The Smartest Are Not Us

Interview with Alan Gregerman, Author of The Necessity of Strangers, Surrounded by Geniuses, and Lessons from the Sandbox, Part 2
By Vern Burkhardt
‘What we should believe is that “it’s not whom you know but whom you could know” that determines our success.’ The Necessity of Strangers, page 16

You can read Part 1 of this Article [HERE]

Vern Burkhardt (VB): Rather than striving to identify ‘best practices’ should businesses be looking to discover what should be their ‘next practice’?

Alan GregermanAlan Gregerman: Exactly. I like to think about ‘new and better practices’ but ‘next practice’ is a really good way to describe what all of us should be doing.

Here’s an example. Most people now understand, and I think delight in, the idea of ‘fusion cuisine’. Many of us have had enough of Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian, Latin American, or French food. We’re looking for new tastes and the idea of combining some of these different cuisines is appealing. Some restaurants now serve ‘fusion cuisine’ as their unique value proposition. They are finding inspiration from different parts of the world and bringing them together to create something new. For most of us, it’s awesome. It offers new tastes, new possibilities, and new kinds of ingredients.

Think about the ‘next practice’ for your business as being a fusion of your very best thinking and the best thinking of others. It’s about taking ideas from lots of different sources of inspiration, and bringing them together to create something that is new and more meaningful.

VB: What you’ve described is not only getting new ideas from other people, but also using other technologies that people outside your industry have embraced.

Alan Gregerman: Absolutely. We could discuss a couple of examples where the use of YouTube has been a game changer.

It can be as simple as the example of a traditional old-line business that I use in my book – Repair Clinic. They sell and distribute appliance repair parts for most of the leading brands, but they do it way better than anyone else. Appliances that range from refrigerators, dishwashers, stoves, dryers, freezers, and garbage disposals to lawn mowers, chainsaws, dehumidifiers and even furnaces. There are lots of businesses that do this, but what makes Repair Clinic unique is their brilliant use of social media technology – YouTube, in particular – to inject remarkable value into their offerings. In fact, to date they have created roughly 1300 YouTube videos which show regular people repairing their appliances. They use this simple, dynamic, and totally current technology as a way to inspire you to believe that you can repair your own appliances. The message is that when you buy a part from them you have the capability to do your own repair, and this is in a world in which fewer and fewer people actually repair their appliances. These videos show you that you have the capability to do this with a little bit of their help. It is using the power of technology in a compelling way.

Khan Academy is an amazing non-profit organization and another great example of a game changer. It was started by Salman Khan and sparked by a series of tutoring sessions with his niece. During these sessions he imagined how technology could be used to deliver world-class education to any child no matter where they live on earth, provided they had access to the Internet. It’s an amazing business model in which Khan and his team have put up several thousand basic lessons on key things that kids need to know to be literate. Through the Khan Academy students in school systems with limited resources are able to simply log on and learn all kinds of things that could unlock their full potential and reinvent their future prospects.

VB: In addition to the social media’s power to connect us with people from around the world, you advise that the Internet provides the means for companies and other organizations to stand out “by being different in ways that really matter.” How can we determine what really matters?

Alan Gregerman: In line with the two examples I just described, one of the fundamental ideas underlying much of the work I do with our customers and much of my writing is the notion that the smarter you make your customers the more valuable you are to them.

It used to be that most companies based their business models on the notion that they were the experts. They focused on providing whatever their customers needed, and they often kept their customers a little bit in the dark about the product or service they were using. This was tied to an assumption that the more they kept their customers in the dark, and the more ‘mystery’ there was to one’s offerings, the more customers would need and value them. We are living in an era in which customers want to be smarter consumers and users, and even be given the opportunity to be early adopters. If you can make them smarter in the right way, they’re probably going to buy more rather than less from you. In this respect the Internet is a powerful tool, whether it’s YouTube videos that drive people to think in new ways, blogs, discussion forums, company portals, or other social media.

For my company I regularly enhance what we offer online in terms of resources for our customers as well as videos of ideas and of my presentations. I maintain that it’s a powerful thing to do for business development, sales, and marketing. And it keeps you focused on your customers’ needs and wants.

Companies that create meaningful and user-friendly web portals, blogs, newsletters, and other tools as a way to drive the right knowledge to customers are consistently winning in their markets, assuming of course that their products, services, and solutions are valuable. Companies, which deliver ideas, inspiration, and resources that spark their customers to think in new ways, become more relevant to their customers. Companies that offer fun and engaging training online empower their customers to get more value out of the products or services they buy from you. The Internet is a particularly compelling tool for a company to stand out amongst its competitors when combined with a bit of ingenuity.

