During the last two years, the global pandemic has transformed the way knowledge workers collaborate and innovate. Whiteboarding tools like MURAL have been key drivers of that revolution, enabling remote and hybrid teams to imagine new possibilities, build projects, processes and plans, and much more.
But there’s another cultural side to this revolution that hasn’t been adequately addressed. Despite a bevy of tools that enable them to be more efficient and get work done anywhere, they feel profoundly disconnected. In some ways, remote work has magnified interpersonal and cultural cracks in organizations.
To help companies collaborate and innovate more effectively – and address both the hard (tools) and soft (culture and people) aspects of the challenges that lie ahead, MURAL recently acquired the LUMA Institute, a consultancy that equips people to be collaborative problem solvers through learning experiences, digital resources, and certification programs. LUMA transforms how teams collaborate and innovate at enterprise scale.
As the pandemic and post-pandemic have unfolded, I’ve been closely monitoring what’s happening to the nature of work and collaboration. When I saw this announcement, it grabbed my attention. Here was one of the leading firms in the collaboration tools space – MURAL – realizing that its powerful, flexible toolset is only one piece of the puzzle. In order to successfully innovate, retain top talent and grow, leading organizations need something more.
It it’s also clear to me that this is a great move by MURAL to differentiate itself from other developers of collaborative workspace tools. Clearly, enterprises need more than tools to be successful. They need frameworks and methodologies to get the most value from them, get workers more comfortable using them and help them imagine new possibilities to grow their organizations. The acquisition of LUMA positions it as more of a total solution provider. What a great move!
So I reached out to MURAL and LUMA to learn more about the thinking behind this acquisition – and what it says about the state of collaboration and innovation in enterprises today. What I learned was thought-provoking and eye-opening.
This interview is based on a conversation with Chris Pacione, Co-founder and CEO of LUMA Institute and Sean Lauer, Senior Director of Product Marketing at MURAL.
Chuck Frey: Your announcement highlights a staggeringly high cost of inefficient collaboration in hybrid work environments. What are the sources of friction? What’s not working that’s causing these inefficiencies?
Chris Pacione/Sean Lauer: Innovation is neither formula nor accident. It’s people and collaboration. Unfortunately today, people are disconnected from each other and from their teams. They’re disconnected across departments and with the larger enterprise and its goals. Despite a hundred ways to communicate — in the office, over email, chat, video, comments, you name it — the current state of disconnection prevails. Consider the following:
- Inefficient team collaboration costs businesses billions of dollars every year. One estimate projects ineffective meetings cost up to $542 billion. Others show as much as 85% of employee time is wasted on inefficient collaboration.
- But the real costs are actually much higher. Poor collaboration decreases innovation volume and slows innovation pipelines substantially. Beyond this, people whose ideas go unseen or who feel underappreciated are substantially less likely to be motivated, leading to the Great Resignation.
- For too long employees have been disconnected because they haven’t had a seat at the table and executives claim to listen but have no way of engaging people in the process or encouraging participation. CEOs recognize it’s now imperative to build a more innovative culture, build more agile teams, and attract and retain talent.
Frey: What are the dangers of leaving collaboration to chance, of not approaching it systematically or strategically?
Pacione/Lauer: In a nutshell, the distribution of collaboration aptitude and skills are not evenly distributed throughout any given organization. Consider design teams with their rituals like ‘design critiques,’ which are commonly understood and adopted as a safe space for designers to present their work at various stages, and give and receive feedback from their peers. Designers appreciate the value of feedback, and can make distinctions between picking apart the design vs. picking apart the designer.
The ability to create shared psychological safety is easier for teams composed of members that can already make these types of distinctions. Engineering teams have their rituals as well, like ‘retrospectives’, agile software development with Scrum, and daily ‘stand ups.’ Having some structure and behavioral norms in place makes it easier to build associations with additional collaboration methods.
In other areas of the company — like legal, operations, or marketing — the capacity for self-expression or the ability to field hard questions or dissenting opinions in a way that contributes to better shared understanding and empathy… not so much.
If there is no appreciation for the craft of collaboration or understanding of how these skills lead to better outcomes, then you’re not running at peak performance, and risking attrition among high-performing employees who are stuck in teams that are struggling with the most essential function of work life: teamwork.
Frey: Have MURAL customers been asking for help with collaborating more effectively? If so, how does this acquisition meet those needs?
Pacione/Lauer: Yes, we hear this often and in all sorts of ways like:
“We can’t seem to agree on a course of action.”
“We make decisions, but they don’t stick. We’re flip-flopping every week or two…”
“We have our act together, but our stakeholders just don’t get it…”
These are just some of the warning signs that your approach to collaboration is broken or worse, non-existent.
MURAL’s acquisition of LUMA adds several essential ingredients to our category of collaborative intelligence and the creation of the Collaboration Design Institute. Among these are:
- Best-in-class Taxonomy of Innovation. At the core of the LUMA Institute’s impact are the 36 methods that were distilled and refined from 1000’s of potential candidates. Each one was chosen because it’s easy to teach, easy to learn, human-centered, and it WORKS!
- LUMAs modular and highly adaptive approach is made possible by goal-driven “collaboration recipes” comprising proven design methods.
