Enhance Productivity and Efficiency with Stephen’s Innovation Insights

Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

The final section of Tip 11 from Best Practices are Stupid. Please read the first two sections before reading this. Remember, this book was written a dozen years ago, so some concepts have evolved. The first two posts talked about competition vs collaboration, and the three downsides of traditional brainstorming. Now we move to some examples.

Several years ago I wanted a new logo for my website and decided to crowdsource a design using 99 Designs. After posting a “brief” describing what I wanted, I had a choice: use a collaborative or competitive approach. With the collaborative model, every designer could see the submissions of the other contributors along with my comments on the designs. With the competitive approach, I could use blind submissions where the designers couldn’t see anyone else’s work. I chose the collaborative design approach. In the beginning, the designs trickled in slowly; many designers sat back and waited until there seemed to be a convergence around one idea. The variety of designs was relatively low.

I used a different approach when it came time to design the cards for my third book, Personality Poker. I first used the competitive model (i.e., blind submissions). What I found was a much greater variety of submissions right from the start, but there was no opportunity for people to build on the ideas of others. Therefore, after running the competition, I followed it up with a collaborative challenge. This process yielded a wide choice of initial designs followed by a high level of collaborative refinement. The final result was better than anything a single designer could have developed.

The most successful model, from this experience, was competition followed by collaboration.

Of course there are other factors that will influence when you should use a competitive versus collaborative approach. For example, if intellectual property issues are critical, blind competitions work better since they provide greater protection for the designers. Of course, even in that situation, you can have groups work together to submit a competitive solution. Or, when allocating prizes (monetary or other) competitions are easier to manage as submissions are clearly delineated. But even with collaborative solutions, there are creative ways of divvying up the winnings. It does not need to be winner-takes-all.

For social issues pertaining to the public good, collaboration often works well because you can take the pulse of a variety of people. Just don’t fall into the trap of believing that public opinion will lead you to the right solution (see the next tip).

Every situation is different, and it is up to you figure out which approach will work best for your particular challenge.

  1. In the book “The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures” by Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz, one of the core techniques they offer is called “1-2-4-ALL” which is similar to your sequenced competition->collaboration. The first step in the sequence “1” is 1 min of a person reflecting on a question/challenge an writing private notes to themselves. then “2”, you have people share in dyads for a few minutes with each other and build on each other’s ideas. that moves on to “4” where people talk as teams at table tops for a few minutes comparing/contrasting/merging ideas. Then finally a broad share out stage, called “All” in which all the tables report out, and after some time (usually 15-20 minutes), you hit diminishing returns. It’s a very generative technique that solves for many of the traditional problems you have rightly called out with traditional mobstorming and the like.

    • Stephen Shapiro says:

      Thanks for this Curtis. It’s very similar to the process I typically use (with different timeframes depending on the complexity of the opportunity we are working on). Always individuals, small group (sometimes pairs, sometimes larger), and the larger group. I also wrote about why brainstorming is stupid back in 2011. This aligns with what you are suggesting: https://stephenshapiro.wpengine.com/why-brainstorming-is-a-waste-of-time/ – you will note that I also talk about another technique called Speaker’s Corner. This is a free-market approach to conversation modeled after Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner. I developed this when I lived in London before I became aware of Open Space Technology (OST). OST has a similar feel, but there are differences.

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