The Internet is also an inexpensive way to survey some or all of your customers to quickly obtain their input about your products, services, or any other customer-facing aspects of your business. On any given day you can create a survey, and send it out to your customers with either a nice note or an incentive for them to fill it out. You can give them a short time window to complete your survey, and then receive input about how to better meet their needs and wants by improving your business processes and products. You could receive insights which might lead to the development of new products or even a change to your business model. The secret is to make it quick, easy, and fun to fill out.

Its incredible that we all have access to so many possible tools which allow us to share information with existing and potential customers, and to obtain feedback on how to better meet their needs. We didn’t have an easy way to do this 10 or 15 years ago. Today there is powerful shareware available to enable you to do this at minimal cost.

VB: Survey Monkey is a good example. It makes it so easy to do a quick survey of customers or other target groups.

Alan Gregerman: Yes, it’s great.

When I started writing The Necessity of Strangers I created a survey to send out to a cross-section of friends, colleagues and customers around the world. In it I asked them for their insights and perceptions about strangers and the role that strangers could play in our lives. I used Survey Monkey to do this.

VB: And people shared their ideas with you?

Alan Gregerman: They did. All of their inputs were valuable and some gave me fascinating ideas. I wish I could have used them all in the book.

VB: It has been estimated that only 21% of Americans have passports and the numbers traveling overseas has decreased since 2006. Does this concern you given your advice that travel is so important for sparking innovative thinking and action?

Alan Gregerman: It concerns me in a lot of respects. And I’d be curious to know by contrast what percent of Canadians have passports?

VB: It’s a lot higher. Passport Canada, the federal agency that issues passports, has reported that the percentage of Canadians who hold a valid Canadian passport continues to climb, driven by high and growing levels of outbound travel. In 2013, 70 percent of Canadians possessed passports.

Alan Gregerman: My wife is from Sweden and I’m sure most Swedes have passports. It may be partially because they’re close to a lot of other countries.

The situation in the US is somewhat depressing although I’m optimistic that a new generation is seeing the value of connecting with people in other countries. It’s important for all of us as individuals and organizations to travel near and far as a way to open our eyes to new possibilities. To open our eyes to new ideas, new cultures, new business practices, new products and services, and even new market opportunities. To also open our eyes to new sets of talent, whether they are with people we might help to immigrate into our country, or people we collaborate and partner with in whatever country or locale they are located.

Travel is the great liberator. It’s almost impossible to not become more open-minded when you travel provided you do it with an open mindset. Travel is so fundamental. The people who get stuck in a rut are those who have never gone beyond the narrow world that they’ve defined for themselves.

It strikes me that Canadians have an advantage because nobody dislikes them. As Canadians you can go anywhere, and people are going to have positive thoughts about you. I think a lot of Americans believe we are not liked in a lot of different places. In most cases it is more belief than fact. Everywhere I’ve gone people are warm and receptive to foreigners who are interested and curious about them, and who want to learn about their cultures and business practices. This is a long-winded way of saying if you want to really stretch, to grow, and to be open to new ideas, new markets, new people, and new possibilities, travel is fundamental and essential.

The organizations which empower their people to engage in a broader world are the ones that are likely to be successful in the future. Multinational organizations which rotate their people and suggest to them that the way that to develop in their career is to live and work in other cultures are the ones that are going to be much more dynamic, innovative, and stronger.

The statistic about the low proportion of Americans holding passports is disheartening to me, but not totally surprising given the diverse makeup of our country and the growing income and education disparities we face. I do have a bit of a skewed view of the world in this regard, because I live in a highly educated area in which all of my friends travel a fair amount. I don’t know if I have any close friends who haven’t been out of America. But the gift of travel is something that we need to make possible for everyone if we are going to help them to reach their potential and also make the world a more open, collaborative, and safer place.

VB: It is concerning when you combine a lack of exposure through travel with the influence of the mass media – TV, Radio, and newspapers – which tend to be locally focused. Plus a lot of the media stresses sensational news that doesn’t provide a balanced view of the rich diversity of other cultures, and the abundance of positive as compared to negative news stories. This likely exacerbates the impact of a lack of exposure to interesting, radical new ideas.

