Imagine the world populated by 7 billion clones of you – every one with your experiences, skills and knowledge. What would it be like?
Would it work? Would you have clothes on your back? Would your car have fuel? Would you have a home to live in? Would you have food on the table? Would your business make money?
I know the answer to these questions.
Unless you’re a grazier, shearer, weaver and tailor, clothing would be difficult. Unless you’re a geologist, miner and refiner, fuel will be hard to come by. Unless you’re a surveyor, draftsman, builder, plumber, carpenter and electrician, you’ll struggle to build a home.
We need people with diverse skills, people who can do the things we can’t or won’t. We need the fishermen, the plumber, the nurse, the engineer, the industrial designer and the baker.
We accept that the world works better with people who possess skills we don’t.
Even if we know a little about carpentry or cooking, most of us remain open to learning from those who know more.
However, I was recently reminded that there are people in business who feel threatened by others with skills they themselves don’t possess.
We consult to a business based in a small Australian town. The owner wanted our help to establish a market for his products in China. We created a bilingual .cn website, with the help of our Shanghai-based business partners who provided the translations, bought the Chinese domain name etcetera.
As part of the development process, we needed some information from the owner of the small local design studio that created the client’s main website. It was clear that the designer felt threatened by our presence – even though she couldn’t do the Chinese translation. I tried to involve her at every step. I told her that I was looking for partners with her skills and hoped that we might work on some projects together in the future.
This client was her baby. Whilst she was polite, she was obstructive. She delayed our project and effectively shut the door to future collaboration.
About the same time, we started working with the marketing group for another small town in New South Wales. Our role is mostly with branding and event marketing. It might eventually lead to a new website for the town, but not necessarily. Interestingly, I got a phone call from the designer who created the existing website. He introduced himself and offered his services.
These contrasting experiences started me thinking about how we go about expanding the suite of skills available to us.
I am a big believer in finding collaborators who complement my own abilities. However, that’s not the only way to go about it. I recall that in the early nineties, many advertising agencies started to see their core businesses under threat, with clients diverting money from TV commercials and magazine ads to websites and promotions and events.
The response of many agencies was to rapidly expand their skill sets beyond making ads. Agencies bought up film production houses, PR agencies, branding agencies, design studios, research houses.
Generally, they paid too much. Generally, they bought second and third tier businesses – because the best practitioners in each discipline weren’t for sale.
Here’s what happened. The clients realised that they were paying for these additional services, even if they weren’t using them. They also realised that their agencies didn’t own the best PR brains or the best producers or best designers. The clients continued to divert money from TV commercials or magazine ads, but their money went elsewhere – to the designers with the best portfolios and the PR agents with the best track records.
I still believe the best approach is to assemble a team of appropriately skilled experts for each task.
I’m forever on the lookout for collaborators. I am constantly meeting people whose skills astound me. I want to work with them. I want to introduce them to my clients. I want my clients to benefit from their talent. I want to surround myself with partners who are way better than I am in their chosen fields.
It’s a big world. There are opportunities enough for all of us.
No matter how good we are, our partners can make us better.