2008: Back to work….there’s lots to do!

Happy New Year! It’s been an overly long holiday vacation from the blog. I thought I would start the year with a declaration of intent and an ask for your help and insight.

It’s a busy time for Remarkk! at the moment. I’m moving into the final strategy and writing phase for the Creative Convergence Project, completing the engagement strategy and web site launch for Municipal Cultural Planning Partnership and exciting TransitCamp-related developments are coming including the pending publication of an article in the February Harvard Business Review with co-authors Eli Singer and Jay Goldman. Every week, exciting new prospects, ideas, community projects and startup opportunities pop up. I am looking forward to chatting with the folks at the Founders & Funders dinner as well as the inspiring Lift Conference in Geneva. It’s a great outlook for 2008.

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While we’re at it, maybe work-life balance should be on this list somewhere. The wonderful thing about this life I have is how work and life really make up a meaningful and integrated whole. Maybe this is my rationalization for not “having a life” in the traditional domestic bliss sense. It may be an integrated whole, but if I’m honest with myself, it’s not really that balanced and I need to work on that.

I’m wrestling with the question of how to scale my business while maintaining my focus on the things I find personally meaningful, my purpose and the strength that has come from my independence. My preferred mode of taking on more and larger projects is to collaborate with other independent or freelance creative pros whom I know and trust. People who, like me, want to innovate, make meaning and change the world while offering each other complementary skills and capabilities. Maybe you are one of those people.

So, what kinds of capabilities am I looking for in my soulmate-collaborators? Well, here’s a list of the things that tend to be asked of me by clients and prospects:

  • community research
  • community engagement strategy
  • branding and graphic design
  • web design & implementation (yes, social media/community sites!)
  • open space/unconference style events to support creative collaboration
  • community management and evangelism
  • policy, technology and industry research in entertainment, cultural & creative industries
  • innovation strategy development and writing
  • project management

My strength has always been my ability to cross these various domains with relative ease and to synthesize it all in a meaningful way. But I know I can’t keep DOING it all if I’m going to be effective and deliver all the value I have to offer. Meanwhile, I’ve got some work to do in focusing my service offering, positioning my brand and rationalizing my workflow and project portfolio.

I stubbornly resist well-established methods of growing a service-based business. I want to know:

How can a network of innovative professionals work in a way that effectively competes with a traditional integrated firm?

Because I talk the talk of open source, co-creation and community-driven innovation, I want to live it. I’m putting myself out to my community to ask for your insights as I develop Remarkk further in 2008. If you’re part of my community and have insights to share on these questions, or have some of these complimentary capabilities, I’d love to hear from you. Coffee is on me.

10 thoughts on “2008: Back to work….there’s lots to do!”

  1. Hey Mark,

    Thoughts that come to mind right away, not really thought through.

    1st, is “I stubbornly resist well-established methods of growing a service-based business.”

    We do this too. Now I’m wondering, why? It makes me think that there’s something mixed up about outcomes vs. process, and one being incompatable with the other. Working in a well-established way – > will it only give you boring outcomes? Hmm. A question that hasn’t come up yet. We’ve always kind of assumed we have to do things crazy and non-traditional and had a sense of why it was good, but hmmmmmm. Thinking.

    2nd.
    Your question.
    A no brainer feels like it would be to have the network have strength. That may not be through everybody knowing everybody, but through the right people and tools to be available or findable. You don’t need to know the answer, but you need to know where to find it. Big companies that fall apart have bad communication and resource management. Ones that thrive often have tight but open lines of communication across all departments, projects, and people. Another form of this principle of connectivity would have to be at work to help a network of innovative professionals work in a way that effectively competes with a traditional integrated firm. — For example, if we could just find the people to help us with all the projects we’re getting involved with, we could do more of them, possibly do a better job, make better profits, and generally expand capacity. The linchpin is finding the people who can help.

    3rd.
    My question:
    effectively competes on what grounds? Integrated firms offer a specific value, and perhaps loose networks offer a different value to a different client. Is the goal to be able to take big firm clients and deliver better product? Is that competition necessary or are networks of innovative professionals essentially in a different business space all-together?
    A good definition of “effectively-compete” would be valuable.

    Some ideas:
    Perhaps it would be good to establish some boundaries. What if we said said straight up: this is the type of work loose networks of small companies and individuals working together are NOT going to do. That would give us a narrowed down scope of what the actual task at hand would be, which would give us a better way of assessing what the network would need to complete the tasks. I would very much like to see what the inherent drawbacks of a loose network are vs. the inherent strengths to better aim it in the right direction, and not have people competing where they shouldn’t, or searching for improvement where there is little to be had because of firm circumstances & dynamics. If everything is worse for something and better for something else, what are networks of innovative professionals best & worse for?

    Blue sky: The allocation of work being the new currency, it’s sounding like there is a massive opportunity for highly networked individuals within these things to become matchmaking network professionals. The role that is missing in a loose network is often a team builder & project planner. That stuff comes together slowly and accidentally often because there isn’t anyone doing it. That works, but there may be room for improvement first. Freelance team builders & resource managers could add profound value to a loose network. Alternatively to a person filling that role, perhaps it’s a better self-organizing system than we have now.