Alan Gregerman: I think you are right. It seems the media tend to be locally focused because of a belief that local events hit home to people on a day in and day out basis.

Also, whether the media would admit it or not, they are somewhat biased in their coverage of people in other cultures – even other cultures here in our country – and in other parts of the world. This reinforces stereotypes of people in foreign places with the result that we are not as open to their ideas and wisdom as we should be.

When we take the time to get to know new people, even people who seem to be very different that us, we discover how similar we all are. Most care deeply about family, long for a positive future, hope to earn a decent living, need to live and deal with uncertainties, are concerned about the environment, deal with aging, and want to live in peace. Secondly, their differences are more often than not incredibly valuable for gaining new insights and ideas. These differences are not deal breakers. It’s quite the opposite.

VB: When talking about cooking with cow dung briquettes in India you say, “…isn’t that what openness and innovation are all about? Getting past the first bite to seeing and then understanding what others know so well?” Is it all about changing our mindset and learning from others?

Alan Gregerman: The story in my book, which you are referencing, is about a unique and wonderful culinary experience I had during a trip to Northern India. Having seen the local countryside, and even the cityscape, filled with ‘towers’ of dried cow dung, I inquired about their use. I was told the cow dung was cooking fuel for a very special local cuisine. Being curious, I asked if it would be possible to try it, imagining from my western experience that the heated dung would be placed under a grill much like we use charcoal. Instead, the cooking process was done by breaking the red-hot dung into pieces and mixing it with the food in order to cook it. The food was then removed, dusted off, and mixed with some amazing spices. This was rather unique to me but it turned out to be remarkable, both in terms of taste and in giving me a keener appreciation of how people in places with limited resources are able to use everything available to not only get by but also to produce a creative cuisine. Of course, I had to be open to taking the first bite. It was a bite that reinforced for me the challenge and power of taking the first step to meet strangers and experience their customs.

The challenge for all of us is to not allow ourselves to become too comfortable in our mindset. We need to be willing to try new things and be open to new ideas, whether it’s what we eat and read or the activities we undertake. The challenge is to try things that are new, to take the first step as we did when we were kids and put our toe in the water. As kids the first step was always the difficult thing, but most often we were willing to take it and then before we knew it we were running to the next puddle to jump into it. Then we were diving into swimming pools. We have to take the first step with anything that’s new if we believe it might hold the opportunity for us to learn and grow. We have to realize that the rewards of taking the first step are going to outweigh our initial discomfort.

Personally, I’m open to trying out a lot of things as long as they don’t involve heights because I’m deathly afraid of heights. I have to admit my family did talk me into zip lining in Costa Rica, and I was simply terrified. But at some point I began to love the experience and the feeling of overcoming my fears – at least for that one day! Other than that limitation, I am convinced that we learn and grow when we’re willing to try new things. Each of us will determine our comfort level and the areas of life in which we’re willing to try new things.

I like to use my zip-line story to give people the message that wonderful things happen when we commit to stretching, growing, and trying new things. And that life ought to be about learning, growing, and pushing ourselves a bit to the edge, although not to put us at risk. We need to push ourselves in directions that cause us to question the things we believe in and the assumptions we make, and to broaden our perspectives. This is the heart of what I want people to think about, and it’s why strangers are so vitally important to us – especially strangers who are very different than we are.

VB: Sometimes it may not be bad if we do put ourselves a bit at risk.

Alan Gregerman: I think so, as long as it is not life-threatening risk.

VB: Are people responding positively to the messages in your book?

Alan Gregerman: They seem to be. The reviews so far have been really positive. It has been encouraging to receive emails and letters from people around the world telling me that the book has encouraged them to make a greater effort to connect with strangers.

For the last three and a half months since the book was published I’ve been speaking to audiences all over North America. I was in Edmonton, Alberta recently speaking to a large health care audience. I’ll be going to Europe in a couple of months to share my ideas. And each day seems to bring new connections from people who have discovered the book.

Hopefully, more and more people will see the potential value that strangers – and especially people who are very different from us – can play in all aspects of our lives. Certainly this is the case in the workplace. It’s also the case in any civic initiative where people are trying to make their communities more healthy and vibrant for all of its residents. As we’ve discussed, strangers are also an important aspect of social life, and of broadening your mental horizons and tolerance for differences.

VB: Do you have any advice for people and organizations who have not been able to face the challenge of being “willing to take the first step” to be open to new people, ideas, and possibilities?

