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E99 | Swarming To Innovate with Dennis Hahn

If you’re looking for a new way to innovate your business, don’t miss this latest episode of Mind Your F**king Business Podcast with Dennis Hahn, Chief Strategy Officer at Liquid Agency. A few months ago we had Marty Neumeier on the podcast (you can find the link to his episode in the links section). 

Dennis and Marty work at the same firm. You may wonder what Dennis can share with you that you wouldn’t get from Marty’s episode. The short answer is, a lot; the longer answer lies in the podcast. 

Dennis leads teams of strategists across Liquid’s offices, providing expertise, mentoring and consulting on a wide range of significant strategic branding initiatives for clients that include GE, John Deere, Microsoft, Nasdaq, Nordstrom, PayPal, Silicon Valley Bank and Walmart.

Dennis’ particular expertise lies in what they call ‘The Swarm Method’. Swarming is a way of helping businesses pull from the very essence of their being, the solution to a problem that they’re struggling with. 

Swarming involves not just sitting down with the executive team and hashing out details, but rather running a workshop with as many stakeholders as possible, across your whole organisation, to pool resources and conduct an incredibly diverse brainstorming session.

“We’re solving brand problems, we’re designing brand strategies, we’re designing culture for workplace culture, we’re doing customer experience mapping and all kinds of things through the swarming method.”

If you haven’t tried swarming, we hope this episode gives you the impetus to go away and try this method of innovating in your own business. There’s collaborating, and then there’s swarming.

On today’s podcast:

  • What swarming is and how it’s used to engage leadership teams
  • The evolution of swarming
  • The benefit of using the Swarm method
  • Why innovation happens in a down cycle
  • The tools Liquid uses
  • The power trio in an organisation


Swarming As A Method To Engage Leadership Teams with Dennis Hahn

Do you need to innovate to keep your business alive? There’s collaborative thinking, and then there’s swarming. 

The swarm method is the speciality of Liquid Agency, a brand experience agency helping companies align brand culture and employee experiences to create authentic and meaningful brands. They’ve worked with some of the biggest brands in the world such as Walmart, Google, GE, as well as a wealth of challenger brands. 

Dennis Hahn is the Chief Strategy Officer at Liquid Agency and is an expert at getting companies to pull from the very essence of their business, the solution to the problems they pose, through this method. 

Rather than sit down with the executive team and brainstorm, swarming involves enlisting as many stakeholders across the entire organisation as possible and thinking diversely. To make sure that the business’s brand and the business’s culture and the customer experience are all perceived and authentically delivered as a whole.

The evolution of the swarm method

Essentially, the more people you can get involved in swarming, the more ownership of the strategy and solution there is, and as a result there is less need to sell it across the organisation later. It takes brainstorming and moves it into a co-creation space.

“Swarming is a method that we’ve developed over time to really co-create with clients and we call it swarming because we bring in a variety of different clients across the organisation to break down the silos. So we try to bring people across the enterprise, at all levels of leadership, and we also bring a variety of agency people together, and swarming is attacking a problem from multiple angles all at once. It’s very rapid, very agile, but it’s also structured in a way where we get to a real result.”

Where once it was primarily used to solve a brand problem, it’s used now to solve all kinds of business problems. 

“Brand strategy is kind of where it all started, then swarming evolved and then from there you had a method [that] could facilitate your way to solving business problems that you and the team aren’t experts in, but because you’re actually facilitating as long as the company has the answer somewhere, you can get it out of them.”

Divergent thinking

Swarming is designed to get ideas out of lots of people quickly. This is known as divergent thinking, where large groups are broken down to smaller units to work through multiple ideas fast. Then when these ideas have been sifted through, the group comes back together with their best ideas to do convergent thinking – to synthesise these and improve on them. 

Swarming with different teams

Swarming across the organisation isn’t successful at solving all problems however. Sometimes it’s best to keep within levels, for example, if you’re setting corporate values to guide the whole workplace, this is really best developed by leadership. 

But if you’re designing a new subscription service, for example, you might want a broad group of stakeholders’ input, from the people who run the supply chain through to the marketers. By bringing people together who wouldn’t ordinarily work together, results in diverse, breakthrough thinking. 

“You bring a group of diverse stakeholders together, they’re bound to come up with new things that no one person could have come up with or thought of. So that leads to different outcomes. And that’s where you get to breakthrough thinking.”

The benefits of swarming

“Normally these challenges would be solved at a top level and then sold down on it, and it helps the sell-through because you’re pulling in all the way through the organisation.”

The executive team isn’t always the best group to solve a challenge, sometimes you need to bring in others across your enterprise to unlock innovative ideas. Because there’s a lot of untapped expertise inside every organisation, people who know the business well, but are stuck in their own silo. The dots don’t get connected. By breaking people out of their silos, getting people who don’t ordinarily interact to exchange ideas, that’s where you unlock potential and you get to innovative new thinking.

“If you’re isolated, all you do is come up with ideas amongst a small group, and then try and sell those ideas through. If you can break that down and involve stakeholders across the enterprise, get them to contribute to the thinking and the problem solving, it now becomes an organisational issue, not just a departmental one. That’s what we’ve seen as having the greatest success.”

Who should be swarming

Nobody could have predicted the pandemic, or that it would change the way we work so quickly, and so companies that plan for the future, that are agile and can adapt quickly are the ones that stand a better chance of surviving. 

“Companies that invest in [this] kind of thinking and in that kind of diversification are those that are better equipped to move quickly and adjust when things happen.”

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