vision as they don't focus on any of the individual balls, rather they focus on a spot in the middle and the objects all appear in their peripheral vision. For me this is a powerful metaphor for open innovation. Namely if we can tolerate a certain amount of uncertainty, there is real opportunity to create value through engaging with other industries, organisations or groups if only we can make the connections.

Essentially we are all jugglers to a greater or lesser extent and I would argue that we need to improve our peripheral vision of objects, activities or technologies that are developing outside our own domains of expertise. This isn't easy, but it can be developed and it is increasingly important.

What other examples of hidden connections are there (preferably not involving a F1 racing team)? I'd be really keen to gather some other examples in addition to the ones above.  


  1. Very interesting post, Roland. There must be more complex and subtle examples of hidden connections though. The link between an intensive care unit and an F1 racing team being that they both have to do ‘surgery’ in intense conditions seemed rather like two things with obvious similarities, no two wildly different things.
    So I tried to think of an example with more apparently extreme differences between the two domains, and remembered this story from the composer Bruce Adolphe, which is quoted in my book Creative Explorations. Adolphe says:
    I was at a music festival a number of years ago. Because I was there as a composer, I was not directly involved in rehearsals and would sit outside on the porch and listen to the music. This particular day, I happened to be sitting next to someone who turned to me and asked, ‘Aren’t you a composer with the festival?’ ‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘Well,’ he remarked, ‘we both do the same thing, we project abstract thought into a logical format, making it available.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘what kind of music do you write?’ And he answered, ‘I design weapons systems’.
    In my book this quote is used to illustrate the point that creativity comes in a range of forms across the arts and sciences, even though creativity is often pictured as a wholesome arty activity rather than one that connects watercolour painters with missile developers.
    But anyway I thought you might like this ‘hidden connection’ between a composer and a designer of weapons systems.

  2. Re the above example: Theater full of people and an airliner?? Both are enclosed spaces, with all the people sharing the same experience.
    I strongly believe that we are all connected. Knowing, deeply knowing, several different cultures gives you insight into connections that you might miss otherwise.

  3. Nina – thanks for the comment. I agree. 6 bums of separation we call it playfully. In a room full of 23 people there is a better than 50/50 chance of 2 people sharing a birthday (statistically speaking) so imagine what connections exist in a plane or theatre full of 300 people. Enormous untapped potential there I think. R

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