Brands and businesses do not really have relationships between each other. A laser printer does not set up meeting with the coffee machine and the old laptop case to have a chat about the relative costs of A4 paper. A delivery van does not have a workshop with a fork-lift truck to clarify a key delivery schedule. It is people – and the conversations between them that drives business activity, ideas and progress. It is large complex, sometimes emotional, and often stressed ape like creatures such as you and me that do the talking and the listening. No matter what you do, or who you work for, if you’re in the business of marketing & innovation – we are all in the conversation business.
Can you collaborate without conversation? The short answer – is no. And the medium and long answer is no too. Collaboration is the heart of successful business partnerships, alliances and co-ventures – which in turn are viewed by many as the drivers of innovation in a complex and ever-changing landscape. Connecting and adapting has always been at the heart of commercial endeavour – not daring research budgets, invention and individual genius, that may however make a more interesting personal story. Organisations want to innovate and collaborate – yet challenging, relevant and new conversations are still missing from their plans.
In the July 2011 edition of Harvard Businesss Review Paul Adler points out the dangers of rabid culture of individualism; “It is quite possible for everyone to work hard as an individual without producing a good collective result”. General Electric’s research from early 2011 identified that 86% of senior marketers view partnerships as the most important element of innovation and Beth Comstock, the Global CMO of General Electric is well-known as a champion of partnerships, alliances and collaboration which are now placed at the heart of GM’s strategy. She says;
“I work hard to curate information that I don’t believe many at GE will have heard” – and tellingly – “I probably spend half my time immersed in the worlds beyond GE and I hope this encourages my colleagues to be more externally focused”.
The real importance of this networking and business relationship development is the conversation and dialogue. Connecting. It is a notion that is neatly expressed by the brilliant Theodore Zeldin and his famous quote; “A conversation doesn’t just shuffle the deck of cards – it creates new ones”.
And isn’t that the point of a good conversation? And for a smart innovation too? It leads you to a different view, adds insight and helps you play with ‘ a new card’ rather than flip over that same one again and again and again. And if you are trying to innovate, to explore, to create something fresh – isn’t that where your next conversation should start?
Andrew Armour is the founder of Benchstone Limited, a London-based consultancy that helps brands and senior managers to plan, pioneer and sharpen their marketing and media partnership initiatives and innovation projects. His career has covered IP and brand licensing, promotions, digital content and business consulting. He is a passionate advocate for the power of smart and creative collaboration and relationship management in driving marketing innovation.