Archive | February 2014

The New Science Of Effective Organizations

What really makes teams perform is a mix of both cohesiveness and diversity, with strong communication within the group, but most of the their time is spent on far flung interactions outside of it.

by Greg Satell, Contributor, Forbes, 2/24/2014 

A recent survey reported that the consulting industry raked in $39.3 billion in 2012, renting out their advice t0 the world’s most powerful corporations.  Yet still, a study by Innosight found that the average lifespan on the S&P 500 has declined from 61 years in 1958 to only 18 years today.

It makes you wonder what all those high priced consultants are getting paid for.  With all of their fancy charts and two-by-two matrices, are they really anything more than modern day witch doctors dispensing a high tech version of folk wisdom?

We’re about to find out now that Sandy Pentland is on the case.  As one of the world’s top data scientists, he has developed a technique called reality mining that tracks human behavior through the use of a sociometer device he invented.  He’s recently published a book called Social Physics that explains his research into what really works in business.

What Get’s Done On A Coffee Break?

Many managers like to run a tight ship that is focused on the task at hand—all business and no chit chat.  Yet Pentland’s research has found that the most important predictor of success in a group is the amount—not the content—of social interaction.  It is exposure to peer activity that drives learning and changes behavior.

Generally, this has not been controversial in high-level professional environments, but it is generally discounted in jobs with clear cut goals and easy to monitor procedures.  But, as Pentland describes an article published inHarvard Business Review, he found that it is just as important in even low-level jobs.

After equipping teams in a call center with sociometric badges, he found that interaction and engagement outside formal meetings accounted for one third of the variation of dollar productivity between groups.  Pentland suggested that instead of sending people on coffee breaks individually, they send the whole teams together as a group.

This simple change resulted in a $15 million increase in productivity and it cost nothing to implement.  On other projects, simple things like increasing the size of lunch tables to encourage interaction among more people also proved effective.  Chit chat, it turns out, is not only permissible, but profitable.

Cohesiveness and Diversity

Managers tend to look for people who are a “good fit” with the rest of their team, because cohesive groups tend to be able to come to an easy consensus and take action quickly.  However, such teams also tend to fall into groupthink, where the wrong ideas get reinforced just as much as the right ones do.

In a study of currency traders, Pentland found that the most successful performers diversified their sources of information.  Some would be successful for a while if they fell in with a group that had a successful strategy, but then would continue to follow it even after it became a loser.  Echo chambers are double-edged swords.

In truth, what really makes teams perform is a mix of both cohesiveness and diversity, with strong communication within the group, but most of the their time is spent on far flung interactions outside of it.  Pentland is not alone in reaching this conclusion.  A study of star performers at Bell Labs and another of informal company networks found the same thing.

In my own experience, I have seen many teams that come to a strong consensus on seemingly innovative strategies because they all read the same two or three tech blogs, which are, in fact, merely parroting each other.  These ideas get then filtered down to 3-5 bullet points that reverberate through various industry conferences.

The Red Balloon Challenge

It used to be that successful organizations thrived because they knew how to do a few things really well.  They honed their skills and continuously improved at specific tasks.  Techniques like Six Sigma helped them achieve amazing precision and minimize errors.  The problem is that these techniques also limit your ability to take in new information.

Yet today, it’s crucially important to network your organization so that outside information gets in.  It was that idea that inspired Pentland’s strategy to the Darpa Red Balloon challenge in which teams competed to find ten red weather balloons distributed across the continental United States.  The prize was substantial: $40,000

While other teams focused on various search strategies, Pentland’s MIT group used a recursive method to build a network that built in both financial and social incentives.  Volunteers were not only compensated for finding a balloon, but for referring someone else that found a balloon. They won the challenge in less than nine hours.

What was interesting is that in follow-up interviews, volunteers said that a primary motivation for recruiting others was not only to win a prize, but to strengthen social ties, similar to pooling office money to win a lottery.

What The Future Will Look Like

Historically, the study of management has been a mixture of folk wisdom and fads.  We’ve looked at successful organizations, examined their lore and did our best to emulate them.  Business schools and consultancies then perpetuated prominent ideas through case studies and PowerPoints.

Pentland points the way to a new, more scientific approach, where we directly observe work practices and interactions in real time to create new learning organizations.  He foresees sociometers becoming small enough to be embedded in standard corporate badges and integrated into dashboards so that managers can monitor their networks.

