1st Birthday Lessons Learned

“What advice would you give yourself, if you could go back and talk to yourself a year ago?”

I’m pleased to say that 100%Open is exactly 1 year old today. It’s been an exhilarating and exhausting year and we’ve been on a steep learning curve. And when discussing this anniversary with one of our clients recently, she asked us a really interesting question, namely “What advice would you give yourself, if you could go back and talk to yourself a year ago?”. This post is an attempt to answer that question.

1. Trust your instincts – I’ve always thought of myself as a primarily logical/analytical person but I can honestly say I have never had to rely on my instincts more than in this past year. As an innovation agency we are deliberately setting out to do something new and different and that means we don’t always have all the answers, which is tricky sometimes when a client is looking to you for them. But as our confidence grows with our experience, that is increasingly ingrained in our instincts. So my first piece of advice to myself is to  make sure you learn to listen very carefully to what your instincts are telling you.

2. Authenticity is everything – Another thing that has become apparent to me over this first year, is that first and foremost, people want you to believe passionately in what you are doing and that cannot be faked. Someone came up to me after we ran our first training course and strongly encouraged me to keep the passion for what we are doing (or words to that affect) which is possibly the nicest comment anyone has made to me this year. But I realise now that, as open innovation is fashionable in certain circles, there could be temptation to chase inauthentic opportunities. But I guess we’ve learned from both an emotional and commercial level, not to do it if your heart isn’t in it.

3. Keep it simple – We have had to codify what we are learning continuously which isn’t always easy. Open innovation is one of those subjects that sounds simple enough at first but becomes more complicated the further you scratch beneath the surface. But, we all need simple models to help us make choices – that goes for us as well as the people we work with – and hopefully we have avoided making what we do more complex than it needs to be, which can too easily be the case.

4. Communicate constantly – I’m increasingly convinced that 9/10ths of business development is people simply remembering you exist. Or more specifically recalling that we are the ‘go-to guys for open innovation’ in the context of a relevant problem or opportunitiy they might be faced with. Therefore the trick is to make sure you keep lots of conversations alive at any one time – conversations first, then relationships, then transactions. This has to be a combination of in person or online, and to share as honestly as you can about what you are learning and doing. And we’ve found that when we do that, when the right opportunity crops up they’ll give you a call. It’s not always easy finding something salient to say, especially when faced with an empty text box on twitter or on the blog, but as with most things it get’s easier with practice and a little discipline.

5. Collaborate and connect – I can tend to try to do everything myself but more than anything I’ve learned we can’t do it all ourselves and our network is our only real asset. I’ve really noticed how we are trained to compete to such an extent that it’s worth explicitly reminding ourselves that actually, anybody can be a collaborator, even those who could be perceived as your biggest competitors. “Networking is only one letter away from not working” so said Chris Powell, our former Chairman at Nesta, but actually our network sustains us in so many different ways, and as with most things you get out what you put in.

“Without trial and error, learning cannot occur.” Elinor Ostrom

So that’s it. Five lessons we’ve learned over this past year. I’m partly writing this post so I can remind myself about it next year. I’d be interested for any constructive feedback or advice, either on this blog or contact me direct, about how we can and should evolve. And I’d also be interested to what advice you might give yourself one year ago, and whether you would have acted on it.

I am excited about the next year. I’m sure it will be fun, frustrating, exhilarating and exhausting but we will keep on experimenting and I hope we’ll continue learn a lot. After all, in the words of Elinor Ostrom “Without trial and error, learning cannot occur”.

written by Roland Harwood


  1. Congratulations, you two, on a year of independent business life!
    I really like the simplicity of your anniversary post; it’s the hardest thing to do and you extract the learnings from your first twelve months with clarity and common sense.
    Several points resonated with me an my own emerging enterprise, especially the part about business development and conversations leading to relationships leading to transactions. I’ve written it in my notebook as a biz dev mantra.
    All the best for the next 12 months.

  2. +1 for “conversations first, then relationships, then transactions”. I hope and believe that this is true, both for yourselves, and myself.

    Similarly, I don’t see how anything other than authenticity can be a sustainable route to growth. You are right to follow this path.

    Looking forward to reading your 2nd anniversary post

  3. Thanks Steve. Really appreciate the comment and glad to hear the points resonate with you. All the best with your venture too.

    Andrew – Appreciate that and we look forward to writing the 2nd anniversary post too 🙂

    All the best,

  4. Re Lesson 1 (“Trust Your Instincts”). Fascinating that this comes top. I’m also a highly logical person by trade, but in a recent “StrengthsFinder” psychometric analysis my report indicated that I should trust my instincts much more. Maybe this is a common failing in people with scientific leaning or training?

  5. Hi Jeremy. Yes I think that could be right. As scientists (as I once was) we are taught to objectively gather and interpret data – most of which I suspect is post-rationalisation. However when we are overwhelmed with data and the environment changes so fast, all we can fall back on is our instincts. Not sure how best to do that but first step is to listen. Thanks for your comment 🙂 R

  6. Congratulations to you guys!
    I like Jeremy’s point about scientific training and instinct.
    “conversations first, then relationships, then transactions”. So true!

  7. Congratulations on your first birthday! One of your blogs contained advice which I’ve really taken to heart: that “innovation is increasingly a contact sport” in which it’s crucial “to compulsively connect people and ideas both internally and externally”. Compulsively connecting is now a habit I’m busy cultivating and putting into action thanks to you!

  8. Thanks Francesca. Really appreciate your support and delighted to hear you have taken that point to heart. Happy connecting 🙂 Roland

  9. Roland, Working on the assumption that it is far better to repeat other’s wisdom than try and develop one’s own pale imitation, I have shamelessly forwarded on your post to friends and colleagues alike. As someone fresh out into open collaboration your lessons were insightful and helpful. Bravo. And congrats.

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