    Of course, more time would have kept this “comment” shorter. We’ll be in touch.

    Alan Smith

  2. Alan, great comments! Thanks for getting the conversation going. I was just chatting with your partner Patrick at CSI (serendipity is uncanny!), talking about getting together a group of people to explore these issues in a problem-solving mode.

    I’ve been toying with the idea of hosting a “FreeAgentCamp” at CSI to work on designing solutions to some of the friction areas in pulling together ad-hoc project teams from a trusted network of independents.

    My stubborn resistance to the traditional structures of building service-based companies comes from my fundamental disappointment/distrust of organizational hierarchies and my intuition that social web technologies and practices create new possibilities.

    My theory/belief is that the people and places that master the new world of creative work will outperform, will provide creative professionals with better rewards and will be more sustainable.

  3. My fear is that if some of who have actually done the work don’t find a way to connect meaningfully – then the traditional big consulting firms will “package” what we have learned and fill he space

    It’s up to us
    Rob

  4. Rob brings up a good point. In an open innovation network, free-riding is a possibility and the big boys use them to mine good ideas to incorporate into their pitches. It begs the question of how open vs closed such a network would/could/should be vis-a-vis intellectual property.

    Yet another topic for FreeAgentCamp.

  5. Mark, great post. I am up for learning how we can help each other and as a community benefit one another.

    I have a beef with the idea of work life balance. It adds a third thing in the mind to worry about. First there is life need to get in order, then there is work, and if I have to focus on balance I may get more distracted…

    I think the life of the integrated whole you talk about is on the magic. If each of us were able to better define what we want, and what we can do then maybe there is some way we can say no more and send work to others…

    Just a rant. I am up for chats on this one anytime.

  6. Love this post Mark. I’ve been re-evaluating my work situation over the past few months too, and have realized that I want to collaborate more with interesting people as well: it would provide me a platform for learning and development as well as provide for more meaningful experiences.

    I’m writing a post later this week with my thoughts. Will definitely track it back here.

  7. You pose evocative questions, sir.

    Depending on the client, one advantage that big firms have is the fact that they’re big. It makes it easier for some clients to sell the idea of working with a big firm to their superiors. I would imagine that the conversation might go something like this:

    Person: “Boss, I want to hire a firm for our project.”
    Boss: “Underling, I can’t approve that unless I see a long track record of success for that firm and it’s a firm that I recognize so I can sell it to my boss. After all, that’s the right CYA move.”
    Person: “OK. I’ll hire Accenture.”

    So the concept of loose networks could have a perceived disadvantage in the sales cycle if the client needs to see a brand name firm so they can sell it up the food chain. In actuality, once Accenture is hired, they might pull together an ad hoc team to fulfill the project but that’s hidden from the client.

    The idea of a loose network and promoting it as such, is that it takes advantage of all kinds of neat concepts such as open source innovation and creativity, etc. without the overhead of an Accenture that by its very nature won’t be as creative as an ad-hoc, diverse network of people. For some people this will be a real stretch on how to get good work done. For others, it will be a breath of fresh air.

    I think I owe you coffee.

  8. Dan, thanks for the comment. It’s true about the old saying, “nobody gets fired for buying IBM”.

    But neither do I have any interest in competing against Accenture or IBM in terms of my offering. What I do is an emerging practice with like-minded others, including like-minded clients who become drawn to those ideas through social media channels and personal recommendations.

    Thought leadership combined with the capacity to execute and a track record of innovation is the offering. Instead of a brand-forward approach, what I’m suggesting is a talent-forward approach, led by social media enabled indies. I’m interested in working with people that really establish their personal brands and are savvy enough to understand how blogging supports their business in both direct and indirect ways.

    If a brand emerges from this, then that would be great. But I think it starts with getting the offering and business model down, which starts with the right people willing to make it a reality.

  9. You’re blog post was forwarded to me by Dan Rose. I think he’s practicing what you are suggesting. You and I don’t know each other but we have potentially very complementary ideologies and services to offer the world.

    I have been part of a loose network of associates delivering unique design and facilitation of those “open space / unconference style events” Nyou mentioned above for almost 20 years. One of the ideas my partners and I had when we formed our firm was to create an ‘entity’ that would allow independent businesses to be stronger together then they are apart. Along the way we’ve been ‘distracted’ by delivering our services to clients all over the world and have spent almost no energy and focus on developing the network to produce something akin to the vision you are referring to.

    If it’s valuable I can share with you and the group things we’ve learned along the way – and things we still want to learn. That can be done in this medium or another?? Coffee might be challenging in the short term ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I would be more than thrilled to continue this conversation and see where this takes us…

    Michael Kaufman
    InnovationLabs

  10. Hi Mark:

    We’ve talked about this before and we’re always interested in engaging in cultural, and especially local projects. In particular, the Studio (http://www.smackstudio.com), with a focus on design for our city, may be a good funnel for some of the projects you’re working on. Beyond the skill sets and technology we have in house, there’s lots of room in our office to set up a collaboration space and group environment with yourself and others.

    Peace.
    Lee

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