Yet Pentland is not alone.  Analytics firm GoodData has begun offering a Yammer analytics platform that tracks employee sentiment and identify influencers and topics of conversation.

Icosystem uses similar data to build agent based models to predict the effect of future actions.  Undercurrent’s Aaron Dignan also recently wrote about new forms of organization such as holocracy, agile squads and self-organizing firms.

One thing is for sure, we need to change the software of our organizations. But this time, the basis for the change won’t be a management fad or a case study derived from a handful of isolated success stories, it will be data, collected in real time and applied in the real world.

~ Curated by Pass The Idea (




Out of the Box

Do you want to innovate? Try something new? You surround yourself with a bunch of creative people, go offsite and have a brainstorming session. The ideas are abundant and with so many it seems a shame that we can only try a few due to budget or time constraints.

The cold hard truth is that is not the way successful innovation works. In fact, most of the time it is downright unsuccessful; innovation does not work as a result of thinking out of the box, it works because how closely it is to thinking in the box.

There is hardly a methodology that has done more research on Innovation than the TRIZ method or Theory of Inventive Problem Solving. These numbers have not been updated in the 20 years which to me seems a shame with the amount of Innovation that is occurring. However, I still think we might be surprised on how closely these numbers are still represented. From John Terninko’s book, Systematic Innovation: An Introduction to TRIZ.

Table 5 Levels of Innovation

  1. Apparent or Conventional Solution: 32% – Solution by methods well known within specialty
  2. Small Invention Inside Paradigm: 45% – Improvement of an existing system, usually with some compromise
  3. Substantial Invention Inside Technology: 18% – Essential improvement of existing system
  4. Invention Outside Technology: 4% – New generation of design using sciences technology
  5. Discovery: 1 % – Major discovery and new science

If You Want to Think Out of the Box, You Have to Have a Box

…TRIZ believes that 95% of inventive problems have already been solved in a different field. Or in my words, “This is not new Stuff.” Summarizing from the TRIZ Journal archives:

  1. Problems and solutions are repeated across industries and sciences. The classification of the contradictions in each problem predicts the creative solutions to that problem.
  2. Patterns of technical evolution are repeated across industries and sciences.
  3. Creative innovations use scientific effects outside the field where they were developed.

~ Curated by Pass The Idea (

Source: extract from

How to Make Your Brainstorming Sessions Instantly More Effective


The key is to mix individual, silent idea generation and group debate, according to the experts, who sum up the principle with the phrase “diverge before you converge.”


Research shows this simple tweak to your brainstorming sessions can mean more and better ideas.

You don’t hire jerks and show boaters, so that means your team is probably composed largely of nice people. That’s good news for your sanity and productivity at the office, but according to a pair of leading experts on innovation it may pose a challenge when it comes to generating new ideas.

Why? It’s not, of course, that nice folks have fewer good ideas than meeting-dominators and self-promoters (one would guess they probably have more). It’s rather that most of the time, brainstorming sessions make it difficult to get their creative ideas out there.

The results of the stereotypical brainstorming meeting, where a number of people gather in a room and verbally throw out ideas, has one big danger, Joseph V. Sinfield, Tim Gustafson, and Brian Hindo, all from innovation consultancy Innosight, write in the latest edition ofMIT Sloan Management Review. “One powerful voice can overwhelm the others and cause the group to settle on early suggestions prematurely,” they warn.

The Fix

So how do you avoid the quieter members of your team having their innovative ideas drowned out early in the brainstorming process? The key is to mix individual, silent idea generation and group debate, according to the experts, who sum up the principle with the phrase “diverge before you converge.”

“It’s helpful to start by asking participants to write down as many ideas as they can individually for five to ten minutes,” the authors recommend. This procedure has a double benefit. First, it allows introverts to actually get a word in, and second, it ensures that when it comes time for ideas to battle it out in open debate, there will be plenty of contenders competing. With my ideas entering the mix, the resulting solution is likely to be stronger.

But don’t just take these two guys’ word for it. Research apparently backs up their recommendation. “A recent study led by Karan Girotra, assistant professor of technology and operations management at INSEAD, affirmed the value of mixing individual thinking and group thinking: Teams employing this hybrid approach were nearly three times as productive as group brainstorming teams, measured by the number of ideas they generated,” they report.

And not only were the ideas more numerous, they were also just plain better, according to an independent rating from outside experts. If you’re convinced the researchers are onto something, here’s the good news–implementing their recommendations costs exactly nothing and can be done today. Give it a try.

