This past fall our columnist the innovation architect Doug Collins began to tell the tale of how the Dirty Maple Flooring Company came to embrace the Digital Age through the practice of collaborative innovation. The latest episode appears below. Readers may navigate the full series here.
Consider, dear reader: Is not a lot of what passes for societal disruption in present days in reality people finding their voice for the first time?
Carlos Gutierrez felt his hamstrings stretch as he moved from child’s pose to downward facing dog in the second row of the Vinyasa Yoga class being conducted on the first floor of the commons room in the Reform Lutheran Church on East Wells Street in Milwaukee. The snow falling outside made for a peaceful setting.
If someone had told Carlos ten months ago that he would move his family from their home in palm-lined Oaxaca to the cold climes of Wisconsin, he would have said, simply, “no.”
If someone had told Carlos that he would come to look forward to his bi-weekly yoga classes, Carlos would have stared at them. No words would have formed in his mind to serve as the basis for a coherent response.
Yet, some time ago—perhaps a long, long time ago, for who can say when, definitively, the seed of an idea has germinated and presented itself to the consciousness for full consideration—Carlos observed two circles of life forming and flowing through the main plaza of his town as it cemented its connections to the outside world.
The first circle—the circle of his youth formed in the time of his father and grandfather—revolved around the planting and harvest seasons.
The second circle—a new circle that would seem foreign to Carlos’ father and grandfather were they alive to observe its workings—revolved around the growing number of digital ties that connected Oaxaca to the rest of the world.
The people who managed and navigated the second circle seemed to Carlos to be better prepared for whatever changes, good or bad, would arrive on Oaxaca’s shores in the coming years.
Carlos enjoyed the complementary gifts of perception and perspective.
To his mind, the differences that distinguished people from the first and second circles had little to do with whether one possessed a provincial or global frame of reference. No. Instead, the people who seemed most at ease in the second circle had a sense—an internal wiring—of how the pieces fit together. They could see how something that one of the businesses that line the shore road to Puerto Escondido made could be sold at a profit in a market in Denver or in Paris.
The Digital Age, from what Carlos could see, was favoring the return of the city-state, each one connected to the other in real time. The connection that existed between Oaxaca and Dirty Maple’s headquarters of Milwaukee seemed to Carlos more real and more important to his family than the local business connections his father and grandfather enjoyed weaved over coffee at the Huatulco Social Club.
With that thought, the thought that helping his children experience this new world, directly and at an early an age as possible, Carlos decided to accept Frankie’s offer to work as a finance director in the office of the CFO for a couple years.
Frankie for her part was ecstatic that the Gutierrez family would, together, see snow over the holidays for the first time. She felt that some of her company’s struggle with forecasting accuracy had to do with a certain provincial mindset that they themselves retained from when Dirty Maple served the U.S. Midwest, alone.
If someone had observed to Frankie that she was engaged in a mild form of social engineering by moving the Gutierrez’s to Milwaukee, she would have said, “no.”
If pressed, however, Frankie might, over a couple glasses of chardonnay at the Wellington, admit to encouraging a bit of diversity in order to gauge the outcomes relative to the performance of her group.
Carlos stared at the challenge question posed as part of Dirty Maple’s Idea Mill Program for collaborative innovation. His yoga discipline put him in a contemplative frame of mind.
How might we take greater ownership of our forecasts?
Ownership. Carlos recalled from being on the other end of the phone in Oaxaca how seemingly random and ad hoc the requests for guidance and forecasts seemed to be. The exchanges themselves seemed to be unpredictable.
Carlos crafted his idea as follows.
The regional finance directors for each of Dirty Maple’s country teams are often asked to provide ad hoc guidance on forecasts for the countries that their groups cover. They rarely have the chance to hear what their peers are saying and to see in real time our variances from projected for the current month.
The one-to-many form of communication provides too little transparency in real time in how we are doing with our forecasts. As a result the country teams have limited opportunities to learn from one another and to react across the organization in order to improve our practices.
I wish to commit to hosting as a trial, the Dirty Maple Call Down: a weekly call where the finance directors, along with headquarters staff convene to see how we are doing on sales and orders for the current month, along with three months out. Forecast numbers will be updated weekly. This is my sense of what it means to take ownership.
Carlos submitted his idea. The snow continued to fall. He wondered if his mechanic was right to suggest switching to snow tires.
Doug Collins serves as an innovation architect. He helps organizations such as The Estee Lauder Companies, Jarden Corporation, Johnson & Johnson, The Procter & Gamble Company, and Ryder System navigate the fuzzy front end of innovation. Doug develops approaches, creates forums, and structures engagements whereby people can convene to explore the critical questions facing the enterprise. He helps people assign economic value to the ideas and to the collaboration that result.
As an author, Doug explores ways in which people can apply the practice of collaborative innovation in his series Innovation Architecture: A New Blueprint for Engaging People through Collaborative Innovation. His bi-weekly column appears in the publication Innovation Management. Doug serves on the board of advisors for Frost & Sullivan’s Global community of Growth, Innovation and Leadership (GIL). Today, Doug works as senior practice leader at social innovation company Mindjet, where he consults with a range of clients. He focuses on helping them realize their potential for leadership by applying the practice of collaborative innovation.