Why I think OpenIDEO is important

This is a break from my usual blog post format but today is a special day: we’re launching OpenIDEO – a platform designed to bring people together to solve problems for social good. Here’s a quick intro video (those of you that know me may recognise the voice):

I’ve been thinking about and developing this opportunity for a few years and thought I’d jot down a quick personal perspective on why I think it’s important.

Collaboration works. Cities have always been hotbeds of innovation.  Why?  Because high population densities bring together minds and enable collaboration.  Solitary inventors deliver, but the world is getting too complex for individuals to make breakthroughs at the societal level as frequently.


Take helicopter design: although Leonardo Da Vinci had a good go at designing a whole ‘helicopter’ in the 1480s no individual on the planet would be able to design and build a groundbreaking one today from scratch.  I don’t imagine there’s even an individual that could design and build all of the electronic systems. Today, most breakthroughs require collaboration.

Collaboration works between similar individuals: 1+1 = 2.5. But we have learnt through our work that collaboration works even better between diverse individuals (whether the differences stem from culture, experience, knowledge, approach or all of the above): 1+1 = 3. Diversity of perspectives drives better results.

And it doesn’t need to be ‘physical’ anymore. In the past collaboration has generally required physical meetings, it’s still arguably the most effective approach.  But technology is providing new means to meet and collaborate virtually, for example social networks (including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn) provide us all with new tools for collaboration.  Harnessing technology will be essential for impactful collaborations in the future, particularly since we know that diversity is important.

When companies choose to prevent employees from using social networks (usually to keep them focused) I wonder if they’ve thought through downsides – not least that they may be preventing their employees from developing these new collaboration muscles.

And we care. Although voter numbers are dwindling, consumer and citizen engagement around brands and local politics is increasing – partly because these are the areas where we believe we can have impact. This is likely to increase – particularly after a period where we have all been forced to reassess our values (the economic meltdown) and because technology is offering us all greater power to affect that change.

So, with these big trends in mind, we built a technology platform to enable diverse people to collaborate in solving problems for social good.  We hope that it makes a difference.