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Innovation’s No-Duh, No-Joke Secret Sauce: Friendship

The best work can result from genuine friendships–the kind built on trust and the open exchange of ideas.

Innovation’s No-Duh, No-Joke Secret Sauce: Friendship

As a business owner, I’m always looking at how to structure relationships. I’ve joked that a sense of humor is our main concern when evaluating new clients at Karten Design. But when I really think about it, compatibility and the ability to have fun with your clients is a serious matter.

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Recently, the composer Michael Giacchino shared his creative process with our studio. This guy has won Oscars and Emmys; he’s composed music for popular TV series like Lost and blockbuster movies like Up. The possibilities for such a successful composer are nearly limitless. But when I asked him what he would like to do next, his answer surprised me: “I just want to work with my friends.”

When Giacchino works with his friends–movie writers, musicians, other composers, sound effect artists–they share ideas, offer cross-pollination between disciplines, and hone each other’s work through constructive criticism, all without fear of judgment or offense. The affection and intimacy of a friendship creates the ideal environment for innovation to occur.

This idea resonated with me. Looking back, I find I always have a higher level of creative output in situations that are more similar to a friendship than a traditional business relationship. So how can I create this type of relationship with clients? Today, a “friendship” can be established on Facebook with a few clicks of a mouse. I’m not talking about that type of friend; I’m talking about creating an honest connection. As any therapist would tell you, trust is essential for any successful relationship. So let’s start there: you have to be able to trust the people you are working with. Trust will lead to open and honest communication and, ultimately, to sharing.

I can remember a time when we worked in reclusive ways. A client would ask us for a design, and we would go away for a few weeks until a design review. More recently, we’ve realized that friends don’t interact that way. They share! They share ideas and they want feedback on what they’ve created. We’ve begun to involve clients more collaboratively in the creative process at Karten Design through kickoff meetings, brainstorming sessions, and research analysis. A good idea could come from anyone: a researcher, a designer, or the client’s marketing director. Among friends, credit is not important; it’s the quality of the idea that matters. Egos become irrelevant. The open, honest exchange of ideas that happens when you let your guard down creates better results for everyone, including a product’s end user.

Design as a discipline is constantly evolving. We need to keep pushing our old ways of doing things–innovating products as well as relationships. Moving into the future, I will be looking for new ways to build trust, facilitate communication, and work more closely with our clients friends.

[Image: Flickr user jenny downing]

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About the author

Stuart Karten is the Founder and President of Los Angeles-based product innovation consultancy [url=http://kartendesign.com/]Karten Design[/url]. Since 1984, he has partnered with medical device, digital health, and consumer product manufacturers to build their businesses through design

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