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Bastian Unterberg is founder and CEO of jovoto, a leading open innovation platform that enables global brands and NGOs to collaborate with top creatives from around the world on problem solving in the areas of business innovation, product design, marketing or architecture.

Since its launch in 2007 jovoto has grown a community of over 85K creatives and a roaster of partnering organizations and international big players such as adidas, Starbucks, Unilever, Cisco, vitra or Amnesty International.

In this interview Bastian explains why their so called process “crowdstorm“ at internet scale resonate strongly with the needs of brands today, how jovoto creates impact on the ongoing digital transformation of the workforce, and what the future for creatives might look like in an automated world.

Bastian, what did motivate you to start jovoto in 2007? What have you seen was missing or broken back then?

During my final term at the University of Arts in Berlin I realized that most traditional work environments in organizations do not match my DNA. So I thought that either I am the problem or that the world needs to rethink work. Gathering more and more feedback, I realized that the next generation of talent has a paradigm shifting, different understanding of life, consumption and work. So I founded jovoto to build a platform based work environment that is more open and collaborative than most traditional environments back then and still today.

Up until today, you grew a strong community of over 85.000 creatives from all over the world that partners with big brands such as Starbucks, Coke or adidas. Which type of creatives engage with jovoto and what motivates them to stay on the platform?

As patterns of motivation differ broadly for most individuals we can’t accurately describe the type of creative – as a matter of fact the diversity makes jovoto great. Approaching a problem in a highly collaborative process with lots of diverse talents leads to new insights, learning and often to fresh results. In general I would say jovoto is a social, applied learning environment for all types of talent. At the beginning it is about the thought exchange, it is about the freedom to be as good or as bad as you want to be. The senior art director enjoys the edgy and innocent output from younger guns while a creative director signs up just to work on the stuff he or she wants to work on instead of being asked to do so. We see talent, that is navigating jovoto successfully and developing an alternative career path, to be generally open, good communicators, team players and good listeners with in-depth skills in at least one discipline, like service design or architecture. We only invite every tenth talent that signs up into the top-talent layer but for these talents we thrive to become the best workplace out there.

One advice on growing a strong community you have?

First of all, keep in mind. You don’t own your community. Your community does. So make it their place. Set a supportive culture that people value and embrace from the beginning. Figure out what sort of behaviour the people within your community would benefit the most from. Then incentivize that behavior. For example, we believe strongly in collaboration and feedback to develop great ideas. So in each project we run, you can earn money from collaborating and giving feedback to others ideas. If you set a strong culture, new people who join will get it and adapt. If you don’t set the culture, someone else will do it for you. If you get started make sure you plan desired culture and understand the underlying values. The social clue for building a strong community are shared values. Then good luck – building a strong community is a super tough challenge.

In 2013 you wrote the book “Crowdstorm: The Future of Innovation, Ideas and Problem Solving” in which you describe the “crowdstorm” process you apply to empower companies to harness creative collaboration at internet scale. For what kinds of projects and challenges of partnering brands fit the process best?

Exploring change beyond the obvious is where our approach with large, diverse groups of talent delivers interesting results. We created a safe place for talent – where they can be as good or as bad as they want to be – ergo their results often come with a cutting innovation edge. If that was not concrete enough, here are a few challenges I can give as an example, ‘Which service innovations will shape customer experiences in private banking in 5yrs?’ or ‘Create artificial intelligence application for mobility platforms?’ or ‘Imagine a Coke bottle as a connected device, which service innovations would you create?’ or Life – Edited,‘Design a tiny huge apartment?’
Beyond the projects which focus on exploring unknown terrain we do successfully apply Crowdstorming to more specific problems in marketing, product or service innovation. Creating the next communication campaign for Greenpeace to save the arctic or designing a limited edition swiss army knife for Victorinox or A Jever-Harley Davidson. Gaining an overview of options helps to make more informed, better decisions.

Which jovoto project moved you the most so far and why?
A project named ‘300$ House’ which we realized in cooperation with the Dartmouth College and the Harvard Business Review aimed to tackle the question whether it is possible to build a house for less than 300$ as people living in favelas, not owning the property would not invest more in their house. There was one entry where a father and his son scanned each receipt from home depot to prove that the house they build in their garden cost less than 300$.

Gaining trust from companies to use jovoto for design and innovation might involve quite some persuading upfront. From your experience, how do collaborations with your community influence companies internally and their way of working?

