Time to FIO

With another season of schmoozing and selling behind us, we're all assessing our next steps. But when the same old doesn't work anymore, what are you going to do? As Bob Safian advised us in his iKids' keynote, "it's time to FIO."
February 13, 2013

By the time you’re reading this, Kidscreen, and iKids will be over; and if you’re not currently standing in Javits Center, Toy Fair and Digital Kids are history too. Another season of non-stop schmoozing, selling, and sharing is over. It’s time to take all those brightly colored and oddly shaped business cards and figure out which ones to keep. More importantly, it’s time to reflect on where your own business is headed for the next year or so.

Like many of us, I approach these conferences with a mixture excitement and dread. New people! New ideas! New products! Same old faces. Same old spiels.  Same old products. Had I not sat in on Fast Company Bob Safian’s iKids  keynote ,  I might have cruised through all four conferences with the same meet-and-greet plan of attack I’ve used for the last 15 years. But Bob’s take on The Secrets of Generation Flux gave me pause.  In this era of change, he said, the ones who will thrive are those who embrace change and figure out how to adapt. I realized that one of the easiest ways to adapt is to collaborate with people who don’t know what I do, instead of those who do the same things.

I work with multiple companies brainstorming new products and platforms. Years of experience, well-honed instincts, and access to emerging research mean that I bring a depth of knowledge to every project. But in this ever-changing business climate, there are lots of things I don’t know that can help drive smart decisions:  how to integrate technology into a product—or even what the latest technology is; which social media to use when; where to find manufacturing efficiencies.  Likewise, the tech guys, social media experts, and product developers don’t know what I know. But our collective knowledge can bring a 360-degree view to decisions. In talking to clients this year, instead of discussing how to work across multiple platforms, I’ve been stressing the value of collaboration among multiple disciplines. By shaking up the formulas, I’m confident new ideas will emerge.

Just this week I saw Hasbro combine the current obsession with archery (thank you Hunger Games), the success of their Nerf brand, and the niche of girls’ physical play, to create the Nerf Rebelle Heartbreaker Bow. Another perfect storm resulted in Jenga Tetris, a merging of two different iconic stacking games. ALEX combined the tween trends of personalization and music to create Earphone Couture. Tiggly, a startup cofounded by two Harvard B-School students (one who has no kids, giving him the time and energy to create a new company), combined sophisticated technology and a simple shape sorter to create one of the most imaginative apps I played all week. And what about American Express and Twitter! What all of these products have in common is the collaborative spirit of unexpected partners.

One of the mantras of Sandbox Summit is “we never talk to nodding heads.” Too many people attend too many conferences that all sing their favorite songs. At Sandbox Summit@MIT, we bring an eclectic group of toy and media mavens, developers, designers, researches, educators, journalists, and policy wonks together to discuss the intersection of play and technology. We curate an engaging agenda   with a diverse roster of speakers that runs the gamut from the erudite Howard Gardner to the entertaining JibJab brothers.  In addition to presentations and workshops, we build in concentrated networking opportunities to encourage collaboration among these disparate experts. Over the years, we’ve seen conference attendees leave the Summit with new jobs, new friends, new connections, and always, new ideas.

Think about what’s working (or not) in your own business. Then ask some smart person from a totally different business the same question. Between the two of you, you can probably come up with a brilliant new idea. That’s what Bob Safian was talking about. FIO. But you don’t have to do it alone.

Share your brilliance at Better yet, bring your ideas to Sandbox Summit@MIT in April.

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