Using networks to solve complex problems

Most of us would agree that winning the US presidency is a complex issue, and one that requires a constantly adapting approach. One of the interesting stories behind the Obama’s win is that of a man most of us have never heard of; Jim Messina.

I read this article with interest, particularly in relation to his use of a powerful network not just for fund-raising but also for information and expertise. Messina is a smart man but he knew there were areas of the campaign in which other people had better expertise than him, so he called them. He drew on the knowledge of Eric Schmidt (CEO of Google) and Steve Jobs on how to use technology to analyse all the data he was collecting. Anna Wintour (Vogue Editor) helped him use Obama branded merchandise to fund-raise and Hollywood producer Stephen Spielberg gave advice on the messages that would get the attention of the voters.

This is a great example of using diverse perspectives and a network of people to solve a complex issue. Whilst most of us don’t have the connections of the US White House we do have a network of employees, colleagues, peers, friends and family who all have things they can contribute.

As a senior leader, sometimes we feel that we should have all the answers. This puts us under a lot of pressure to solve everyone’s problems. Instead, we should see our role as a facilitator, as someone who can tap into a network of people who can help you and your business solve the complex problems you face. Instead of doing it all yourself, you should be tapping into the wisdom of your network.

Leaders tend to spend most of the time with people we work with, or within our industry. What Jim Messina shows us is the value of connecting with people from outside your normal sphere. Get connected to people who will see the world differently and you’ll find that they will often help you come up with those creative ideas that will give your company a competitive edge. This is also the reason why cities such as London, New York and Berlin work as creative centres. There are lots of people in close proximity sharing and exchanging ideas.

When I’m coaching senior executives, this is an area I always ask them about. Who do they talk to, where are they getting their new ideas from? If you’re stuck in a rut with your network it’s time to get out and renew some connections and your ideas.