Most people wait for annual conferences like TED, PopTech, SXSW to meet great thinkers, but Thinktopia® an award-winning strategic brand innovation firm based in New York City and Minneapolis, makes it part of everyday work life.
“Great minds do not think alike,” says Chief Operating Officer Susan Cantor. “We make sure we bring in fresh perspectives, exciting minds and personalities. It’s less like a think tank and more like a running stream of ideas. The key is to make it relevant to the client’s problem and opportunity.”
These spontaneous inspiration tanks have included Robyn Waters, former head of design at Target stores. Craig Tanimoto, the creator of Apple’s famous “Think different” advertising campaign. Punk Marketing co-author Mark Simmons, award-winning furniture designer Paul James, “The Ten Faces Of Innovation” author Jonathon Littman, IDEO alum Scott Underwood, and a roving troupe of social anthropologists, cultural enthographers, trend spotters, research analysts, graphic designers, urban planners, innovation experts, stylists, retail experientialists, cool hunters, forensic researchers, futurists and more.
“Clients do not like having to rely on the same tired faces,” says Cantor. “The flexibility of bringing in top minds to look at their specific challenge or opportunity—even bringing people they usually only read about—is exciting. The energy level goes up and everyone brings more to the table.”
“The perspective Thinktopia brings to the ideation sessions—and the expertise of their experts creates a rich atmosphere from which to create ideas,” remarks Tiffany Stroupe, a former Manager of Consumer Insights at Taco Bell who now works at Hyundai. “I love the way these guys think!”
Bringing in front page talent is just one way Thinktopia adds brain power—they also encourage teams to seek out brainwaves within their own company. “We make a practice of suggesting that brand teams bring in others from product R&D, finance, national sales, operations, even store managers,” says Cantor. “All these people may work together functionally, but rarely are they ever in the same room together. Except perhaps at the Holiday Party.”
This so-called “Medici effect” (coined in a book by Frans Johansson) combined with Thinktopia’s own proprietary process, permits key stakeholders to look at their products and services in completely new ways.
“We are accustomed to looking at big open categories like wellness, payments, trends, and the shifting tectonics of today’s marketplace,” says Thinktopia ceo and founder, Patrick Hanlon. “When we launch new products and re-engineer existing ones, our goal is to build community around these products and services.
“That community begins inside the company first, before it ever goes out to the consumer. If you don’t believe in your product or service, you’ll never be able to convince your customers—let alone upper management. Bringing in fresh perspectives, even people from other categories or disciplines, not only helps put a different lens on things. It helps shape that community.”
The results are revelatory and actionable. The outcomes can be new products, new distribution models, new packaging, communications ideas and, best of all, a new vision and refreshed brand narrative that moves the team forward.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never figure out how to get there,” concludes Cantor.