Alan Gregerman: I have a few ideas.

If this is really tough for you, then I suggest that you begin by going to places which are filled with interesting strangers.

If you’re ill at ease about taking the first step to strike up a conversation with people you encounter, just be open to somebody else taking the first step.

Go to events and meetings that are filled with people with new and different ideas.

Go to activities in your city or community that you think are going to be interesting.

Volunteer to do something where you think that you can make a difference. And then by virtue of connecting with people, you have at least taken the first step of putting yourself in a place where you’re around strangers.

Try sitting at a bench or table in a bustling part, or standing in line for something, and striking up a conversation with the person in front or behind you.

Or simply smile and that will encourage someone else to connect with you. And as soon as a conversation begins you will likely find you have things in common, can share experiences, or exchange ideas.

Upon meeting strangers I suggest you don’t do what most people do – at least in the US – where we seem to have things backwards. Too often we have a tendency to immediately ask what someone does for a living. It’s as if we are trying to quickly size up whether or not they are worth getting to know by the work they do. Instead, we need to take a totally opposite view and realize that everyone is worth knowing and appreciating as a person first, because we can learn something from anyone else on the planet.

You should strive to make a more human connection. This means getting to know the stranger you meet as a person, trying to find some things you have in common and trying to understand that person’s perspective – especially if it is different. In this way you will learn from the strangers you meet, and it will have nothing to do with what they do at work. After discovering some things you share in common and having learned from them in interesting and unexpected ways, over time you can learn about what line of work they are in. This will take a lot of pressure off you and the people you meet and build a basis for a more meaningful connection.

VB: Do you have any special advice for people who are shy or introverted?

Alan Gregerman: Start by simply signing up for things that sound interesting and valuable to you.

Become involved in activities where you are likely to find other introverted folk, some extroverted folks, and a bunch of folks in between. And where some of the people will have the same concerns as you. You can even begin by saying to them, “You know, I’m like a fish out of water here. This is not my most comfortable place. Tell me about yourself. What brings you here? What are the things that you’re most interested in?”

A good thing to do is go to conferences which include meals as part of the program, because you will have the opportunity to sit with some other people who are likely to introduce themselves. By virtue of this approach, meeting people should be less stressful and you’ll begin to connect with others.

The other piece of advice is, if you attend an event such as a conference with a colleague or someone you know well, don’t sit beside them during the presentations and meals. Sit beside strangers.

VB: When you were addressing a group in Las Vegas you said that Surrounded by Geniuses, the book you published in 2010 was, in your mind, the finest book ever written. Do you think it’s the second finest book now that you’ve published The Necessity of Strangers?

The Necessity of StrangersAlan Gregerman: I have joked about this after the publication of each of my books. I’ve enjoyed researching and writing all three of them. And I always say this with tongue in cheek as a way to break down the barriers between speakers and audiences. But as an avid reader I am particularly fond of a lot of books – most of which I haven’t written.

I am excited about the fact that The Necessity of Strangers has the potential to spur people to do some things that will connect them with strangers, and make their businesses and lives more successful. I’m also hopeful that in some small way it will make the world a little bit better and more connected. So in that sense this is my favorite book right now.

I loved Surrounded by Geniuses, which was the winner of the Axiom Award as one of the best leadership books in 2008. It aimed to show companies and organizations how to unlock compelling value by bringing out the 'hidden genius' in all of their people and using the power of individual and collective genius to deliver more effective products and services to customers.

Right now I am keen to spread the message in my most recent book. The timing is great for this message, and I’m passionate about getting these ideas out to people who could benefit from more interaction with strangers. So on reflection, right now I would say The Necessity of Strangers is my favorite of the three books!

VB: On your website for Venture Work Inc. you talk about business consultation reinvented. Do you want to share what you mean by this?

Alan Gregerman: I appreciate the opportunity to do so.

There are a number of elements to what we do as a consulting firm that relate to what we have been talking about. The heart of it is having a different relationship with our clients. It’s a relationship that is driven by helping them reach their full potential as organizations, and helping them to unlock the full potential of all of the individuals in their organizations.

We have a different consulting model. It’s based on inspiring people to be curious, find brilliance in the world around them, and combine this with what they know best – their expertise – in order to be more successful. It focuses on helping people be more open in the way they think about things, and how they look at problems and opportunities. It is also focused on getting people out of the office to see and experience a world filled with remarkable ideas and possibilities. This has been the basis of why I think we’ve had success as an innovation-consulting firm.

