Minds collide in ‘Odd Pairings’ event

It’s a question Mark Turrell often asks when demonstrating the law of abundance: In a large group of people, what do you think the odds are that someone in the room has the same birthday as you?

Scanning the crowd of 280+ people gathered at the Liberty Hotel ballroom Tuesday, Turrell asked for a show of hands for March 3 – his birthday. But no one expected his co-presenter, Boston Globe photographer Bill Brett, to be the one raising his hand.

It was one of many laughs shared at Boston World Partnerships’ gala anniversary event. The gathering put Turrell and Brett together for an “Odd Pairings Experiment” that led to discussions about the lenses through which we view the world.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who chairs Boston World Partnerships, opened the evening’s festivities with an overview of how the organization has gained momentum over the past year, helping Boston businesses attract top talent and “grow like crazy.”

“Jobs move the economy,” Menino said. “As [Boston World Partnerships] scales up the work, the benefits will get better.”

Hoping to encourage that growth was moderator Sangita Chandra, an Emmy award-winning journalist from WCVB-TV channel 5, Boston’s ABC affiliate. Chandra first introduced Brett, an award-winning journalist in his own right whose Boston roots shine through the stories he weaves. In describing his work, Brett never says he takes photos – he makes them.

“I’ve had a front-row seat to history,” Brett said. “It’s always before the event or after the event that the real pictures are made.”

He shared photos of actor Morgan Freeman shooting a movie at the Boston Public Garden, the Red Sox winning the American League Championship in 2004, and the Nutcracker at the Orpheum Theater. The faces of the people he’s captured told their own story about the diversity of the city – and diversity is something Turrell knows well.

As the CEO of Imaginatik, Turrell has poured much of his time and energy into researching how diverse crowds function. His pioneering work has produced what we know as Collective Intelligence, an emerging field of study quickly eclipsing business intelligence as a priority in corporate cultures.

He said he’s trying to lead a “journey that’s deep and meaningful,” and “with a little oomph and brainpower we can do bigger things.”

Turrell also shared with the standing-room-only crowd a little secret: How to get everything you ever want.

“First, find out what it is you want, and define it. Then give yourself a timeline, and lastly, tell as many people as possible what it is you’re doing.”

The audience’s questions revolved largely around vision – whether it’s literal (“If I show you a photo and you don’t need words to describe it, it’s a good photo,” said Brett) or conceptual (“The people that will change the world … can handle those agents of non-change,” according to Turrell). One audience member drew a parallel between how Brett and Turrell “get in people’s faces” – for Brett, he treats people the way he wants to be treated: With respect. Turrell said being up front with people allows you to understand the heuristics that guide human behavior, and helps shape the lens through which you view that behavior.

“By and large, systems are good,” Turrell said. “There’s a self-regulating effect. If you take your hands off the steering wheel, 85% of the time the outcome will be good, 10% of the time it will be OK, and 5% of the time it will be bad. [In a business setting] management has to determine when to take their hands off the steering wheel. The freedom to choose is the key.”

So the odds for “Good” are pretty good. Just like the odds that two people picked to lead a creative discussion about looking at the world can share a birthday.