Soapbox: ‘Look to collaborate with those who can do what you can’t’

Paul Bennett
Tuesday 09 February 2010 01:00 GMT

The Inuit have a saying: “The storm is the time to fish.” That’s a pretty apt metaphor, given the economic storm that’s been swirling over our collective heads for a while now. The situation may be easing, but it has certainly given us pause to think – if you will, a chance to poke our heads outside our igloos and fish for some new ideas. Here are a few.

Contribution is the new consumption

Technology has, whether we like it or not, given everyone the chance to contribute to everything – positively and negatively. Deny this at your peril. I had a client say to me recently: “One click of a mouse can take us down these days; we’d better walk the talk here.” This means that the days of creating in a void, whether it be a product or service, and then simply “selling” the outcome are officially over. The new norm involves asking people for ideas and help, and soliciting consumers to really be your partner in creating and solving your problems (and theirs). See , for example

Edge is the new core

Mass thinking is just that. Mass. Too many times, ideas get watered down by being passed through too many filters and focus groups, by asking everyone and anyone what they think and taking every micro-comment on board. On the theme of asking, don’t forget Henry Ford’s famous quote: “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”

This is about looking at behaviours and seeing what people create themselves. What about creating things that actually polarise, that some people may hate but, conversely, some people really, really love? Apple isn’t for everyone, Waitrose customers aren’t Asda customers, and that’s OK, right? People are looking for brands that stick out of the crowd, brands that speak to them, brands that are actually not like the ones sitting on the shelf next to them.

At least the cleaning products company Method, with its quirky packaging, interesting formulas and snappy copy, is doing something unconventional.

Small is the new big

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard the following two phrases said in a meeting: “We need a really big idea”, and “That’s a great idea, but it’s not big enough for us”. Sorry, but give me small, impactful, intelligently executed ideas any day, preferably a series of them that connect, are doable and build business, not the single, big, imaginary, disruptive bomb that falls from heaven and transforms everything overnight.

Apologies for the shameless plug here, but a great example of what I am talking about is the “Keep the change” service that IDEO |did for Bank of America in |the US. The simple, observed act of watching people subconsciously tossing coins in jars and “rounding up” their payments created a new savings scheme that was implementable in record time, encouraged billions of dollars in savings, and built a huge business for the bank, to boot.

Pie is the new slice

Trying to “own” an idea or domain is getting harder and harder to do in this age of the open-sourced, the co-created, the transparent. So why try, when there is the opportunity to collaborate with others and create something bigger (and often better) in the process? Remember when the phrase “Plays well with others” was on your school report? Time to reinstate that in business.

Look to collaborate with people who can do what you can’t (or who can do it better), share openly wherever possible, and see what happens. Look at relentlessly collaborative brands such as Philips or Wikipedia to see what I mean.

You may say: “This all sounds great, but I have targets to meet, sales to make, costs to cut.” My response is to think of yourself as having two levers to pull: your “Now” business, which is all about having the answers, about making the present make sense, keeping things going, not rocking the boat; and your “Now what?” business, which is all about looking toward the future, asking new questions, pushing the boat out. Time to get out there. Bigger fish to fry.

The writer is the chief creative officer of the design and innovation firm IDEO

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