#66 COMMON – The New Industrialists (E.G. B2C and B2C2B)

[Note: I wrote this post for the Oregon MBA Career Center.]

Over spring break 2011 I went wild–to visit with some great companies in Boulder, Colorado. I’m an MBA (it’s official in about 10 days) with a background as a creative professional with the incurable affliction of curiosity. I will be working as a creative strategist and business designer when I graduate this June. (A simple way to think about creative strategy and business design is drawing business strategy from three types of skills–analytical, intuitive & creative–to create meaningful business value, in other words dollars + intangibles.)

Me on a Bcycle in Denver, Co.

A few companies integrating creative strategy and business design exist in Boulder, and fortunately for me, my big brother lives and works there. The company that I was really looking forward to visiting was the COMMON Initiative—“The New Industrialists” which launched in January 2011. There will be more on COMMON in a moment. First, to give context to why COMMON is important, we’ll talk about the context of the current landscape of business. For my Oregon MBA cronies, I’ll wrap up with share some bits of advice that I’ve found useful.


The problems of business have changed. Industries have changed. Brands have changed. Lifestyles have changed. You have probably noticed that too. We live with broken systems: housing, food, education, public systems, natural resources, newspapers, books & music. By broken we mean that these industries are experiencing major breakdowns and it will tough or impossible fix them. Oof. Not fun. (Or is it? More on that later too.) On the bright side, as Vinod Khosla of Sun Microsystems said: “No problem=no opportunity. No opportunity=no business.”

Broken Systems
Why are these systems broken? Because hindsight is 20/20 and sometimes foresight is zero. A lot of the reasons can be seen by performing a standard Porter’s 5 Forces Analysis or macro-environmental PEST scan (Political, Economic, Social, Technological). The 5 Forces and PEST are strategic models used in business school that help you map out and organize information for analysis.

Industry Forces
I give some special credit to three forces changing everyone’s game in the business landscape: 1) the flow of digital information and 2) changing lifestyle needs and 3) market demands for sustainability requirements. (We won’t go into globalism right now).
These forces are giving a new generation of MBAs and creatives a chance to work together and take a crack at creating and shaping a cultural + information revolution as big and important as the social + creative revolutions of the 1960s, and the industrial revolution of the late 19th & early 20th centuries.

New Problems
As business strategists facing new problems & new needs that we need to solve for, we need to design new businesses models. For example, companies are seeing that they need to solve for long-term views like customer lifetime value and customer loyalty (which are indicators of long-term success) instead of prioritizing shorter term metrics like quarterly sales targets. With digital social media in the mix, communicating with customers is now a two-way street, and companies have to pay attention because any customer can broadcast their experience, good or bad.

B2C or B2C2B?
This doesn’t just apply to B2C, it’s about B2B as well. More accurately, these days the landscape of business reflects needs for B2C2B and B2B2B models. How can this change happen? TBD. That’s a problem for business, meaning that’s also an opportunity for business.

Need for Innovation
A successful business focuses on innovation. I say this because the degree of focus a company has on innovation is the most important indicator of future success. That’s because companies focused on strategic innovation are paying attention to what’s happening in their industry and in the world around them. Whether “home runs” or “single hits”, designing for innovation is what matters. Think Netflix & Patagonia (innovative) vs. Kodak & Columbia Records (not so innovative).


What is COMMON?

A HUGE brand for small progressive capitalists. A Brand that is community designed, owned and directed.

COMMON encompasses communities, businesses and ideas benefiting people, society, environment and future people.

Loving the Gestalt of the COMMON Logo.

Alex Bogusky, Rob Schuham and John Bielenberg announced COMMON Industries, the world’s first collaborative brand, in January 2011. COMMON is new kind of organizational brand model designed to provide immediate brand equity to a network micro-startups under one umbrella, the COMMON Brand. There will be COMMON Coffee, COMMON Farms, COMMON Bicylces. In contrast, with other large brands some have nearly 50% of balance sheet value attributed to intangible brand equity, which can’t be shared with the communities that buy their products. (Unless it’s a community where the company runs business operations.) That kind of intangible brand value is what COMMON intends to build, and then share with its startups.

The social-capitalist COMMON initiative also draws on the economics theory the production possibilities frontier by introducing a new model. This concept is known as synergy in corporate-speak, or think of it as 1+1=3. More value is created by combining skills and working together under a new model.

COMMON is designed to share risk and return, looking for not a larger slice, but to build a larger pie. COMMON market strategy focuses and building product platforms that allow for a modularity or mass-customization of products for granular markets. It achieves this through “outcubating” businesses in communities, and calls for entrepreneurial creative-types to link up with business people to create new value with their new businesses.


The COMMON Initiative is housed at the Fearless Cottage, a firm started by Alex Bogusky after he retired from the ad firm Crispin, Porter & Bogusky. In my research I found out that business insurgents use the Cottage as a hangout, so I knocked on the door and found nice woman inside named Liisa, who is the Cottage commander. Then I met with Jeff Oeth, a designer for Fearless Cottage, also working on the COMMON initiative. He generously showed me around and we talked about the shifts in business towards integrating design and creativity from the ground up. We also spoke about future plans for COMMON. He even let me make a short video interview with him, which I made on my Flip camera.

The outcome from that visit was that a couple weeks later, Jeff and I had a Skype meeting and he invited me back to work as an intern over the summer. So I’m excited to say that along with the folks mentioned above (Alex & Ana, Rob, John, Jeff), I’ll also be working with creative business professionals like Carmel Hagen and Bud Caddell (aka “The Awesomest Strategist Ever”), on creative business strategy with COMMON after graduation in June. One of the projects I’ll be working on is the COMMON Pitch, a forum where contestants pitch business ideas to “rapidly prototype social ventures” and win entrance into the COMMON MBA.

ADVICE FOR MBAs [or anyone] VISITING COMPANIES (Some of it is obvious, but helpful.)

1. Know what you want. It makes your target easier to find.

2. Create micro-manifesto for yourself. Mine is Be Bold. Another good one is “Be Fearless.” (A nod to you Fearless Cottage folks!) In MBA school, with the help of advice from Professor Deb Morrison, learn to “Get over yourself.” For me, that meant learning to be comfortable walking up to anyone whether it’s CEO of a bank, an executive at Coca-Cola or an incredibly successful entrepreneur. Most people are cool. Ask them questions. Have something to say in return and you will have a good experience and maybe make a new friend.

3. Use social media to build up your digital assets and participate and connect with people working in your industry. The days of the crusty chronological resume are just about over. Employers will Google you, so think about what you would like to present yourself online. Talk about your projects, businesses you admire, talk about you’ve done and make relevant connections between trends.

4. Research the company you want to visit and find out where your skills line up with the companies needs or interests, and talk about that in your initial email. Also talk about what you’ve done, initiative you’ve taken, and highlight something you and a team you’ve worked on has achieved. This will increase your rate of response. Doing the research and crafting your communication takes time, but it’s worth it.

Bonus: Talk with friends, professors, professionals about what you want to do and where you want to go, and find out the same from them. This is how good networks and solid bonds are formed.

Best of luck. Future and current MBA alums, let’s keep in touch and keep talking shop together! I’ll sure miss being in MBA school, but looking forward to working in real life too.

Twitter: @katiebren
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/katiebrennan
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/rideyourbikethere
Prezi: How To Be a Great Creative Strategist