The Myth of the Lone Hero

A collaboration between Jude Koh and Tam Le.
Jude Koh is the Regional Strategy Associate Manager for Carat APAC.
Tam Le is the Regional Strategy Senior Manager for Carat APAC.

Forget everything you believe about the lone, genius inventor—more often than not innovative ideas are a result of a collaborative, cross-functional team. We can apply this insight to transform the way we work with our teammates, other DAN brands, our media partners and even our industry competitors.

5 – 7 minute read


Innovation is, more often than not, accomplished by a “dream team” rather than a “lone hero.”

There is just something so gratifying about watching the Avengers: the way individual superheroes come together, united by a common goal, to defeat a singular villain. In Captain America: Civil War, we saw how the combination of Hawkeye’s precision with an arrow and Ant Man’s miniscule size came together to short-circuit Iron Man’s suit. This is a great metaphor for the collaborative approach needed for innovating: combining different, specialized strengths to achieve greatness unachievable alone. Innovation is, more often than not, accomplished by a “dream team” rather than a “lone hero.”

ant-man-hawkeye

There never was a lone hero.

Yet in our narratives about innovation, it’s often about a sole genius, a visionary so brilliant and ahead of their time: Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Alexander Graham Bell and one of the most revered of all time—Thomas Edison. The man credited with inventing the phonograph, the motion picture camera and the light bulb actually surrounded himself with a team of strikingly diverse specialists (both in terms of professional expertise and nationality): a British mechanic, a Swiss machinist, an American physicist and mathematician, and about a dozen other draftsmen, chemists, and metalworkers. Together they formed a large-scale industrial research lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey nicknamed “the invention factory.”  As great of an inventor as Edison was, he recognized the greater power of a collaborative, cross-functional team [1].

Why should we care if Edison invented the lightbulb on his own or with the help of others? If we unmask the myth of the lone hero and instead recognize that innovation comes from a collaborative network, it affects how we cultivate ideas as a society: less rigid patent laws, cross-disciplinary teams, employee participation in stock plans, etc.

As great of an inventor as Edison was, he recognized the greater power of a collaborative, cross-functional team.


Today’s world of innovation is full of partnerships, even among competitors.

Today, we can see the effects of Edison’s Menlo Park; their organizational structure marked the beginning of cross-disciplinary teams and collaboration between different specialists. For example the early iPhone utilized the power of Google Search and Google Maps to create a truly superior mobile device. Recently, Facebook and Shopify collaborated to create an e-commerce service on Facebook Messenger, giving small businesses tools that were previously inaccessible. Similarly, Volvo and Uber are joining forces to develop driverless cars. This past September, tech giants Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM and Microsoft came together to form Partnership on AI with the goal “to benefit people and society.”  These otherwise fierce rivals will regularly meet to conduct research and promote best practices. Outside the tech world, Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot is a multi-national collaboration of scientists and charities from both the public and private sector. These collaborations show an obvious need for companies and NGOs to offset their own weakness by leveraging the strength of others.

shopify

Collaboration in companies lead to real business results.

Innovation arises from collaborations, not only between companies, but within companies as well. In a Deloitte study among Australian companies [2], those that prioritize collaboration are twice as likely to be profitable and outgrow competitors. Collaboration actually increased work completion rate by 15%. Not to mention, 73% of the employees do better work and 56% are more satisfied when they get the opportunity to work together. Most importantly, 60% of employees are more innovative when collaborating. Clearly, working together towards a shared goal has a direct and measurable impact for both the business and its employees.

Companies that prioritize collaboration are twice as likely to be profitable and outgrow competitors.

For our own work, collaboration can come in many different forms.

Collaborate with Fellow Carat Members: When innovating, we should create teams of people with different strengths, skillsets, backgrounds and perspectives, instead of relying on a “lone hero” to come up with the ideas. In Carat APAC’s Regional Product team, we have specialists in the field of insights, strategy, digital and content. Like the Avengers, we work best as a team when each “superhero” keeps their ego in check and their minds open to new ways of working.

Collaborate with Other DAN Brands: Beyond Carat, the Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) is comprised of specialist brands, all potential partners that we can leverage because of our one P&L model. When pitching for new business, our ability to seamlessly integrate capabilities from throughout the DAN network provides a competitive advantage over other agencies.

Collaborate with Our Media Partners: Furthermore, by continuously collaborating with our media partners, we have the opportunity to present our clients with some truly innovative options. A great example of this is the joint partnership between Carat China, Mondelēz and Tencent, China’s internet media giant with vast resources in IM, WeChat, gaming, mobile, music and video. This strategic partnership enables Carat’s client Mondelēz to fully leverage exclusive and beta products across Tencent’s ecosystem [3]. By collaborating with media partners, we can deliver business value and live up to our claim of “redefining media”.

Collaborate with Our Competitors: Additionally, taking a cue from Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM and Microsoft’s Partnership on AI, there is an opportunity to set aside our self-pride and rivalry and work with other media agencies with the aim of bettering the industry.

We work best as a team when each “superhero” keeps their ego in check and their minds open to new ways of working.

By recognizing the strength of others, we face endless opportunities to collaborate, and in turn innovate, as that is a responsibility that does not rest on any one person’s shoulders alone.

  1. How We Got to Now: Six Innovations that Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson
  2. The Collaborative Economy | Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/au/Documents/Economics/deloitte-au-economics-collaborative-economy-google-170614.pdf
  3. Mondelez, Carat and Tencent form joint business partnership in China | Campaign http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/mondelez-carat-tencent-form-joint-business-partnership-china/1371610

Shopify Facebook Messenger image courtesy of TechCrunch.

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