The other thing is we take on only a limited number of assignments each year. For each of those assignments my great passion is not to be the traditional consulting firm which often does an analysis, delivers a written report, and says, ‘Go ahead and implement it’. We’re not a firm that simply does some coaching for managers or executives, and then leaves people to apply the advice on their own. We roll up our sleeves, hang out with our clients, and live with the people in the organization. We get to know our client’s business in-depth so we can help them leverage their best thinking with the best thinking of the world around them.

I have a project right now where I’m working with a group of automobile dealers and, in particular, I’m focused on helping their service technicians re-invent their service process. I’ve spent a lot of time working with the dealerships, learning how they repair cars, and even working on cars.

I had an assignment a few years ago to help turn around a company that was in the vending machine business. They made $130 million a year selling food items out of several thousand vending machines. In order to understand their business, I spent a week driving a delivery truck, working side-by-side with their employees, and serving their customers. I arrived at their warehouse at 2 a.m. to load my truck, run a route, fill vending machines, collect money, talk to customers, and get a sense of how they might deliver healthier, more nutritious, and more valuable food items to customers who relied on their vending machines.

I love business and I love to get to the place where I more fully understand our clients’ businesses so I can help them to figure out how to deliver their services better, and in the process be different in ways that really matter.

This is kind of a long way of saying that there are two core things which make us a bit different. We work hard to open people’s minds and receptivity to many new ideas, and help them learn how to obtain lots of new and powerful ideas by searching in unlikely places.

Second, we’re willing to make the effort to gain a deep understanding of our client’s business processes, value proposition, approach to customer service, revenue generation, and all other aspects of their business model in order to effectively help solve their problems.

VB: When you said you roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty, you meant it.

Alan Gregerman: But it is really a lot of fun. After all, the best way for all of us to add value is to understand our customer’s world, and then help them to understand how to be more remarkable in the broader world they operate within.

VB: You’re President and founder of Passion for Learning, Inc. Would you talk about this project. It sounds like a mission to help America’s children be successful.

Alan Gregerman: About 14 years ago I, like many others, was worried about the fact that our schools weren’t connecting with and inspiring all of our community’s kids. This was especially the case with kids in low-income families where their parents lacked the time, education, resources, comfort level, or ability to support their children’s learning.

My fundamental notion was that for a community and a society to succeed and prosper, we needed to view all of the kids in our community as being our kids. We all needed to take responsibility for making sure every child is as successful as possible. So I brought together 100 people in our community to think about the potential of all kids in our community, and what role we could play in furthering their learning process. What could we do to encourage them to be successful and passionate about school and learning new things in life in general? The result of a series of conversations led to a commitment to create an organization which would focus on inspiring at-risk kids. The focus is on helping middle school kids find joy in learning, and encouraging them to strive to find their voice.

There are two elements to our program. The first is what we call the Young Writers Academies. In this part of our work we bring in a team of professional writers from all walks of life and genres to work with middle school kids to show them the magic of communicating through the written or spoken word. We bring in novelists, poets, playwrights, marketing writers, journalists, and rap artists to work with the students.

The other part is called Digital Literacy or DigLit. The goal is to also help kids find their voice, but in the digital world, by exposing them to the power of using today’s technology as a way to communicate their ideas, to find their voice, and to share the magic of the story that they have to tell.

These programs are now offered in 10 schools where we work with about 300 kids each year. Of course, we are always hoping to expand and be more valuable to the students and families we serve.

It’s all about giving kids a learning experience that enables them to step beyond the traditional classroom environment which seems more geared to learning facts and taking tests. And creating a place where they can discover the power that learning can offer while enabling them to grow and develop greater confidence in the fact that they have something important to say.

VB: Has it been your experience that Young Writers Academies and DigLit are making a difference to their lives?

Alan Gregerman: We certainly hope so. What is exciting is that we now have our first generation of kids who are about to graduate from college. And we hope that in some small way our programs have helped them to appreciate and unlock their unique potential.

VB: This is in Montgomery County?

Alan Gregerman: Yes. Montgomery County, Maryland, which borders on Washington, D.C. and has about a million residents. A significant proportion of the population are either low income or recent immigrants, mostly from South and Central America, but there also are immigrants from the Caribbean, Africa, South Asia, and lots of different places where English is not their primary language.

VB: In the past were communication and digital literacy skills holding them back from meeting their full potential?

