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Nobody is as smart as everybody

Posted in Points of Interest on September 24th, 2009 by Mark VanderKlipp – Be the first to comment

Taking a cue from “Mavericks At Work,” we’ve instituted a new segment here at Corbin Design that takes advantage of our (previously hidden) expertise and turns our design minds to a most pressing problem: how to develop the kinds of new business that can continue to sustain us, especially in these challenging times.

The Corbin Team took time out on a Wednesday afternoon to tackle this problem in what we’re terming a “Marketing Mashup.” We’ve taken stock of our diverse interests, strengths and breadth of experience to approach this issue in ways that address both short- and long-term objectives.

We had three goals in mind.

First, to tell our staff that even if we see a drop off in work, this is the team we will keep. We wanted everyone to know that no layoffs are pending, and that we have the resources to ride out a prolonged dip in business. Of course, this is exactly what we’re hoping to avoid, but we wanted to give our folks the confidence, and the incentive, to build on this marketing discussion and make a real difference. Billable time comes first, naturally, but we want everyone to think more entrepreneurially and speak up if they’ve got a great story to tell.

Second, to provide an awareness of the efforts already underway to promote the firm, spreading the word about the good work we do and frankly, that we’re smart and connected people. There is a tendency in design firms to be very insular about marketing efforts, and to keep billable people busy. While this is generally the idea in a firm such as ours, sometimes lack of communication can lead to an erosion in confidence in a marketing team. This session made marketing efforts more transparent to all.

Third, and most importantly, to brainstorm approaches that the marketing team never could have come to on our own. This is the whole idea of the “nobody is as smart as everybody” mantra, and demonstrates how thoughtful people, with permission to innovate and a structure for discussion, can group-think creative solutions to the most vexing problems.

Led by Mark VanderKlipp, this session was quickly assembled and loosely structured. In advance of the meeting, we determined five outreach categories for discussion:

  1. Public Relations
  2. Speaking Engagements/Conferences
  3. Marketing Materials
  4. Proposals
  5. Market Research/Strategy

Several subcategories were outlined under each, relevant to current ongoing efforts. These served as thought starters, and allowed us to brainstorm even more wide-reaching approaches as the session went on.

This is the whole idea of the “nobody is as smart as everybody” mantra, and demonstrates how thoughtful people, with permission to innovate and a structure for discussion, can group-think creative solutions to the most vexing problems.

A sampling of outcomes:

  • New billing codes for tracking Mashup thinking, in order to measure time spent against how much a given effort moved the needle. Immediately implemented.
  • Marketing materials will be enhanced and updated, including among other things page backgrounds for Twitter and more standardized (and usable) email signatures.
  • A team and approach designated to touch base with past clients, in an effort to determine whether they will need additional wayfinding support, or can give us key testimonials and references
  • Options and ideas for product development when we’ve initiated a patent-ready concept
  • Building collaborative and marketing partnerships with other EGD firms, researchers, technology providers, fabricators etc. allowing Corbin to focus on what we know we do well, then bring others to the table to close the loop. Our goal? To become aggregators of whip-smart people so if we don’t have an immediate answer, we know where to get one.

Details:

Mashups will occur bi-monthly and include generous helpings of brain food and drink (funny how the best ideas always occur around this stuff). When we renovated our offices last January, we built a Think Tank room adjacent to the kitchen just for these types of meetings. Plenty of sun, space and moveable stuff.

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Corbin Design's Think Tank room, shortly after project completion. It's considerably more lived-in now.

Mashups will occur regardless of who’s here, though initially we want to schedule them for days with less travel.

Our second Mashup will be a broad-ranging discussion, continuing on the first. Subsequent meetings will focus on one of the five areas identified above.

Smaller groups will opt in to specific efforts (e.g. potential partnerships for healthcare projects) and report to the team, either in our weekly staff meeting or in the next Mashup.

The investment in time is relatively minimal, especially when compared with the process of ownership transition we went through in the earlier part of this decade. The outcome, we hope, will be a more engaged, empowered and proactive process – ultimately involving everyone in more complete solutions for our clients, and the continued success of the firm.

And isn’t that what design leadership’s all about?

Special kudos to John Edson of Lunar Design who shared some thoughts on how this session could be structured. A fellow member of the APDF, he and Mark VanderKlipp regularly share ideas, insights and how-not-to-do-stuff in monthly conference calls.

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