First of all, it is changemakers within large enterprises that apply our open innovation approach. We simply help them to amplify their agenda with the voice and creativity of hundreds sometimes thousands of creators. Often it is our more open, collaborative process that allows to integrate different stakeholders flexibly along the line – which leads to a more and more contagious process. It is like becoming the talk of the town and then it becomes an experience for even more people within an organization. Once you realized at which speed digital ecosystems operate you start to rethink your rather complex organizational designs, your policies and you start seeking new interfaces to what happens outside the organization.

On jovoto you recently started the ForeWork Initiative together with adidas, CISCO, vitra and Wired Magazine in which the community designs directly together with managers the future of work and workspaces. How did this crowdstorm with multiple companies involved came to realization?

ForeWork is the combination of two things: On the one hand we started jovoto because we wanted to change how we work and we have therefore been active in the ‘future of work’ scene for multiple years now, building a network of corporate executives and thought leaders. On the other hand we have started to do more and more complex crowdstorms in the last year, e.g. our crowdstorms about the ‘Future of Banking’ with Deutsche Bank or our own ‘Future of Food and Beverages Initiative’. It was just logical for me to combine this passion for the future of work with our Crowdstorming methodology. And it took only a quick outreach into our corporate network to find a couple of corporate ‘disruptors’ who also wanted to try something new and explore the future of work together with us and
our community.

To what extent might the outcome of the ForeWork initiative be a blueprint for digitally still less advanced companies to attract and retain young talent?

First of all I would not limit the attractiveness of an organization to the area of digital advancement. How attractive an organization is to talent is multidimensional and also the ForeWork submissions tackle various areas, from ‘meaningful work’ to ‘personal development’ or ‘work-life balance’. We are still in the middle of the evaluation, so it is a bit early to answer this questions. But take e.g. an idea such as Skill Share. It is an education programme that rewards employees who share their skills with their colleagues. This is a highly attractive programme for young talents both to learn and also show off their own skills. I don’t see a reason why a company could not implement this today and by doing so become more attractive for talents.

With regards to the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation applied in businesses and society, how do you think will the creative class be affected by those transformational shifts?

On the long run the creative class will experience a ‘99/1’ development – I am more than certain that wherever numbers validate whether creative work is productive or not, machines will take over the creative production process. It is probably not the first bastion to tumble but I believe that in ten years from today AI will play a significant role in most creative fields as well. Those who are able to combine empathy, human intuition and creativity to challenge and evolve standards – true creators – will become the 1%, whereas all others will hopefully be able to apply their talent and creativity to the projects they are passionate about. Wouldn’t it be great to unleash such a creative class, maybe funded by machines who start to appreciate the serendipity moments of human creativity?

Where do you see creatives contribute the most in the future?

As mentioned creativity will not be automated anytime soon. A blend of collaborative skills and creativity will allow to connect the dots where machines can’t or won’t.
I personally hope to see a new breed of creative manager. As more and more management decisions will rely on better data and analytics I hope that more and more creative leaders will emerge and prove that the human factor makes the difference between economically right and meaningful.

In your own words, what means creative leadership to you?

Creative leadership encourages talent to break rules and to challenge the norm where as the often destructive, creative process results in the creation of better models. To me personally creative leadership has strong entrepreneurial roots. Being able to create an environment in which others are able to thrive while exploring unknown terrain, requires the creative leader’s ability to calculate risks. This probably means that you have to make decisions fast which requires a good intuition. While answering your question I am getting curious what today’s science thinks about creative leadership … guess I need to spend an evening researching that.

This interview is part of the 2nd issue of INTERSECTIONS, the newsletter series of #YesBrandPlease on the intersections of Brand, Innovation, Strategy and Impact. Sign up.

More about Bastian Unterberg
Bastian has a computer science and design background, and besides managing Berlin-based jovoto he speaks regularly about the future of work, mass collaboration and innovation at international conferences. In 2013 he published his first book, “Crowdstorm: The Future of Innovation, Ideas and Problem Solving” with Wiley – his work has been featured in The New York Times, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Die Zeit, and Der Spiegel.

Connect with Bastian Unterberg here


About the author

Nadine Bruder is the founder of #YesBrandPlease and curator of its newsletter series INTERSECTIONS. Her vision is to empower and to connect a new international breed of brand and business leaders that want to make a sustainable impact in our society.
She is a brand & marketing strategist as well as business innovator helping technology and lifestyle companies in Europe, Asia and in Northern America to grow or transform with forward thinking visions and strategies. Her work as been awarded with several prizes.

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