We prize our time. People who practice collaborative innovation know they cannot monopolize the waking hours of their sponsors and communities. In this article innovation architect Doug Collins explores the three C’s of critical question, community, and commitment. Practitioners raise the odds that everyone involved in collaborative innovation will view their time as well spent when they help sponsors address the three C’s in authentic ways.

One sunny day last October found me in Manhattan, walking south on 5th Avenue towards Bryant Square Park. I could see the heads of the lions guarding the library when a young man approached me. He held a clutch of CDs. Each had a homemade vest.

He said, “What’s your name, player?”

Not wanting to place my status as member in good standing in the U.S. Midwesterner club in jeopardy by being uncooperative, I replied, “Doug Collins.”

“No, no,” he said, “you’re D. Money.”

With that he produced a fist-sized Pilot pen and autographed a CD vest with, “to my boy, D. Money.”

How did this young man size me up so quickly? How did he know that, given the chance to restart the clock whose hands mark the passage of our lives, I would have gravitated to a reality in which being called “D. Money” opened as a possibility?

And, then, the kicker: “that will be five dollars.”

What could I do? I respect hustle in all its forms. I valued his gift of discerning my hidden, yet real need to entertain the dream of becoming D. Money, if only for one moment during a warm fall day at the corner of 5th and 44th Streets.

I paid him his five dollars. We parted happy.

D. Money Reflects on His Purchase

You express surprise that this street-corner hustler and his flow remain on my mind. I admit that I gather wool on my alternative “D. Money” universe during idle moments on the elevators and in the taxis that propel me up and forward, respectively.

My exchange with him intrudes upon my thoughts, too, as I consider the practice of collaborative innovation. Why? This man understood a critical aspect of the work that escapes many practitioners who have advanced from street corner to corner office: go for the jugular, always.

Going for the Jugular

Interest in social business and its enabling complement, the practice of collaborative innovation, burns hotly today. We see a lot of money changing hands. We see a lot of people taking stands. A lot of people for a lot of reasons—some visionary in their altruism, some realistic in their economy—have embraced the social business and the practice of collaborative innovation as a way to remain relevant in the digital world.

The digital world demands transparency and openness. Social businesses are transparent and open. The digital world demands insights through authentic engagement with the people closest to the work. The practice of collaborative innovation, with its enquiry-led form of engagement, offers the possibility of making meaning together. Questions lead to co-creation.

And yet, push comes to shove, my love. People lead busy lives. The social business and the practice of collaborative innovation bring with them overhead. Some overhead is due to administration. A lot more, however, is due to the effort an organization must make to scale the cultural learning curve that confronts any entity that aspires to the social business. No amount of planning can prepare the organization for the work needed to reach those new-found heights.

No matter how much the promise of the social business engages the imagination of your peers, they must justify how they choose to spend their time: first to themselves and then to others. It’s not enough to desire the social business. As a practitioner, you must tie their need to an authentic business need. Otherwise, no sale.

The Bryant Park hustler understands this need perfectly. Instinctively. He tailors his flow accordingly. For me, the promise of exploring a different mode of life as D. Money opened the possibility of listening to his music with a fresh pair of ears. Would that all our pitches compel people to act.

The Three C’s: Critical Question, Community, Commitment

When my clients and I first convene on the practice of collaborative innovation, we speak in terms of what I call the three C’s…

  • The critical question: What enquiry resonates with the people that you want to invite to participate in the practice with you?
  • Community: Who, in reality, cares about the question?
  • Commitment: If the community that you invite to participate spends their time engaging in the practice of collaborative innovation with you, then what do you offer them in return? A renewed sense of purpose? A gift card?

My experience? If the campaign team that pursues the practice reaches a shared, realistic understanding of these three topics, then the results of the campaign—whatever they turn out to be—tend to satisfy the sponsor, the community, and them.

The three C’s of critical question, community, and commitment comprise the pitch—or hustler’s flow—from the campaign team to the community. Tying this engagement to my Bryant Park interlude as an opportunity to find the “D. Money” equivalent for the campaign: what resonates with and fires the imagination of the community, such that the people they invite will make time to contribute in kind?

The Critical Question

To this end, the initial question must be exactly that, critical: critical to the sponsor and critical to the community. What is each community member’s equivalent of you recognizing a “D. Money” in them? Make no mistake: everyone has their D. Money that whispers in their ear in idle moments.

The logical place to start this enquiry is to assess what’s going on with the business as a whole. What’s important to whom?

We live in a hyper-competitive world, which means that everyone everywhere has a problem to solve. Everyone in the organization enjoys a view into the critical challenges facing the business, regardless of where they sit.

Find the community’s equivalent “D. Money.” Go for the jugular in framing the question. My clients find they come close to the vein when they themselves feel the most discomfort in pursuing the question. That’s a good sign. Your colleagues feel the same way.


The second C, community, flows from the first C, critical question. Recognize that not everyone cares about a given, critical question enough in order to form a response or to contribute in kind. The street corner hustler who approached me does not tag his next prospect D. Money. If he does, then allow me to express my disappointment.

Know your audience. Do not group them by the stereotypes of seniority, department, and region.


The third C, commitment, represents the quid pro quo that grounds the hustle and flow. I, for example, bought the fantasy of becoming D. Money for a moment, which I valued. He sold me a compact disk for five dollars. We both left happy. As a campaign team member you, too, must figure out your quid pro quo. You offer the opportunity to engage in collaborative innovation. You bring the opportunity for visibility and engagement that can speak in powerful ways to the sense of purpose that most of us seek.

What happens if an associate contributes a compelling idea? One that resonates with the community? One that the sponsor wants to support financially with resources? Someone calls you D. Money. You like it. Are you ready to remove your wallet from your back pocket and extract five dollar bills?

Parting Thoughts

People who practice the art of sales as a profession share a wonderful mnemonic, WIFM. WIFM means, “What’s in it for me?” Sales people use the mnemonic to ask themselves whether they have anything to offer that their prospect values. If not, then the likelihood that they will sell anything to this individual goes through the floor and settles in the basement.

Savvy campaign teams work as savvy street-corner hustlers, minus the t-shirts and tattoos. They read the situation. They read their audience. They challenge themselves with, “What’s in it for me?” They make their best offer. People leave the engagement happy. The campaign team lives to engage in the practice of collaborative innovation for another day.

Do you practice collaborative innovation in authentic ways? Do you grasp that the knowledge economy values time and attention above all else? Do you sweat the details of the three C’s, accordingly?

If so, then dollar dollar bill, y’all. Dollar dollar bill, indeed.

By Doug Collins

About the author:

Doug Collins is an Innovation Architect who has specialized in the fuzzy front end of innovation for over 15 years. He has served a variety of roles in helping organizations navigate the fuzzy front end by creating forums, venues, and approaches where the group can convene to explore the critical question. As an author, Doug explores the critical questions relating to innovation in his book Innovation Architecture, Practical Approaches to Theory, Collaboration and Implementation. The book offers a blueprint for collaborative innovation. His bi-weekly column appears in the publication Innovation Management.