Anthony Franco has built and sold five successful companies, and amassed an impressive number of awards in the process: 74 technology awards, 62 design awards and over 100 awards combined in innovation, marketing, mobile and business. However, Franco does not credit himself alone for these awards, but rather attributes his success to an open, effective process of collaboration and belief that creativity is an essential human trait.
One of the most notable of his companies was Effective, which he founded in 2005 in Denver, Colorado, as the first user experience and digital product development firm. Effective was purchased in 2012 by WPP, a British multinational communications, advertising, public relations, technology, and commerce holding company headquartered in London.
Franco knows that increasing technology can have a negative effect on face-to-face communication, which is often a critical component in fostering team collaboration and creativity. Over the years of building his companies, Franco had researched concepts of psychological safety for ideas that would help his teams sustain the effective collaboration that he knew was critical to success.
Dry-erase whiteboards might seem more like a product more for children in a classroom and not something that could have a positive effect in the conference rooms of a high-tech company, but Franco has proven otherwise. In 2013, he founded Comsero, which manufactures a line of dry-erase products known as “mcSquares,” that he describes as “elegantly designed” products to improve the ways in which organizations collaborate and create.
In addition to personal size whiteboards in a variety of shapes and sizes, Comsero produces large wall-sized boards and easels, as well as reusable “stickie” notes, homework packages for home use, and products that are usable in schools and other public organizations. The products are made in Colorado of High Density Polyethylene, Steel and Expanded Polyvinyl, and can be cleaned with a solution of 50% rubbing alcohol/50% water on a soft, damp cloth (microfiber is recommended). Any dry-erase or wet-erase marker or liquid chalk and dry-erase crayons can be used, and the surfaces have micro-suction pads to hold them in place on smooth surfaces such as glass, metal and plastic.
Franco explains that providing everyone with a personal whiteboard for use during team meetings helps to “democratize” meetings because it pulls the focus away from the facilitator and enables all team members to more easily participate in the creative collaboration. And because dry-erase is not permanent, some of the mental barriers that might hinder creativity are dismantled when the interaction and communication process is put into the user’s hands. When teams use the individual squares, Franco says, everyone’s ideas are heard, valued, and shared. This sense of self-worth leads to more diverse and innovative discussion. “What we do is not rocket science,” he emphasizes, “it is social science … “giving a voice to everyone in the room.”