May 14, 2011

Individual Collaboration = The Key to Disruptive Design

Companies that engage in "individual collaboration" are the disruption leaders.

Apple + AT&T

Apple designed the iPhone in collaboration with AT&T, but did not use a "design by committee" approach. The design of the phone belonged completely to Apple. The two partners focused on what each does best in order to create a single product/service for the consumer.

Google + Ford

Google and Ford are collaborating to produce a potentially disruptive product. A key to success will be that each partner must allow the other to "own" his/her piece = individual collaboration. Partners must be careful to not get in the way of disruption. Read more about the project here:

iPhone + Wallet + Keys

As mentioned in my previous post, I carry too much in my pockets. I just want to carry one thing: an iPhone that will also unlock/start my car and that will serve as a credit card. Apple, Ford, Visa and some smaller, specialized vendors (example: Firethorn) could collaborate on this project. Their success would, in part, depend upon how well each partner allows the others to fully "own" design decisions around his/her piece = individual collaboration.

Individual + Collaboration -- Let's Break It Down

Collaboration is key to disruptive design because leading organizations are expert specialists. The best organizations do one thing better than anyone. (Note: I didn't say the best organizations only produce one product. At the core of all their products is an organization's core value, differentiator, speciality -- whatever you want to call it.) In order to develop disruptive products -- products that reach far enough beyond anything the market currently offers -- companies must innovate/design beyond their own capabilities. A Google/Ford collaboration brings together two disruption leaders with two core specialities that, when combined, could lead to an entirely new disruptive product.

Individual is key to disruptive design because leading organizations are expert specialists. It's key that organizations come together, but it is just as key that they set parameters/structure around their collaboration. If one of the partners dominates design then the collaboration is not able to realize its full value-creation potential. Each partner must fully own his/her piece and be given the freedom (encouraged, even!) to drive disruptive design.

Why does this often not happen? Two reasons...

1. There is almost always a more dominant partner

2. The partners that are collaborating are more focused on deadlines and producing a product than they are on allowing the space and time to get it right. For example, consider the Apple + Ford + Visa collaboration suggested above: Let's say that Apple designs something highly disruptive/innovative but Visa reviews it and determines that functionally it will not fit with Visa's piece of the puzzle. Visa asks Apple to make adjustments in order to get the team to a market-ready product. The product might be ready to go to market, but it has possibly lost a key element of its disruptive design -- and it was for disruption that the three companies began working together (not simply to produce another product)!

What Does This Mean for Your Organization?

1. As we often talk about, first know who you are. What is your core speciality?

2. Identify a partner or two whose core specialities could compliment yours.

3. Schedule brainstorming sessions once per quarter (or month!) with them. Make it fun. Bring in food. Spend the day thinking disruptive thoughts!

4. When one of those sessions leads to a wonderfully disruptive idea, individually collaborate!

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