What are your tips for more effective brainstorming sessions?

FEBRUARY 24, 2014 AT 3:25PM
Try Pass The Idea (, the online co-creation and collaboration tool, more effective and efficient versus conventional brainstorming, enabling more, better ideas from everybody. “To have a great idea have a lot of them” ~ Thomas A. Edison
~ Curated by Pass The Idea (


“Creativity” was named the most crucial factor for success in a survey of 1,500 executives across 33 industries conducted by IBM in 2010. And according to LinkedIn, “creative” is the most used buzzword in user profiles for the last two years.


Creative Studies classes and majors are popping up at universities around the country with growing frequency, a recent New York Times article reports. But if majoring in “creativity” or some such field sounds a bit too much like underwater basket weaving, consider its relevance on the job front.

“Creativity” was named the most crucial factor for success in a survey of 1,500 executives across 33 industries conducted by IBM in 2010. And according to LinkedIn, “creative” is the most used buzzword in user profiles for the last two years.

But what’s all this hoopla about creativity about? Can it really be learned? Gerard Puccio, chairman of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College seems to think so. “You are seeing more attention to creativity at universities,” according to Puccio. “The marketplace is demanding it.”

A partner at the publishing company FourSight, Puccio has created a four-prong method used by businesses and in classrooms to help promote and demystify the creative process. According to FourSight, individuals each tend to gravitate toward one of four of these steps as their primary mode of thinking. Understanding which one of these four steps you most gravitate toward, according to them, can help you and your team strike a better balance:


This involves identifying the problem or challenge at hand. Knowing what question to ask is key so that you know what problem you’re addressing. “If you don’t have the right frame for the situation, it’s difficult to come up with a breakthrough,” says Puccio.


“Ideating” is just a bit of puffery for what’s essentially brainstorming or throwing ideas out there.


When you enter the stage of developing, you’re building out potential solutions. Part of this process may very well involve failing and having to start from square one. Be prepared.


Convincing others that your idea is worth its salt is where implementing comes into play.

While creativity itself can’t be taught, proponents of creative studies programs believe they can offer techniques that get you thinking in new and exciting ways.

According to Roger Firestien, author of the book Leading on the Creative Edge, and a Buffalo State professor, the point of such programs is to learn techniques “to make creativity happen instead of waiting for it to bubble up.”

~ Curated by The Marketing Curator and Pass The Idea (


Infographic: Reinventing the rules of engagement

Reinventing the rules of engagement. CEO insights from the Global C-suite Study. IBM Institute for Business Value.

~ Curated by The Marketing Curator and Pass The Idea (

How Millennials Are Changing the Face of Marketing Forever

By 2030, Millennials will likely outnumber baby boomers 78 million to 56 million—and they are forming lifelong shopping preferences and habits now.

The Reciprocity Principle
JANUARY 15, 2014
Companies: you should already be ready. Success in marketing to U.S. Millennials—the generation of people now 18 to 34 years old—will be critical to companies across product and service categories. One reason, of course, is that Millennials represent the consumer market of the future. U.S. Millennials already account for an estimated $1.3 trillion in direct annual spending. This sum will grow dramatically, for only now are the first Millennials reaching peak buying power. In the U.S., by 2030, Millennials will likely outnumber baby boomers 78 million to 56 million—and they are forming lifelong shopping preferences and habits now.

It is perhaps more important that this generation is transforming consumer marketing itself. Millennials are distinguished from older generations by their spending habits, brand preferences, values, personalities, and general outlook on life. Furthermore, they engage with brands far more extensively, personally, and emotionally—and in entirely different ways—than have other generations.

Millennials expect a two-way, mutual relationship with companies and their brands. We call this the reciprocity principle. Through the feedback they express both offline and online, Millennials influence the purchases of other customers and potential customers. They also help define the brand itself. The Internet, social media, and mobile devices greatly amplify Millennials’ opinions and accelerate their impact. Companies can expect that a positive brand experience will prompt Millennials to take favorable public action on behalf of their brand. A bad—or even just disappointing—experience can turn a Millennial into a vocal critic who will spread the negative word through social media, reviews, and blogs. And that criticism can go viral.

In marketing, as in pop culture, Millennials are leading indicators of large-scale changes in future consumer behavior. They are influencing and accelerating shifts in consumer attitudes, spending habits, and brand perceptions and preferences among Gen-Xers and even baby boomers. As a result, this generational transition is ushering in the end of consumer marketing as we have long known it.