Alan Gregerman: Communication and digital literacy skills are important for all of us. For the kids our programs often go beyond this to address the problem that the education system doesn’t connect and help them find meaning in learning and find their own voice. By helping them to see learning in a different light, and by focusing on nurturing their self-confidence about their ability to express themselves well, we are trying in some modest way to help them to see themselves as capable lifelong learners.

VB: Do you have any final comments about The Necessity of Strangers?

Alan Gregerman: You’ve asked some great questions, and I really appreciate the chance to connect with your audience. I would love it if your readers would be willing to read my book, and get back to me with their thoughts about it. I would love to know about the ideas and advice they like, the things I’ve missed, and what they think is off-target. Also, I would be delighted to receive ideas that I should be thinking about as I move forward in trying to inspire people to connect with strangers.

And, as a bit of an incentive to buy my book, I’m offering an unconditional guarantee of satisfaction. If they buy the book and don’t find value in it, just let me know and I will glady – or sadly – refund their money. It’s an idea I learned from a fellow from the town of Freeport, Maine, named L.L. Bean who built one of the most respected companies in American business history based on this simple and important notion.

VB: It’s an enticing guarantee.

Alan Gregerman: I’d just like people to be thinking about these ideas and sharing them with their colleagues.

Conclusion:

Alan Gregerman suggests that we reflect on all the times a stranger has made a significant difference in our lives. And yet, when we need answers to difficult problems or want to obtain new ideas we often don’t think about how strangers could help us.

The author points out that our mindset predetermines how likely it is that we will reach our full potential as individuals and as organizations. We have a choice when faced with any challenge or opportunity. We can assume the inner circle of people we know best have the necessary knowledge and skills to deal with it. Or we can approach it with the view that we don’t have all the answers, and although we may be able to come up with a solution, our solution may not be as effective or remarkable as could be provided by people we don’t presently know – from strangers.

It is useful to reflect on why many don’t tend to look outside their inner circle of friends and colleagues for new ideas. Alan Gregerman explains that we are wired to be somewhat adverse to strangers. Many parents tell their young children to avoid talking with strangers. The stated or implied message is that strangers are more likely to do you harm than to be of value to you. So strangers are to be avoided. Add to this the fact that people become educated and receive on the job training to become ever more of an expert in their field. And because experts interact and collaborate with other known experts to solve challenges, the thought often doesn’t occur to them that strangers may have a different perspective, process, or approach to doing something – a better way.

Dr. Gregerman also advises, “Ninety-nine percent of all new ideas are based on an idea or practice that someone or something else has already had.” Does it remind you of the TRIZ inventive problem solving methodology, which is based on the fact that all patented inventions can be explained by 40 inventive principles? Does it remind you that some at Kraft Foods estimate that 98% of all food-related intellectual property exists outside their company, Proctor and Gamble says there are 200 times more experts in relevant fields outside their company than inside, and leaders at General Mills say that employees must see the world as their lab, not the lab as their world? Does it remind you of the benefits of technology scouting and Open Innovation, which enables organizations to benefit from the expertise of strangers?

Alan Gregerman’s bio:
Dr. Alan Gregerman: is President and Chief Innovation Officer of VENTURE WORKS Inc., a consulting firm based in the Washington, D.C. area that helps leading companies and organizations to develop winning strategies and create successful new products, services, ventures, and new ways of doing business. His customers are a wide range of Fortune 500 corporations, growing firms, start-ups, and nonprofits.

Before starting VENTURE WORKS, he was Director of Entrepreneurial Services for a national consulting firm, Special Assistant for Operations at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the first Visiting Scholar in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Library of Congress. He has also worked as a mapmaker, subway mechanic, and hotel housekeeper.

Alan Gregerman earned his B.A. (magna cum laude) in geography from Northwestern University, and his M.A. in economic geography and Ph.D. in urban and technological planning, with highest honors, from the University of Michigan. In his free time, he is founder and President of Passion for Learning, Inc., where he is involved in efforts to build innovative partnerships between the business community and low-income schools to make curriculum come alive for at-risk children.

Alan Gregerman is the author of The Necessity of Strangers: The Intriguing Truth about Insight, Innovation, and Success (2013), Surrounded by Geniuses: Unlocking the Brilliance in Yourself, Your Colleagues and Your Organization (2010), and Lessons from the Sandbox: Using the 13 Gifts of Childhood to Rediscover the Keys to Business Success (2000).

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