As the first one in a series of twelve – this article explains the "Annual Discovery Project" that everyone at Inqova is working on throughout 2021, why we are doing it, and how this could change everything for other companies doing the same. As an experiment, we will be sharing an article each for every month of 2021. As a word of caution, we do not claim to know anything more than that it seems to "make sense" for us.
You can think of the Annual Discovery Project (ADP) as a way to build organisational muscle by drawing upon and aligning people, systems and structures. We adopted this practice to foster innovation, learning, transformation and change and created an overview for you to do the same. Alright, let's dive into the fundamentals.
A registered company is technically an independent entity, like a person, but in plain speak - it's a group of people working together with a shared vision and shared values. Individually, each person possesses knowledge – skills and expertise that are valuable to the company and its customers. With a broad group of people from different backgrounds, the company can offer more value in better ways. With strong values and culture, the group becomes resilient – caring for each other and its customers during challenging times.
The central premise of social capital is that social networks have value. Social capital refers to the collective value of all “social networks” [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other [“norms of reciprocity”]. - Robert D. Putnam, Stanfield Professor of International Peace at Harvard – Official Blog
People you trust—those who are willing to sacrifice their own time and knowledge to help you when you need it. The 'economics of trust' works differently between family & close friends, distant friends, and other groups, but the fundamentals remain the same. Over time, considerations to the balance of give-and-take transactions affect trust. In business, these transactions are exchanges of value, often dollar value, which needs to balance out over time for the ongoing relationship to be fair and sustainable. I mentioned dollar value (financial capital), but even then are we not fundamentally still talking about trust and social capital?
For businesses to remain competitive, companies must develop skills and expertise to improve and adapt as the world changes continuously. Thus, enhancing and adjusting the value offering to its customers. Innovation comes through new product and services development that help the company create, deliver and provide a better value chain, but this is not all. The created value must be communicated clearly to customers – through what's commonly known as marketing, which requires effective communication from within an organisation and aggregation of knowledge.
Creativity and strategy go hand in hand when turning ideas into new solutions and value offerings for your customers. In B2B, it is fundamental to understand our customer's business to create, deliver, and communicate our value proposition to get customers to pay for our products and services, improve retention and turn them into advocates. To get to that stage, we need trust.
Trust matters because it enables and facilitates transactions that create value and good for everyone. The absence of trust is an impediment to growth.
Because at its core, trust is about empowering people to make meaningful connections that enable us to rediscover a humanness that we've lost somewhere along the way. This is also why businesses like Airbnb, Kickstarter, and Etsy, that are built on personal relationships versus empty transactions thrive in the new economy.
We must take the time to learn about our customer's business to add value to their company. Selling for the sake of "you making more money" does not build trust. There must be an exchange of merit, and it must happen when it's right for both parties. Show that you understand something about your customer's business to build connections with your customers and prospects. Highlight that common challenges they face, and communicate how you can help them. You're probably asking - what does all this have to do with personal development and company culture?
Now that you're broadly familiar with the economics of trust, social capital, and business knowledge significance. Let's dive deeper into development on a personal and organisational level.
At Inqova, we know that it is vital for everyone to feel comfortably challenged while continuing to develop ourselves individually and as a company. We all share values for the long-term that we are also actively looking for in new people joining our team.
When we undergo personal development by learning or experiencing something new, we challenge ourselves to go outside of our comfort zone. Anyone can do this intentionally by taking on an appealing challenge and then breaking it down into a step-by-step learning plan over a fixed time, following a traditional and straightforward approach to learning with intended learning outcomes and a plan for how to get there.
By having everyone in the company commit to a personal learning program and holding each other accountable, we create a good foundation for each individual to learn and grow independently while also contributing to its collective know-how. In practice, the "Annual Discovery Project" requires each one of us to design our curriculum around a topic that aligns with our learning goals.
Think of it as a book with 12 chapters (one for each month) due for publishing on the last working day of the year. To give you an example of my 2021 project, I have selected "The Economics of Manufacturing" as my general topic. I will explore research and findings that explain how the world is changing in the textile and apparel industry. The article you are now reading is the first chapter. As you may have noticed, I started discussing social capital and the economics of trust, which I believe is fundamental to manufacturing and supply chain businesses' future.
Now that we have chosen an Annual Discovery Project, we are excited about diving into it, while holding ourselves accountable and inter-company sharing. It's time to support and share. As each of us gain clarity on a monthly sub-topic, we allow time to make this internalised knowledge explicit – in any medium each person and the company sees fit, but for now, let's keep it to writing a chapter in the "Annual Book".
What you are now reading is my first chapter highlighting my discoveries, so that you and others can learn from this. This first chapter clarifies the purpose, format and application of the Annual Discovery Project. The goal is to make knowledge ubiquitous for people within and outside of the organisation.
To summarise the practical aspects of how the Annual Discovery Project affects company culture, we focus on three practical exercises within the company.
Coming back to building trust, we have already established the importance of understanding our customers' challenges and sharing solutions. We don't expect everyone's annual discovery project at INQOVA to focus directly on our customer's business and challenges. Still, there will often be a connection to topics that help us understand how to improve ourselves, our company and our customer's business.
With the ADP, our knowledge is made explicit, and discoverable for anyone on the team. It now makes sense for us to share it with our markets and stakeholders in the marketplace. We openly give away our knowledge, to build trust with anyone who can benefit, so that you out there can better understand the value we add when working together.
You are more than welcome to internalise the knowledge, adopt a similar program in your organisation, and reap all the benefits from doing so - let us know when you do. What we offer as a company goes well beyond this one article, and while we do want to share openly and provide an opportunity to DIY, we would love to start a conversation.
Hopefully, you learned something about a small exercise that can potentially transform personal development, company culture, and marketing.
"It's been a good day when you get home feeling you've learned something new."
Everyone in Inqova will be writing our chapters throughout the year, and we will be publishing our articles on our website. Over the next few chapters, I will cover some more fundamental concepts of Manufacturing Economics, such as:
I will be using examples from the denim, textiles & apparel, and leather industries, but the concepts should generally apply to similar businesses and environments.
If you found this article interesting, I would love to hear your thoughts. If you think of starting something similar in your company, we would love to support you and spread the word. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org