The conventional, linear framework that most companies have used to manage brand engagement no longer holds. Executives and marketers must embrace the new reality: marketing is an ecosystem of multidirectional engagement rather than a process that is controlled and pushed by the company.

Millennials are also leading indicators of the new “status currency”—the status and values that consumers wish to project through their purchasing decisions and their brand affiliations. One way a company can connect with this new status currency is by convincing Millennials that they are “doing good” when they purchase its brands. Companies need to demonstrate through their values, heritage, and meaningful actions that they help those in need, are socially responsible, are good environmental stewards, protect personal data, or are transparent and sincere.

If they have not already begun to do so, companies must make marketing to Millennials a top strategic priority and begin to master the art of two-way reciprocal marketing. Companies are already finding that pushing consistent, prepackaged brand messages to the masses through traditional media is not as effective and cost efficient as it once was—certainly not with Millennials, nor increasingly with Gen-Xers and boomers.

Executives and marketers will need a comprehensive, intimate view of Millennials across channels and media. Companies must place a high priority on transforming their marketing functions by breaking down organizational silos and building the capabilities and partnerships needed to succeed in the new reciprocal-marketing ecosystem. To start, companies and marketing organizations need to set and communicate clear and measurable Millennial goals. They should reach out to Millennials, wherever they are, with a cross-media, cross-channel, and cross-device brand presence. Brands should reinforce their authentic reputations with the right brand values, personalities, and communications. They should relate to Millennials by moving from push communications to two-way, open dialogue. And they should cultivate Millennial referral among customers as well as Millennial employees.

The Reciprocity Principle

The conventional framework that most companies have used to approach marketing is often depicted as a funnel, with the company at one end and the customer who has made a purchase at the other. A company starts by defining the positioning, benefits, and personality of its brand. It then pushes that image down to consumers in an attempt to build awareness and, eventually, customer loyalty.

This simple description of a linear relationship between investment in brand awareness and marketing outcomes may have been valid in the past, but this framework is outdated. Instead of being a process that is led and pushed by companies, modern marketing is an ecosystem that is influenced by some factors that a company can control and some that are beyond its control. It is a system in which marketers, customers, and potential customers perpetually exchange experiences, reactions, emotions, and buzz.

A more effective marketing approach will be driven by the reciprocity principle. For the purposes of this report, we describe five key elements of this principle: reach, relevance, reputation, relation, and referral. Like any other ecosystem, the new marketing environment is dynamic, and its boundaries are fluid. Millennials are influencing each of these elements in profound ways.

  • Reach. Millennials are digital natives. They are more technologically savvy than other generations, and they use portable devices more extensively to access the Internet while physically visiting stores. Companies must use the full array of available media, as well as mobile devices, to reach these consumers and build brand awareness as cost-effectively as possible. In addition to using traditional marketing vehicles that are trusted by Millennials, such as public relations and endorsements, companies should increase their investments and capabilities in digital marketing, social media, advocacy, and cause marketing.
  • Relevance. Millennials, whose values differ from those of older generations, are distributed among a wide range of life’s stages: while some have started families, for example, others still live with their parents. Yet others are first-time independents. Their brand choices, moreover, are influenced by more and different kinds of people. Companies must be aware of all this to make their brands relevant and appealing.
  • Reputation. Because Millennials identify more personally and emotionally with brands, it is especially important that brands strive to maintain genuine reputations that reinforce the traits, personalities, values, and causes that Millennials hope that they project about themselves.
  • Relation. Companies must maintain a two-way dialogue with Millennial consumers. They must listen to them, incorporate their feedback and input, and quickly respond to them and their concerns in a personal and straightforward manner.
  • Referral. To build brand loyalty and persuade Millennials to be positive advocates of their brands, companies must build an ongoing relationship through individual and online community communications, social media, and advocacy programs.
Implications for Marketers

Companies targeting the Millennial generation should align their strategies, initiatives, and investments around the reciprocity principle. To make well-informed investment and business decisions and position the company to target consumer segments, executives and marketers need an integrated, comprehensive view of consumers across channels and in terms of their lifetime value as customers.

