In his book, How Innovation Works, Matt Ridley adeptly captures an idea that I’ve struggled to articulate well:
“Serendipity plays a big part in innovation, which is why liberal economies, with their free-roving experimental opportunities, do so well. They give luck a chance.”
Later, he described how nuclear energy has not advanced nearly as far as other areas, like electronics, because not many folks want to give luck a chance with nuclear since because of the risk.
In a world where improving requires trial-and-error, failure, learning and luck, nuclear energy remains in a state close to where it started because it does not have the luxury of errors and failure.
I’ve witnessed this same limitation in many organizations. Managers of mature companies, for example, too often think their job is to keep the company healthy by using their skill to beat the odds, rather than to play the odds. So, they squelch trial-and-error in the company in favor of their grand plans. They don’t give luck a chance. The thought of admitting that the future of the company depends on a bit of serendipity seems like madness to them.
Sometimes they are lucky to beat the odds, but more often the house wins and they leave the business less healthy than where they started.
Those in charge of US Soccer also do not give luck a chance, while soccer federations in other countries do. I believe that’s the the #1 or #2 reason why U.S. men’s soccer has trouble cracking the top 10 and has to generally rely heavily on dual citizens, that as a product of their dual citizenship spent good chunks of their lives in those soccer environments that do give luck a chance.
A huge eye opener in my early days in soccer was how dual citizens seemed well over-represented at the top of our player pool. That was the first hint something was up and I believe Ridley’s view helps explain why.