I just realized that I never really shared one of my favorite social collaboration stories. Shame on me.
Last year, I spoke at the Outdoor Industry Retailers Winter Market. For an outdoor gear junkie like me, this was Nirvana. When I’m not doing my work thing, and falling painfully behind on my blogging, I am geeking out on backpacks, boots, skis and other assorted cool stuff. Being able to go to this event for the first time was incredibly exciting for me.
While I was there, I had the chance to visit The North Face exhibit, where Conrad Anker was going to be doing some kind of presenation about something mountain related. Anker is one of the foremost mountaineers in the world, and also an environmentalist and author. In my world, he’s a cool guy to meet. I wanted to chat with him before he was scheduled to start speaking which, unfortunately, conflicted with my schedule to get in a half-day of skiing at Snowbird before my flight that night. I wasn’t sure about how to approach him without sounding too much like a Mountain Groupie, but he solved that problem for me.
He was carrying this ice axe around. One of his colleagues said “Hey man…is that THE axe?”
“Yeah,” he said, “check it out.”
He proceeded to tell his buddy about how the design and production of this axe was led entirely by something like a hundred mountain climbers around the word. How they all contributed their opinions on things I know nothing about, like heft, weight, adze size, curvature angle, shaft curve, etc. and, in effect, had crafted the perfect axe.
Suddenly, I forgot about Anker and was, like, “wow…that’s &$#!&$ cool! They crowdsourced this axe.” Now I had something to say to him that I was really interested in. I chatted with him for a bit before he was called away, but my memory was more about that axe than anything.
Here I was, surrounded by the biggest gear manufacturers in the world…Patagonia, Columbia, Merrell, Arc’teryx. And right in their midst was the living example of a trend that is going to reshape their business, and the businesses of manufacturers everywhere.
Collaboration among passionate enthusiasts is easier than ever. Communities can spring up overnight, aligned around a shared purpose and goal. Platforms that facilitate creation, communication, development and distribution are easily available to a new generation of decentralized product entrepreneurs. Businesses that can figure out a way to tap into this will gain huge competitive advantage. How much would Black Diamond, a leading manufacturer of technical climbing gear (and literally just a few booths away from “the axe”), value the output of that community? And, how much would the community value Black Diamond for partnering with them to create the perfect product?