If they haven’t already begun to do so, companies must transform their marketing organizations in at least three ways. First, there should be fewer organizational silos separating such functions as digital marketing, private-brand organizations, public relations, analytics, and pricing. Second, they must build the new organizational capabilities and partnerships required to succeed in a reciprocal ecosystem. Third, companies should shift marketing investment from traditional media to more innovative media and tools that can measure short- and longer-term returns from marketing.

We suggest the following tactics.

Set and communicate clear, measurable goals. Few companies outside sectors in which Millennials are currently core customers—for example, quick-service restaurants and apparel—devote sufficient strategic attention and investment to this generation. Nor do they have sufficient methods for measuring progress. One way to encourage accountability is to publicize Millennial objectives within the company—and potentially among investors and customers—and report on how well those objectives are being met. Companies should adopt an annual Millennial marketing plan that is based on an integrated, holistic approach that brings together planning, media mix, campaigns, and tactics into a single view to achieve the company’s overarching objectives for this segment. Programs should be reviewed at least annually to assess whether they are effectively and efficiently achieving such marketing and enterprise objectives as acquisition of Millennial customers, share of Millennial spending, customer retention, advocacy, employee diversity, and improved brand image or fame.

Reach Millennials with a cross-media, cross-channel brand presence. Most companies still devote too much of their planning and budget mix to traditional media—television, newspapers, radio, and catalogs—and not enough to more innovative media. To engage with Millennials where they are, a brand must be present across the full range of media, through offline and online channels, and on mobile devices.

Companies need to know which media, channels, and devices work best at conveying promotions, messaging, and brand personality to Millennial targets, and they should use each to its unique advantages. In addition, most companies haven’t yet fully developed the capabilities they need to offer relevant content through online, e-mail, or mobile devices at the right time. Nor have they mastered the ability to monitor customer uptake, understand return on marketing investment, or scale up online and mobile platforms.

Make sure marketing communications are relevant. To reach Millennial consumers, companies must make sure that their marketing communications are optimistic and positive in tone. They should also visually portray the generation as broadly diverse and inclusive. Companies targeting Millennials in certain sectors should not ignore the marketing value of testimonials from celebrities and partnerships with Millennials’ favorite or aspirational brands.

Our research found that Millennials perceive themselves as particularly in tune with what they consider to be authentic and real. Millennials tell us that the most common mistakes of non-Millennial creative agencies and executives are marketing campaigns that come across as fake, overly forced, condescending, or off key. Therefore, marketing language, brand personalities, company-supported causes, and endorsements need to be credible. They should be based on what the brand has stood for historically, how the product and experience deliver on that promise, and the actions the brand has taken.

Reinforce reputation in Millennial channels. A company can connect with the new status currency by demonstrating to Millennials that its brand’s soul is aligned with their values and that customers are doing good by purchasing that brand. Companies should show that they help those in need, are good environmental stewards, are socially responsible, respect personal data, or are transparent. Companies can act meaningfully by creating nonprofit partnerships that promote the causes they support, adopting new codes of corporate conduct, and improving their hiring, people management, sourcing, and manufacturing practices.

Relate to Millennial constituents. Companies need to invest in nontraditional marketing initiatives and organizational capabilities that allow them to build relationships with Millennials. The goal should be to cultivate more of a one-on-one or small-community connection with customers and potential customers. Such initiatives might include events, recognition, referral programs, testimonials from influencers, customer advisory panels, social media, online community marketing, public relations, customer-relationship-management programs, and e-mail campaigns.

A company’s own Millennial employees can be valuable in helping it relate better to Millennial consumers. Few companies fully leverage these human assets. Such staff can prove powerful brand advocates or even more powerful critics. Millennial employees can be effectively engaged in numerous ways. Like Millennial customers, they can serve on a Millennial advisory board or help develop products, services, and marketing strategies through so-called crowdsourcing. Millennial employees can also serve as a company’s face and voice in retail channels and social media. Companies should place top Millennial talent in the right management and leadership roles today, particularly in online channels and in marketing and product functions. Human resources departments should incorporate Millennial-marketing lessons into their core processes—and share Millennial-employee lessons with marketers.

Cultivate Millennial referral. Although companies cannot control whether and how consumers advocate for their products, they can cultivate and measure relationships with consumers who are most likely to influence their target market. They can also influence brand conversations. An effective plan requires an online and offline referral-marketing program that allows customers to interact with the brand and each other and to deepen each customer’s relationship with the company. Another key is to proactively address criticism on social media with contriteness and candor. Companies should reflect what they know about Millennials in their customer-service strategy and in the tactics they use for addressing complaints and questions, such as the availability of service representatives, response times, and online or video chat.

