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The Proteus Leader Show #32: True Partnership

Joined by relationship expert, David Nour, Erika dives into his new book, Co-Create, that focuses on how work partners can operate in ways that bring a shared vision to life for everyone’s benefit. Their discussion imparts useful ways to create productive, trust-based relationships in the workplace today.

00:00-01:11 - Introduction

01:12- 05:11- What Co-Creation is, and Why It's Important

05:12-06:58 - Biggest Obstacles and Pitfalls Partnerships Face

06:59-10:38 - The Personal and Interpersonal Challenges of Co-Creating

10:39-12:58 Practical Steps for Co-Creating

12:59-13:50 - Closing

Intro: 00:01 You're listening to the Proteus Leader Show with Erika Andersen, where you'll get practical tools and insights for leading, managing and staying ready for the future. Erika is the founding partner of Proteus, a firm that focuses uniquely on leader readiness. A nationally known executive coach and bestselling author, you may already know her as one of the most popular leadership bloggers on Ready for something you can use today? Here's Erika.

Erika: 00:30 Hello everyone and welcome back to the Proteus Leader Show. Today, my guest is David Nour. David has spent the past two decades developing relationship economics and approach based on the premise that relationships are the greatest off balance sheet asset for any organization. He works with clients like Hilton, Thyssenkrupp, Disney and KPMG to help them drive profitable growth through unique return on strategic relationships. David is a globally recognized speaker and has written 10 popular books, including the newly released, Co-Create. David, I'm so glad to have you here.

David: 01:09 Erika, I'm delighted to be with you. Thanks for having me.

Erika: 01:11 Yes, I'm thrilled. We're finally getting a chance to talk. So you and I met almost a decade ago and I've always been impressed by your focus on relationships, both in theory and in practice, and you definitely practice what you preach. So I'd love to share with our listeners some of the ideas and practices in your latest book, Co-Create. So, how I'd like to start is, you say that to have great productive relationships and I love this phrase, you need to visualize your intertwined future together. So can you tell us more about that, how it works and why it's important.

David: 01:46 As you think about how organizations launch a new product or launch a new service or go into new market, traditionally there's been three approaches to that. One, you can certainly build it right? And, and it's a big investment of time and effort and resources. Two, you can partner for it. And that's what a lot of our alliances and partnerships and distribution channels and those things come from. The third is you can acquire it, right? That's where inorganic growth comes from an acquisitions and with co-create I would submit there's a fourth option and when I say you're intertwined future together, if you think about why so many partnerships or alliances or even some distribution channels, even though despite great intentions for whatever reason, they either tail off or outright fail, I would submit to you that it is often because of one word and that is lack of commitment. At some point, either side sees the investment of time, effort, resources, and whatever we thought was going to happen isn't going to happen. So co-creation is really about changing the conversation, the launch of anything from the onset, that says to equally valuable partners - it doesn't have to be bilateral, it could be more than two. But let's just say two entities each bring a very unique perspective, very unique set of skills, capabilities, whatnot. They already have an existing relationship that they can point to in terms of success and outcomes, but they each bring a unique perspective that when they put it together, it becomes so much greater than what either party could have done by themselves. And I use the classic case of it's one plus one equals 11, so it's not just incrementally better, it's exponentially different, unique, agile, nimble, meets, if not exceeds the needs of the market and it becomes a very different product or service than either one of them could even imagine.

Erika: 03:47 And as you're describing this, it sounds like this is important in all of the first three kinds of partnerships that you talk about.

David: 03:57 It's critical. Unfortunately... I was having this conversation with a client - I'm excited that co-creation is in our vernacular, right? We kind of hear about it, unfortunately, I would submit to you it is misunderstood, misspoken or misrepresented because, deeply rooted candor and transparency and trust, and by the way a healthy, you know, respectful dose of pushback isn't in some of the other, options that I brought up.

Erika: 04:37 Oh, I completely agree with you. I'm not saying that it already exists. I'm saying that what you're talking about this deeper level of really transparent, honest co-creation would make an acquisition better would make a strategic [partnership] better, would make an internal partnership better.

David: 04:52 Absolutely. Absolutely. And you've got to bring, again, two equal parts, two equally capable, competent relationships to the table where we can point to, here's where we've been successful in the past. How do we now take it to that proverbial very next level, very a different level.

Erika: 05:12 What do you see as the pitfalls?

David: 05:15 So you and I both work with both private and public companies. I continue to see - and I'd welcome your insights on this - a lot of still short-sighted thinking for those quarterly results. And, boards who are asking executives, we want you to drive double-digit growth, but don't take any reputation risk, don't take any capital risk, and certainly don't take any human capital risk. So we don't want to lose anybody and we don't want to end up on the front page of Wall Street Journal for the wrong reasons. And no CEO's willing to raise their hands and say, I don't know how to do that. So again, we mask them. And here's the other thing I fear when the economy's this strong, it tends to mask a lot of decay, a lot of rust, a lot of things that are fundamentally wrong with the business model that you're going to have to co-create to create its evolution. Otherwise, the next dip in the economy, it's going to hit some of these companies that are flying high really hard because they're not adapting to the needs of the market.

Erika: 06:25 Oh, that is a really good point. And I completely agree with you. I often feel like good financial numbers, you know, yield the kind of complacency that then people don't look deeply at what they're doing.

David: 06:38 As a matter of fact, I talk about that often. You know, when you get comfortable, when you feel like you're successful, you become complacent. The minute you become complacent, you're not agile, you're not nimble, you're not adapting, you're not testing, you're not trying, you're lose that scrappiness to come up with new creative product solutions, or to market strategies.

