Interview with David Simoes-Brown, CEO, 100%Open

David Simoes-Brown is CEO of 100%Open. He shares his thoughts on how the pandemic is creating new innovation opportunities.

‘We’ve seen extraordinary collaboration’

100%Open is really a collaboration agency. It facilitates innovation, but collaboration is the means to that end.

The effect of the pandemic upon collaborative innovation is clearly a positive one. We’ve seen extraordinary collaboration in the medical and medicinal fields.

It has made people realize that innovation is a team sport. There’s been a terrific response – especially in getting drugs invented, supply chains built and global collaborations enacted.

Pharma and governments are not usually the easiest bedfellows. But they just got on with it. And the epidemiologists and geneticists – people who don’t normally work together – have collided in a rather helpful way.

It’s a miraculous quirk of human nature that when your back’s against the wall you’ll innovate.

‘Now is the time to innovate’

Pragmatically it has smashed down the barriers between disciplines, sectors, governments and companies.

This gives me hope for the other great emergency we’re dealing with – climate change. It’s helped overcome the human behaviours which create silos and barriers between disciplines – which is delightful.

COP 26 is happening as we speak. I think that without the global response to the pandemic, I would feel much gloomier about it.

Now is the time to innovate. But not as a luxury – for brand extensions or getting more margin – in a classic innovation pipeline way. It’s much more urgent.

‘Access people’s sense of urgency’

It’s very easy to feel hopeless when faced with the implications of climate change.

That’s what’s such genius about re-branding climate change as a climate emergency. It gave you access people’s sense of urgency and collaboration.

The similarities between that and the pandemic are global and huge. Essentially, ‘we’re in it together’ for both things.

The pandemic has given us more hope in collaborative innovation. And hope in our ability to respond as a species.

Which in this current climate of separatism is very heartening. People can see it’s amazing what you could do when you try together.

‘The pendulum is swinging back towards collectivism’

Companies have never collaborated more – across disciplines, sectors, countries, start-ups and corporates.

We’re seeing the pendulum swinging back towards collectivism – in the face of the evidence that it works. That’s produced this fantastic response to the Covid epidemic – which will start to make things a little bit more believable.

We’ve moved from self-interest to enlightened self-interest. And we will continue to move forward to collective interest. Organizations, individuals and government departments can operate on any of those three models. There’s a choice, and we’re moving up that continuum.

But it’s still going to take 5-10 years before collaboration is the normal default position within organizations.

‘Rampant short-termism is slowly becoming unfashionable’

I want to bring in the concept of legacy. People are looking at the question: ‘what did you do when the world was burning daddy?’.

They are seriously considering their responsibilities. And if they’re going to work anyway, then they might as well work towards a better future.

We are responding tactically at present. That’s natural, you cannot formulate a strategic long-term response during a crisis.

However, there’s a fundamental issue in both politics and business with short-termism. But this is being made to look more and more shallow and irresponsible.

The main stumbling block for innovation and collaboration – rampant short-termism – is slowly becoming unfashionable.

‘Natural selection will favour the agile’

The way that mainstream businesses are embracing new working practices and technology is heartening.

It’s a little like natural selection in biology. For example, if the world suddenly changed, so that swimming was essential for survival then you’d immediately see a greater prevalence of swimming ability.

It’s about adaptation. The styles, approaches and strategies have been there all along. It’s our crises that are re-framing which the valuable skills are.

There are two kinds of cultural paradigm – rigidity and openness. Companies and processes that are closed and repetitive will become irrelevant – as natural selection will favour the agile.

The most enlightened organizations understand that innovation is everyone’s job.

‘Employers aren’t sure what their strategic response should be’

We’re in the throes of enormous change and employers aren’t sure what their strategic response should be to working from home.

The dynamic, broadly speaking, is of companies being forced into WFH, without really understanding its pros and cons. And employees being extremely keen to, because of work life balance issues. So that’s still playing out.

What we’ll see is a polarisation of reactions in organizations – between the doubters and the embracers.

The doubters will be frustrated. Those who are naturally inclined to distrust their employees are having a harder time than those who have businesses built on trust and collaboration.

Managerial cultures of command and control are feeling very out of control right now. While the more agile, liberal cultures are exploding.

So, the likes of Slack, Zoom and all kinds of internal and external collaboration platforms are having a boom time.

‘This will lead to higher productivity and faster evolution’

There’s been a pattern interrupt. It has forced us to look at the future in a way that most people just didn’t bother. So there’s a revolution starting – a new balance point to be found and a new marketplace for work.

People are going to be able to make new choices about their work-life balance and the competition for talent will shift to new ground. Companies will start to think about their employees in a more holistic manner. And trust them.

As a result, the metrics will change – although the scientific proof points haven’t been established yet. How much more productivity do you get out ofmebody versus how much happier they are on a day-to-day basis? What will be the effect on divorce rates, or job loyalty?

All this stuff is playing out right now and I suspect that the game has changed. My prediction is that this will lead to higher productivity and a faster evolution of corporate culture.

‘Spontaneous hybridization of ideas’

We also have a technological explosion. In the tools, platforms and channels, but also the hybrid between public and private social media in companies.

Once you free yourself from physical meeting culture interesting things start to happen. The spontaneous hybridization of ideas that makes collaborative innovation so productive.

You could argue that the value per minute of a face-to-face meeting is higher than online. It’s easier to interpret body language, or get a handle on oup dynamics etc. You can have very productive sessions.

The trouble is logistics, as the effort of making these meetings is large. There’s an opportunity-cost of having them. On the other hand, it’s very easy to get together for a quick brainstorm on Slack. You just press the button and go into a huddle – there’s no formality about it.

So net net, there will be more interaction, more collaboration and more interesting, radical innovation when people aren’t having to meet physically.

‘Organizations must open up, inside and outside’

That interplay between different disciplines, perspectives and points of view is all good. And that’s true for open innovation or internal innovation.

It allows younvolve all sorts of people in a company in innovation – in what used to be the prerequisite of the innovation team. So you can have the accounts department or production team into innovation sessions.

But organizations must open up, inside and outside, to have the right cultural response. To enable the right technologies, the right networks and levels of trust. They need more decentralised decision making, higher collaboration IQ, less risk aversion and ‘not invented here’ syndrome. The winners of that will win the innovation game.

Back to Interviews