Yesterday, I went home chirping like a bird. As I started scanning the events of the day, though, I could not find what had made me so happy. I thought it might have to do with the fact that after many months, the snow is finally vanishing from the Boston suburb where I live and work, but this seemed like an insufficient explanation, particularly given that yesterday had its share of bad news. A major automotive manufacturer had to delay the start of a large project because of the disruption caused by the Japanese situation on the company’s supply chain. There is a translation problem with one of the foreign editions of the book I co-wrote with Venkat Ramaswamy. We had a review of the firm’s economics, and it had its usual cohort of cash-flow and performance management challenges. So what is it that made me so chipper?
It finally dawned on me that the smile on my face had to do with one of the day’s meetings. The meeting was about what software or “engagement platform” we should use to encourage co-creation on a global project for a major manufacturer of medical and scientific equipment. Our gathering had the usual attributes of a business meeting: PowerPoint report prepared by a team, projection on the wall, discussion of the issues involved. As you can see, this is intensely emotional stuff. You’re probably already imagining the treatment afforded such a dramatic event by John Grisham, or the movie Martin Scorsese would make from such rich material.
What made the meeting so engaging was the lead presenter, a young man recently hired by our partner firm. He’d been working hard to put the material together over the last few days and conveyed it with the enthusiasm of his youth. He was genuinely excited about what he’d found, and one could not help but share in the excitement. He was curious about everything, eager to get directions, and I found myself dragged out of my morning torpor and animated by an irresistible desire to share whatever wisdom I could conjure up. All of a sudden, my brain was in overdrive, examples and stories were colliding in my head, and new avenues for research were emerging. We could all feel the energy in the room and at that moment, we were all individually smarter, and collectively co-creative.
I also found the excitement caused by the morning’s meeting to linger in the afternoon. I started thinking of other applications of the research the young man had done, for example in approaching a large European high-tech company that develops software for engagement platforms and which had earlier expressed its interest in our co-creation work, but which we’d never gone back to. When I conveyed this idea to the young man at the end of the day – I am desperately trying to resist the urge to call him “the kid” – he told me he’d discovered new avenues of research for the project and couldn’t wait to show me what he’d got. I found myself trying to find wiggle room in my overbooked schedule, plotting late-night calls next week from Europe that my jet-lagged body will undoubtedly resent when they occur.
I’m not sure I even know how to describe the process through which energy gets generated in such exchanges. Very little is written about how human connections happen in business. All I know is that it feels unbounded and transformative when they occur. A great day indeed. Co-creation works in mysterious ways.