Collaborative thinking – is it all horse shit?

Posted by Janice Scheckter on 03 October 2017 12:00 PM CAT

I fully acknowledge that I am not the first to use this analogous tale below, to illustrate a point. But here’s the thing. Last Thursday, I sat in the office of a guy I consider pretty smart. I shared some of the stuff we’re doing in nomadicways.travel and he more or less opposed everything. I shared how we’re building mobile apps in the local tourism space. The focus, I told him, is not just tourism, but enterprise development where every microenterprise on a tourist route, can be promoted to and found by tourists. He said “this sounds like another app just for the sake of an app. Have you asked people if they want and need it?” he asked. He added that people keep creating apps that no-one needs because they fail to consult.

So, here’s the smelly analogy. Yorkers made some thirty-five million horsecar trips a year at the start of the 1860s. By 1870, that figure had tripled. The standard horsecar, which seated twenty, was drawn by a pair of roans and ran sixteen hours a day. By 1880, there were at least a hundred and fifty thousand horses living in New York. Each one relieved itself of, on average, twenty-two pounds of manure a day, meaning that the city’s production of horse droppings ran to at least forty-five thousand tons a month.

The problem just kept piling up until, in the 1890s, it seemed virtually insurmountable. One commentator predicted that by 1930 horse manure would reach the level of Manhattan’s third-story windows.

The world’s first international urban-planning conference in 1898 was dominated by discussion of the manure situation, but unable to agree upon any solutions, the delegates broke up the meeting.

Then, almost overnight, the crisis passed. This was not brought about by regulation or by government policy. Instead, it was technological innovation that made the difference. With electrification and the development of the internal-combustion engine, there were new ways to move people and goods around. By 1912, autos in New York outnumbered horses, and in 1917 the city’s last horse-drawn streetcar made its final run.

Back to the mobile app story and asking people what they want and what they need. As one who fully buys into the process set out by Design Thinking, I understand the importance of consultation, but can’t help wondering if the audience can be relied on for solutions.

Did we know we wanted Airbnb or UBER? If we knew that certain traditions like the garage sale would die, would we have said, ‘yes we need it!’

Did we know that we needed X number of people to rate a restaurant before we’d put a morsel from that establishment in our mouths?

Our audience may know their needs but not necessarily what they need and yes, there is a distinction. My smart friend told me that there was little need for our app that showcased every tourism enterprise on a specific route. “With Google Maps, they don’t need you.” I smiled, nodded, politely told him that I looked forward to proving him wrong, and left with the thought of horseshit on my mind.

The bottom line is that many still fail to recognise collaborative innovation and ‘existing’ in the collaborative era. The big hotel on the route, that recognises that they should be collaborating with the bicycle tour operator and the Airbnb provider that thinks about the Michelin restaurant and how to incorporate the experience, are thinking collaboratively and those will be the winners at the end of the day. 

Janice Scheckter is a collaboration activist and a co-founder, director of nomadicways.travel where over 26 mobile apps have been built for local towns and routes in one municipal district, and where hotels, bicycles and highly rates restaurants get it!

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