Finally, companies need an advocacy plan for identifying consumers in each community or network who exert especially strong influence over Millennial customers or potential customers. We call these influencers the critical 2 percent because they account for a tiny share of a Millennial community but have disproportionate sway, opening doors to the rest of that community. Once the company has identified these influencers, it should invest to acquire an in-depth understanding of this 2 percent and develop strong relationships with them. Few companies employ insightful metrics that track the performance of their referral and advocacy initiatives effectively. We recommend tracking the number of interactions with all Millennial customers, customer recommendations, and advocates that generate content. Companies should also measure the quality and sentiment of interactions with their Millennial customers and the critical 2 percent over time.

The imperative to engage and win over the Millennial generation represents an entirely new set of challenges for U.S. marketers. This is especially true for long-established companies that are accustomed to pushing consistent, polished messages from the top but have little experience maintaining true two-way relationships with customers. Companies that are able to master the reciprocity principle will have a competitive advantage not only when it comes to attracting and retaining the valuable Millennial generation. They will also be more successful at appealing to customers across other generations who are rapidly changing the way they interact with brands.


This report would not have been possible without the efforts of our BCG Millennial Panel: Antonio Alvarez, Lindsey Barnes, Matthew Innamorati, Delvin Kelly, Jeffrey Shaddix, Bensey Schnip, Amy Snyder, and especially Brian Bunyard, Hannah Davis, Christopher Harlan, and Angela Zhang. Furthermore, the authors want to thank Marguerite Fitzgerald, Richard Hutchinson, Tom Lutz, Kim Plough, Bettina Schönenberger, and Miki Tsusaka for their invaluable leadership and support. The authors are also grateful to Carrie Perzanowski, Dave Fondiller, and Lexie Corriveau for their guidance on marketing and interaction with the media; Pete Engardio for his writing leadership; and Katherine Andrews, Gary Callahan, Angela DiBattista, Elyse Friedman, Kirsten Leshko, and Sara Strassenreiter for their editorial and production help.

~ Curated by The Marketing Curator and Pass The Idea (


Is Collaboration Still a Key to Success?


Collaboration, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding: hype or essential business values? 


Collaboration, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding: hype or essential business values?

Collaboration is a big-time word. Everyone uses it. It’s a part of mainstream business jargon. But has the actual practice–and resulting value–of collaboration faded away?

The following is a guest post from Andrew Filev, the founder and CEO of Wrike, an online project-management platform that provides work management and better employee collaboration.

Here’s Andrew:

Eight years ago, I faced a major dilemma. How could I get my geographically dispersed team to collaborate more efficiently? We were a large group of remote programmers, and we needed a tool to manage projects and foster collaboration. Because there were no tools flexible enough for us to use off the shelf, I set out to build Wrike.

And my passion for collaboration was born.

A year later, the press started raving about what we were already practicing, using buzzwords such as collaboration, tribes, and crowdsourcing. Books such as Wikinomics, by Tapscott and Williams, and The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki, helped popularize the ideas. Projects such as the Linux OS, Wikipedia, and YouTube proved their potency.

Suddenly, collaboration among remote workers became not just a possibility but a glorious vision of the future. And dedicated followers (tribes) were viewed as a fabulous, often free source of ideas and content, resulting in increased speed in decision making and general innovation.

But as these concepts went mainstream, they were written about less and less. And the hype eventually died down.

Which raises the question: Are collective wisdom, crowdsourcing, and collaboration still an essential part of building a business or movement?

Crowdfunding the Future

One area in which I feel collaboration is very strong is in the crowdfunding arena. The advent of websites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and RocketHub has made it much easier for entrepreneurs to get funding for their projects. In addition, it’s given them a platform to receive feedback straight from customers.

The most successful Kickstarter projects are the ones where the creators collaborate with the crowd. They exchange ideas with customers to improve products, positioning, or even promotion.

For example, I recently backed Dan Shapiro’s Robot Turtles board game on Kickstarter. It uses a game board and colorful character cards to subtly teach programming fundamentals to children (and adults) who play. The project achieved its original pledge amount of $25,000 after only five hours online. In fact, the project ended up receiving pledges totaling $631,230 from 13,765 backers.

