Chance encounters Featured

9:48am EDT July 22, 2002
Youth may be wasted on the young, but growth is certainly not the exclusive domain of fresh upstarts. This year, the 1918 vintage parts supplier Herman Machine, based in Tallmadge, stretched to a new sales level through a synergistic acquisition with Martin Machine.

Determined not to follow the statistics of its downturned industry, Herman Machine represents a new breed of enterprise growing more by agility than agenda.

When Herman’s president, Suzanne Rickard, started to think strategically about her company’s sales potential, she began with the premise that successful growth may be more like a lattice than a ladder. In her consideration of different strategies, Rickard stumbled on a business growth class at Akron University, where a serendipitous encounter with Martin Machine’s president, Rick Martin, led to an unplanned twist in her quest for growth.

She couldn’t have scheduled this conversation any more than she could have forecasted the mutually profitable fit between the partners of this new venture. Rickard is one of many agile leaders who expect that growth is more often about focusing forward to the hyperlinks in our next conversation than looking backward to the details of yesterday’s agenda.

Hers was the lesson of accidental conversations — that the more connected we are, the more potential for new possibilities we create.

Herman is just one of many organizations seeking growth through agility. A recent study by Coopers & Lybrand shows that although 66 percent of the fastest growing U.S. companies have business plans, a meager 25 percent of those follow them closely. What do the vast majority do instead? They prefer growth by agility to growth by agenda.

These stories and statistics invite us to seriously rethink how we go about growth in a world that continuously evolves in surprising ways. No matter how diligently we put plan to paper, new resources and opportunities are continuously evolving in ways we cannot neither predict nor plan.

In practical terms, we can invigorate our growth by considering some of the practices of the new breed of agile browsers and improvisational networkers who have discovered the power of accidental encounters in unleashing new levels of growth:

  • Put people at the top of your list of favorite search engines;

  • Do something every day to increase the bandwidth of your opportunity and resource network;

  • Continuously assess the degree of freedom people in your organization have in their connectivity;

  • Measure the effectiveness of any growth plan on its ability to connect you and your organization to new opportunities and resources;

  • Create common spaces and events in your organization where the serendipity of the informal organization can develop and thrive.

What we have to gain is the intuitive rediscovery that serendipity is as powerful a strategic tool for growth as any other we may have.

Jack Ricchiuto is a certified management consultant and author of “Collaborative Creativity.” His upcoming book, “Accidental Conversations,” is available next month. Contact him at his Web site,