Erika: 06:59 Organizationally, I think you're right, those are all the things that get in the way of true co-creation. What gets in the way personally or interpersonally?

David: 07:07 I had this conversation with a senior executive of a 100+ year old company just a few days ago. Their culture and their cultural DNA fundamentally has been about promoting from within and Erika, you and I are big fans of that, right? You've got great people. Absolutely bolster them, give them new responsibilities, let them do things. Here's the problem. Even great people, if they get long in the tooth, if they get, you know...there's a reason the Michael Jordan's and the Jerry Rice's of the world go out on top, right? Because if an executive has been at a company for 47 years, I struggle to see how they would see how they would think in an innovative fashion. And unfortunately I'm painting with a very broad brush, lot of them couldn't hit innovation if it was water and they fell out of a boat. So when they gain that power, unfortunately they want to retain that power at all costs. And we start to lose our finger on the pulse of where are those exceptional talents, two, three levels down that you don't have the visibility to. I recently asked - you're gonna, love this - I recently asked the chief financial officer of a $6,000,000,000 company, how many clients have you seen in the last six months? Any guesses?

Erika: 08:25 Zero.

David: 08:26 Zero. And I said, respectfully, you're telling me you've got your finger on the pulse of what's happening by looking at a bunch of financials. Because if that executive team doesn't get out of Mahogany row, they'll never figure out what's happening in the mailroom.

Erika: 08:39 Yes, absolutely. Well, so totally agree. And if people are just barricaded in their offices, either mentally or physically, they're not going to be able to create these kinds of relationships you're talking about for sure. So I always, I'm going to give our listeners some practical advice. So what are some things that leaders can do now, you know, like today, next week to make their relationships deeper and more collaborative or co-creative?

David: 09:05 Sure. So, so let me give you three. One is, we've got to ask better questions, we have to ask more candid questions without the fear of offending anyone or ruffling anybody's feathers? And again, Erika, I love questions like what takes you entirely too long to accomplish? What frustrates the heck out of you? If you were king or queen for a day, what's the one thing you would fix about this place? Any of those kinds of questions really get out, and creating an environment where people feel safe and they're not going to feel retribution if you do share, here's what's really broken or here's what's really happening here. That's one. Two in Co-Create I talk about the customer experience journey matters more than ever before. And by the way, customers could also be internal stakeholders, right? And I actually paint this picture of an infinity sign where we all started the middle, where we evaluate where am I, what's working, what's not. We kind of discover what we think we need. We really consider different options. We come back to evaluation, we buy, we use, we come back to evaluation. So buying doesn't also have to be products or services, it could be credibility, it could be repute, it could be believability. So if you don't measure that experience journey, if you don't create on-ramps for people to learn from you, to engage you, to really become better off because of you and that relationship, you're never gonna understand how to elevate that experience.

Erika: 10:39 How do you do that?

David: 10:41 Sure. So again, get out of the office and go ask a lot of questions. Tell me how did you, how did you get that information? And tell me, tell me what did you think of that? And by the way, we've got all these reports, which ones are most useful to you? And by the way, you know, if you look at - I've always said, show me somebody's calendar and their checkbook and I'll tell you about their breadth and depth of relationships. So where are people's calendars being spent and is it - do we really need to deal with 300 emails a day or do we need to deal with 20, 30, 40, 50, you know, meetings a week? Or can we start to really declutter from all that. We're getting buried in all this, I would submit, unnecessary complexity.

Erika: 11:23 And part of it doesn't do anything to deepen our [inaudible] relationships, right?

David: 11:26 Bandaids. Yeah, bandaids don't work either, right? No email Fridays? Guess what happens on Thursdays and Sundays. So I just, you know, again, I worked with clients in really understanding relationships are not between logos. They're not between buildings, they're not - there between individuals. So if I don't need to know, don't copy me on that email. Can we, can we please stop replying back to all with thanks. And then somebody inevitably says, no, no thank you. Right. So we, I actually type unsubscribe, right? Because it just, it's not, it's not really helping any of us.

Erika: 12:03 I love this. You're saying don't focus on every interaction. Really figure out what are the most impactful, the deepest most, the most yielding, you know, the relationship interactions that yield the most.

David: 12:15 Absolutely. And a few of them in my first book, the title is Relationship Economics, I talked about three types of relationships, right? So we have a personal one, friends like us, [inaudible] and all; functional relationships we put up with because we have to just be honest, right? They're safe because of our context together, like some colleagues or some clients, most people have plenty of the first two. It's the last one they miss out on which are really their strategic relationships that are going to elevate their thinking, elevate the perspective to a very different level. Not enough individuals all the way up to executives and board members I meet have enough of those strategic relationships. By the way, a value to your audience may be the fact that sociologists tell us that an average individual can proactively manage about 100 to 150 relationships.

Erika: 12:59 Wow. Okay. That I think is a good point to end on, although as always, David, you and I could just keep talking. So, thank you so much.

David: 13:07 My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Erika: 13:09 Yeah, I love the way you think about people and relationships. And listeners, you can find Co-Create online and if you'd like to find out more about how to visualize mutually beneficial future with others, you can also go to and choose the Being Strategic topics you'll find we're lined up in what we say. So thank you all for being with us today and until next time, here's to creating the life you truly want.

Outro: 13:35 We hope you're feeling better equipped to create the career, the business and the life you want. For more insights and tools for leadership and management, join us Have an excellent day and thanks for listening.