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.
Leadership is the currency of the future. Leaders know they have less time than their native optimism would suggest.
Kaylee Jo and Charlie stared out the window that faced the back yard of their house.
The snow lingered on the branches of the hawthorn tree that stood in front of a row of arborvitae that Charlie and Jane planted the first year they were in the house.
Charlie felt the time of seasonal change come upon him. Temperatures remained low—below freezing, most days. The days themselves, however, were growing longer. Kaylee Jo no longer had to walk to school in the dark.
Charlie felt, too, that he had entered a time of change in his work at Dirty Maple. Leading with Frankie the first challenge for the company’s program for collaborative innovation had transformed him. People at the company who he knew casually—or not at all—would approach him to share their ideas with him or, as was the case with Stephanie Kittain, ask him if they could help with the program itself.
He began to experience firsthand the transformative power of authentic leadership: How, with an invitation to engage, we begin to transcend the perceived limits of our designated roles in order to convene on the critical challenges facing the organization.
He was helping people bring their best to the table. His work became ever more rewarding as he did so. He sensed that, by engaging the enterprise in collaborative innovation, people were better prepared to navigate an increasingly dynamic, uncertain future.
“What do you think about getting in one last round of cross country skiing at Meyer Park before the snow really starts to melt?”
“Should I take that as a ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or, what?”
“Dad, you know what a pain it is when the snow gets heavy.”
“I know, I know. I was just wondering if we might have one last chance to go this year.”
“There’s next year, Dad.”
Charlie considered his daughter’s unquestioning optimism. He thought her outlook a product of youth and, Charlie thought, an inheritance from her mother. Jane and he, when they were younger and before they had Kaylee Jo, would often with a moment’s notice this time of year, pack their Subaru and head for Meyer Park for a run. Charlie wished the three of them could make that trip together, now that Kaylee Jo was capable on her skis.
“Is everything alright, Dad?”
“Yes—just thinking about your Mom a bit.”
“Do you think I’ll be able to fit into her skis some day?”
“Yes, I think so. You take after her, that way.”
“Was she a good skier?”
“You bet. When we were first dating I wondered if she would lose interest in me. I could not keep up with her.”
“Spring happened. The snow melted. You happened.”
“I wish I could have gone skiing with her. I’ve gotten better.”
“You sure have. She would have loved that.”
“We can try going to Meyer Park on more time this weekend if the snow is right.”
A cardinal, his red coat popping against the white of the snow, flew low to the ground and landed at the bird feeder.
Kaylee Jo returned her gaze to her laptop. Charlie, following her lead, did the same. He liked to think they were work mates. Her task at hand happened to be eighth grade algebra. His was creating an agenda for the challenge resolution session.
Charlie checked his email in box. Harry, aided by Laura Diehl, had earlier in the day sent a communication announcing the close of the collaborative innovation challenge. Charlie absorbed Harry’s words again.
From the desk of Harry Lundstrom, CEO, Dirty Maple Flooring Company
Subject: close of the first challenge of the Idea Mill Program for Collaborative Innovation
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you for committing to engage in the Idea Mill Program’s first challenge.
Over half of the people we invited—over 500 people—participated.
Some of you contributed ideas. Some of you helped the contributors expand upon and refine their ideas. Some of you assessed the ideas. Does the idea offer relative advantage? How easy would it be to test it and see the results?
I have read the contributions. The ideas, taken in total, inspired me in turn to create the following mind map by way of grouping them.
Figure 1: Harry’s mind map of the idea landscape for the first Idea Mill program challenge
What’s next? Challenge leaders Frankie Wilson and Charlie Bangbang convene the challenge team at headquarters immediately following our annual sales meeting to resolve the challenge. Which ideas do we pursue in the near term? In the long term? By what means do we pursue the ones we choose?
To close, I cannot tell you how please I am at the level of thought you have applied to this challenge and, by extension, to the work at hand.
Kaylee Jo awakened Charlie from his reverie.
“Are you going to be in town next week?”
“Yes, our big meetings are next week, including one that I’ll lead in the Lundstrom’s barn.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“Let’s hope so. That’s the plan. Hey, I was thinking about pizza tonight. What do you think?”
“Yes! You don’t have to ask me twice.”
Kaylee Jo slammed close her laptop and ran to her room in search of her favorite sweater to wear for the walk to Mario’s Café.
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.