Salience and Random Encounters

by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, May 31, 2012

One of my favorite concepts in management is salience - an event or a sign that readily attracts attention and makes the receiver react to it.  As a professor, I always noticed it at the beginning of each semester.  I meet a student for the first(?) time, and I suddenly see him or her 3 or 4 times around campus over the next few days.  I may have seen that student before, but it had no resonance to me, so I ignored that information.  Given we are bombarded with information, what gets our attention?  What is signal and what is noise?

A different sort of salience occurs (and I am not sure it has a name) when I travel - on six out of ten trips, I randomly run into people I know.  A couple of examples:

1.  Several years ago, I was visiting my sister in Austin, TX.  We decided to make a day trip to San Antonio and stop for some barbecue at Kreuz Market in Lockhart.  Ten minutes into eating, in walks a former student.   I've been teaching for 10 years at my current job, and have had a little more than 1600 students register for my classes in that time, with some registering for more than one (since I teach a variety of courses).  What are the odds that I would run into someone I know in this tiny Texas town at that particular time?  Oddly enough, I randomly ran into this same student at the Sweet 16 in Minneapolis a couple years earlier.

2.  This Memorial Day weekend, Mrs. True Faith HR and I were in Minneapolis decided to grab a Juicy Lucy at the 5-8 Club.  A couple bites in, a friend of Appleton walks in with a group of his friends.  Again, what are the odds?

Is it a large social network?  Is it a function of simply growing old, and the number of people you've encountered or impacted has grown so large that these random encounters are simply inevitable?

Louis C.K. has an old joke that goes, "Have you ever seen someone you don't know? Again? It's like God ran out of extras in the movie of your life"

What is capturing your interest right now?  What are you paying attention to? 


That Louis C.K. joke is EXACTLY what went through my head when I started reading. Weird. I wonder if I'll see his jokes everywhere today? I think that would be good. I think.

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