What do you get when you cross a bunch of accountants, some lawyers, some folks in insurance and some damn fine technology? No... it's not a test group for building the world's best professional spam filter (though there may be plenty of reasons for wishing for such protection from some within our respective breeds)!
In my case however, if you're lucky, you get the kind of experience instead that my team and I experienced last week. And if I'm honest, I'd do it all over again because it was fun, and progressive, and really quite unexpected. In fact, after last week, I am now firmly sworn off making assumptions about what to expect from fellow professional service providers. Last week's meetings proved that some of them are as committed as we are to making a real and substantial change for the better - and they're pretty special. It was also really humbling and exciting that they gave us the same unprompted and spontaneous feedback. So we now have a bit of a mutual admiration thing going on. And it's great!
It's funny though. Almost every day now, you see a report about accountants and insurance companies getting into legal services and lawyers getting into accountancy and maybe also insurance. And there are plenty of news reports currently in circulation criticising all of us for not getting it right for the customers whom we serve. Sometimes it feels like we're all so busy trying to shave limbs off each other's areas of expertise in a bid to grow our client bases (or to stop them shrinking), that we've forgotten what's important in running and growing good businesses.
For instance, as every successful retail and brand-driven business knows, if your business is not growing as well as you'd like, shouldn't your first step be to examine what you're getting wrong yourself and whether you can improve your core business offering to your customers, rather than simply starting to fish in someone else's pond and perhaps prematurely over extending yourself? It may well be an easier step to hire another type of expert and offer a new kind of service - and it does work for some - but it's far from a panacea for the majority.
Indeed, many of us bear the cannibalistic scars of attempts to refer work to each other, only to be thanked by attempts to undermine or usurp client relationships that we've worked really hard to win and to look after fairly and responsibly. Clients bear some of those scars too - caught in the cross-fire of indignant and/or unrepentant advisers. Customers must always have the choice of whom they instruct - of course that's right. But the paranoia and distrust that's often resulted from these experiences has led to an 'arms round the homework (and the clients!)' approach, with many professionals uncomfortable about sharing connections and brain-storming opportunities.
Sharing our regrets at this state of affairs and occasionally comparing 'battle scars' amidst a lot of laughter and in very relaxed meetings several times last week, is something that strangely bonded us with our fellow professionals. Because why, when you meet inspiring and likeminded people who are extremely good at what they do - according to their customers, that is, not according to any marketing puffery - would you go to all the time, effort, expense and reputational risk of trying to beat them at their own game? Instead, you could collaborate, create something truly different and outstanding together, and both thrive?
So it was with an amused smile this weekend that I watched the attached video by Dr Ivan Misner, founder of Business Network International, called "Partnering with your competition could actually give you the competitive edge". I think Misner's on to something - and he gives a great example of where this kind of collaborative relationship has brought success not just once but many times over.
It's too early for my team and I to count any chickens or to predict whether these inspiring early stage brainstorming sessions will lead to full-scale collaborative partnerships in the near future. But I've definitely gone from being worried about cannibalisation and competitor usurpers to being really excited about what we could achieve together.
In this video, Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of Business Network International (BNI), explains how intelligently collaborating with your competition can vastly improve your business.