Part nine of the series finds our protagonist Charlie Bangbang’s collaborative innovation challenge reaching its intended audience. How might various people along the community’s value stream react? What ideas might they contribute?

This past fall our columnist the innovation architect Doug Collins began to tell the tale of how the Dirty Maple Flooring Company came to embrace the Digital Age through the practice of collaborative innovation. The latest episode appears below. Readers may navigate the full series here.

A Brief Pause to Reflect

Consider, dear reader: Does not one idea tend to spawn another? Creativity replenishes itself.

Johnny and Sammy Youngblood

Johnny and Sammy Youngblood inherited Youngblood & Sons Fine Flooring from their father Hector in the late 1980s. Then, spending time with his growing number of grandchildren seemed to Hector a much more valuable use of his days than helping the next nice couple from Encinitas decide between oak and maple planking.

Johnny and Sammy had paid for the right to the “& Sons” qualifier many, many times over in the sweat equity they invested in their father’s business. Saturday afternoons, as their friends navigated waves and romance at Swami’s Beach just south of town, found the brothers at the loading dock, accepting shipments from the wholesalers and directing the crews to the next installation job.

Now in their thirties, with new Youngbloods coming along to inherit someday the “& Sons” designation, Johnny and Sammy felt they possessed in their hands and in their minds a fine, fine, grasp of the business from when a prospective customer first stepped into their showroom to when the last payment from their installation job was placed in the ancient, pressed tin mailbox affixed by the front door. To be young and capable and wise is a blessing. Johnny and Sammy were so blessed.

Sammy’s Big Idea

“What do you think, J?”

“It’s a good question, Sam. One worth asking. We could do better in how we manage our own inventory. No doubt the problem grows when you’re upstream, living the dream, running the mills, and paying the bills.”

“Please don’t rhyme.”

“What? There’s a song in my heart.”

“A song in your heart or a load in your pants?”


“Right. So, let’s see: How might we take greater ownership of the near-term change in client demand in the markets we serve?”

“I want to help Dirty Maple. I do want to help. Dad told us once that Mr. Lundstrom was one of the few to carry him during the fires. We go back a ways.”

“Okay, so what do you have?”

“I’ve been noodling on something. Wanted to write it down before I type it in their system. What do you think?”

“I’ve been noodling on something. Wanted to write it down before I type it in their system. What do you think?”

A Fully Formed Idea: Observation, Implication, Application

Note: Instructions from the Dirty Maple Flooring Company on the first collaborative innovation challenge from the Idea Mill Program requested that participants contribute a fully formed idea, consisting of observation (What do I see?), implication (What does my observation mean relative to the question at hand?), and application (What should the Dirty Maple Flooring Company do to explore the idea’s potential?). My idea…

Observation: The community we serve is very family oriented. Often, one family member – maybe the mom on her lunch break – will do some quick window shopping with us to compare flooring options and prices. Many times we do not hear back from her. Sometimes, however, she will return with her husband and kids. Sometimes the extended family comes, too.

I find that if the grandmother or aunt comes and they stay in the store for an hour, then the probability that make a sale goes way up. Maybe one out of three or one out of two times. This is what I see from having worked in the business for 20 years.

Implication: We can improve how we forecast demand by paying closer attention to who shows up at our showroom for each visit. This has always been tribal knowledge for us. There’s no reason why we could not keep track of the information on paper or in a more formal way.

Application: I would be willing to come up with a “buyer family tracker” sheet with our Dirty Maple regional manager to try out this idea – to see if it leads to better forecasting.

Johnny’s Reaction

Johnny thought about his brother’s idea for a while.

“You know, Sammy, it’s funny. We talked to Dad years ago about building a rec room near the cabinetry display to occupy the kids while the parents shopped. The more I think about your idea, the more I think we should try that, too, for ourselves. Maybe offer it on the weekends, to start, and see what happens.”

“Makes sense to me, J.”

“Two ideas for the price of one. I like that.”

“We’ll have to send Harry a thank you note for inviting us to participate in this Idea Mill challenge. We could use the extra co-marketing dollars for our spring promotions.”

By Doug Collins

About the author

Doug Collins serves as an innovation architect. He helps organizations such as The Estee Lauder Companies, Jarden Corporation, Johnson & Johnson, The Procter & Gamble Company, and Ryder System navigate the fuzzy front end of innovation.
Doug develops approaches, creates forums, and structures engagements whereby people can convene to explore the critical questions facing the enterprise. He helps people assign economic value to the ideas and to the collaboration that result.
As an author, Doug explores ways in which people can apply the practice of collaborative innovation in his series / Innovation Architecture: A New Blueprint for Engaging People through Collaborative Innovation. His bi-weekly column appears in the publication Innovation Management. Doug serves on the board of advisors for Frost & Sullivan’s Global community of Growth, Innovation and Leadership (GIL).
Today, Doug works as senior practice leader at social innovation company Mindjet, where he consults with a range of clients. He focuses on helping them realize their potential for leadership by applying the practice of collaborative innovation.

Photo: Historic coastal highway from