Whereas other entrepreneurs may have sat back and just delivered what they promised, Shapiro used the feedback from his customers to improve his line of products. He eventually wrote a more complex set of rules so that adults could enjoy the game, and he facilitated international translations of his game manual.

The online menswear retailer Pistol Lake has a similar story. It used Kickstarter as the jumping-off point for its line of clothing and made its monetary goal in less than two hours postlaunch. But more important, after four days of the Kickstarter campaign, it had to change its name because it received a cease-and-desist letter from lawyers claiming copyright infringement. Soon it arrived at its current name, Pistol Lake, thanks to supporters on Hacker News who suggested choosing the name of a body of water memorable to the company’s founders.

Products aren’t the only thing that crowdfunding is good for, though. Even the careers of young, promising people are supported by benefactors. These aspirants are on, seeking financial backing not for their ideas or their projects but for their futures as leaders and doers.

In exchange for the money they raise, these young “upstarts” will pay a small share of their income over five or 10 years to the investors who take a chance on them.

Tapping the Crowd’s Wisdom 

Businesses have been successfully tapping the wisdom of crowds for creativity and expertise that may not lie within their internal work force. The term open innovation comes to mind here–the using of external sources of innovation, such as customers, brand advocates, academia, and even competitors.

A good number of multinational corporations put open innovation to good use, collecting brilliant ideas for their businesses via different submission programs and even through competitions. Think Procter & Gamble’s Connect + Develop program, Lufthansa Cargo’s Air Cargo Innovation Challenge, or Starbucks’s idea-submission website.

Even our ongoing conversation with Wrike customers through different kinds of channels is an example of open innovation. After all, a lot of our feature releases are inspired by, if not completely drawn from, feature suggestions from our customers.

Collaborating With the Crowd 

The music world is an area in which collaboration is practically ubiquitous. And not just with musicians who invite fellow performers to contribute to a song (violinist/dancer Lindsey Stirling and her innumerable musical collaborations comes to mind), but also between music artists and their fans.

For example, Web communities such as Indaba and Talenthouse run regular remix contests sponsored by well-known music acts. In these contests, amateur musicians can create their own remixes of an artist’s tracks using original source material made available to entrants. The artist typically picks the winning remix from hundreds of contributors and includes it in a future album or gives the winner a prize.

3-D printing is another huge area in which collaboration occurs daily. As one of the most disruptive technologies around, 3-D printing has been hailed as both a manufacturing revolution and a dangerous technology that must be regulated. Able to cheaply manufacture otherwise expensive medical tools such as robotic prosthetics (see the Robohand or theDextrus), it is just as able to create functioning (and deadly) plastic firearms.

But the real action lies not in the act of printing but in the sharing done by the community of 3-D printing hobbyists. These people share, modify, and discuss digital schematics for manufacturing 3-D goods, nurturing an entire subculture of collaboration.

Other websites, such as Threadless and Teefury, thrive on selling T-shirts to customers designed by and voted upon by the community.

Then, of course, there are all the social dot-coms that subsist on user-generated content: Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest, and the wild, often woolly world of Internet forums. The list of collaborative organizations is endless.

Why Collaboration Is Essential for Growth

So to answer the question I started out with: Is collaboration essential to growth? Yes, now more than ever. The lack of recent hype merely suggests that the concept of collaboration has been absorbed into the philosophy of many organizations. And if yours hasn’t done it yet, make the change. It should be an integral part of every company’s DNA in order to survive and thrive.

There are two reasons for this:

1. By collaborating internally via social-media tools, wikis, videoconferencing, and more, you increase productivity.

It’s no surprise that teams that use social-media tools for internal communication find common ground on which to work. For example, California chipmaker Xilinx reported a 25 percent increase in engineer productivity by using tools that encouraged peer-to-peer collaboration. And then there’s the extreme practice of having always-on videoconferencing in Shutterstock. That company uses it as a communication channel for its remote workers.

2. By collaborating externally with customers, partners, and vendors via user forums, blog comments, Twitter, Facebook, live Webinars, conferences, and meetups, you gather feedback that increases innovation.

At Wrike, feedback from our customers directly influences which features we release for our project-management software. They’re expressive about which enhancements they want for the software, and that collaboration consistently betters our product.

It may sound very New Agey and fuzzy to you, but the companies that practice collaboration are the companies that breach boundaries. They’re the ones carving out their niche in history.

They’re the ones forging the path into a future none of us can predict.

~ Curated by The Marketing Curator and Pass The Idea (