- The opportunity to “MURALize” these methods, providing a digital-first approach that makes them quicker to prepare for the facilitator, more engaging for distributed and hybrid participants, and more impactful for organizations as we bring collaboration insights into the mix as well. The ability to reduce (or even eliminate) the delay from the end of a session to when the actions, contributions, discussions, and decisions of the participants can be applied to the next step of the innovation journey.
- The LUMAnaries! LUMA Institute employees live and breathe collaboration, innovation, and impact —and their experience and talent bring focus and renewed purpose to the MURAL mission and vision.
Frey: During the pandemic, tools like MURAL revolutionized the way remote teams were able to collaborate and keep work moving. But I get a sense that the tool alone isn’t enough. What pieces were missing that LUMA helps to fill?
Pacione/Lauer: LUMA’s approach is rooted in the proven practices of design. Products, services, and experiences are all designed — and pairing LUMA’s human-centered approach with MURAL’s technology creates a powerful combination.
We know that people who have learned the LUMA System use MURAL in exceptionally effective ways. We want more people and teams to learn those techniques and add more intentionality to interactions.
Frey: How does LUMA’s design innovation framework extend the principle and practices of design thinking?
Pacione/Lauer: The LUMA Principle guides the company’s work by inviting people to Look carefully, Understand deeply, Make resourcefully, and Adapt accordingly. The LUMA System of Innovation enables people to apply the principle to their work.
The system includes 36 core methods across three categories: looking, understanding, and making. It’s not a process; it’s a modular and adaptive collection of design methods that can be combined to create “recipes” that help people frame problems, make decisions, develop ideas, design prototypes, and more.
Pacione/Lauer: Yes, indeed. This acquisition creates extraordinary opportunities for LUMA to reach more people. LUMA and MURAL have always shared similar missions: We want to equip hundreds of millions of imagination workers with the skills to connect with one another and solve problems together.
LUMA can help MURAL customers learn the LUMA System and deploy it at scale to ignite and transform collaboration. LUMA can also help create and distribute content for collaboration designers globally, reaching more people and giving them even more reasons to engage with MURAL.
With the launch of Collaborative Intelligence and the creation of the Collaboration Design Institute, coming in late 2022, the next logical move was for us to formally join forces and take these steps together.
Frey: Your announcement states that “MURAL expects more than 250 million knowledge workers must develop collaboration design skills by 2025.” That’s a huge number in a short amount of time. What’s driving this sense of urgency?
Pacione/Lauer: Gartner estimates there are 1.2 billion knowledge workers today, including programmers, physicians, architects, engineers, scientists, design thinkers, recruiters, lawyers, nurses, and academics, whose job is to “think for a living” and adapt to a shifting workplace.
Today, one out of every two U.S. knowledge workers is unhappy with their current job, and record numbers are quitting. Executives see the threat. Many are pushing for a return to the office; the traditional, all-in-one solution for collaboration. They believe that surely once teams are back together in person, they will work together better. But going back is not going forward.
The office is an obsolete solution to the collaboration problem. It’s not enough to bring your brightest people together and wing it. And while tools and technology may keep us in touch, they are not enough to keep us connected.
At MURAL, we believe that we can inspire teams to connect and innovate with collaborative intelligence. Collaborative intelligence combines the new discipline of collaboration design with collaboration spaces and emerging Collaboration Insights — creating a culture where everyone is connected, contributing and empowered to deliver business-driving outcomes.
Frey: Your announcement states that MURAL will launch the Collaboration Design Institute later his year. Will this be primarily an online learning play, or will you provide any in-person learning, too?
Pacione/Lauer: Initially, LUMA will continue to operate business as usual. The LUMA brand and System will take on more prominence both inside and outside of the MURAL product as the Collaboration Design Institute and category of collaborative intelligence are further developed. Inside the product, this could come to life through live and on-demand learning offerings, certifications, and workshops for individuals and teams.
Further integration and marketing of LUMA templates across channels is also something that can be expected.
Frey: How will the launch of Collaboration Spaces as part of the Collaborative Intelligence System impact the roadmap of the MURAL toolset? It sounds like you’re enhancing it to provide some new services and capabilities.
Pacione/Lauer: Collaboration spaces are where teams gather to work together. You know it as the interactive space where you gather with your team in real time or asynchronously. They can be physical, virtual, or somewhere in between.
Today, the main collaboration space is a mural. In the future, we will explore ways to bridge the physical and digital divide and provide teams with entirely new collaboration spaces.
Frey: How will these enhanced collaboration capabilities be delivered to MURAL customers? Through some sort of a subscription model? On a customized consulting package basis? Or via a different business model?
Pacione/Lauer: We are exploring numerous ways for MURAL members to take advantage of our acquisition of LUMA. This may come to life through a la carte packages or a subscription premium for specific content, but ultimately we plan to provide value for all MURAL members no matter their pricing plan.
Frey: How will Collaboration Insights, one of the new services that’s coming as part of the rollout of the Collaborative Intelligence System, enable organizations to measure and improve their collaboration?
Pacione/Lauer: With a privacy-first approach, MURAL will be able to provide valuable qualitative and quantitative collaboration insights to individuals and organizations. It is important that team members can constantly evaluate and improve how they collaborate to solve problems, so we plan to surface insights that allow them to learn and grow.
Organizations care more about collaboration at a macro level that leads to higher levels of engagement and faster innovation cycles. We plan to provide the insights that allow organizations to optimize their workflows and productivity, ultimately leading to business-driving outcomes.