Trenches, Foxholes, and Who to Invite In

Here’s the most important question you can ask when seeking an IoT partner

You’re about to go to battle, preparing to enter unfamiliar territory, when you come to the realization: we need reinforcements. Not just bodies and capable hands. But experienced leaders to help guide the team through the unknown.

Welcome to the world of IoT development.

While it in no way compares to an actual battlefield, business innovation certainly can feel like a battle –  both from within the organization’s hierarchy and among the competition, as well as figuring out who’s a good fit to help you pick and win your battles. This is where everyone feels the pressure to ask the right questions and have all the winning answers. And because there isn’t a foolproof set of questions to ensure you find the ideal partner, there has to be one question that gets to the heart of what you need to know about a potential partner to make and decision.

With respect to IoT, there is one question you can ask to cut through all noise and posturing:

What have you built

out of your own curiosity,

from scratch,

at your own expense,

over a period of years,


This is not asking how someone built their business or consultancy. If anything, it’s asking what they embarked on to build in addition to, separate from and simultaneously alongside that business.

Why is this such an important question?

Because most people haven’t willingly taken on this kind of risk before. Yes, you need to discern – do they have the technical expertise to solve your problem? Do they even care about your problem? Is it the job they want or problem they feel compelled to solve? But more than capabilities, you’re also trying to discern the real nature of your potential partner.

It’s important to ask because there’s a lot of chatter and opinions about the alarmingly high IoT failure rates, which signals mistakes and missteps with regard to process. Our team has some opinions on why innovation projects fail and what makes them successful, so let’s take a different approach here.

Surely you’ve heard the business cliché about defining who you want in the trenches when things get tough. It’s a metaphor for grit, tenacity and trust. It’s asking – who will have my back when things get tough? If we’re being honest, we often invite people into our trench or foxhole that we know little about and we’re hopeful that they prove to be worthy companions during difficult times. And there’s no worse time to find out you’ve chosen poorly when you’re deep in that foxhole together.


To answer that initial question, our team solved a problem we saw in the lighting industry – a space that we didn’t have deep prior experience in. But curiosity is our nature, and so is problem solving, and we had the audacity to believe in ourselves and trusted that we could build a viable solution. Our team dug the trench, hunkered down, and built from scratch an IoT lighting solution we called Limelight. It took nearly a decade to be able to call it a success. When a global electronics company recognized the value in what we built and what it could mean to their customers, it made sense for us to agree to have Limelight acquired by Lutron so it could be accelerated and shared with far more people than we could ever reach on our own. But those were 10 long and trying years. To realize success we had to maintain a long-term view.

For CEOs contemplating the hard decision about where to go next – we get it. We’ve been there.


Our team has always had a drive and a passion to see breakthrough solutions, to achieve what previously hasn’t been done. And we’ve also heard it said more than once that we’re just a consultancy, a technology firm – it’s not like we’re curing cancer or splitting the atom.

For a long time we didn’t know how to respond to that kind of pushback. But now we do. We have clarity on what needs to be shared with those who don’t fully understand what we do. We know our creative and technology-driven work is vital to business and to the people businesses serve.

True, we’re not curing cancer. But we will work with those who build better detection devices, better treatment delivery systems and provide better patient outcomes – all on the road to finding a cure. We’ will work with the scientists and makers who will discover and develop things beyond our current imagination, because we know this to be true: they will do it with technology. And likely with technology that hasn’t been fully perfected or doesn’t yet exist.

These are the frontlines we will be on. Those are the leaders and pioneers who we will help – the ones who believe in conquering what once seemed improbable, if not impossible. It is how some innovative thinkers working quietly in a “shed” in West Michigan will help change the world.

The fact is, we already are.

Which brings us back to those trenches and foxholes, and who you invite into them.

You need to know who has you back and who understands this challenging terrain. Once you do, you’ll want to listen to them, allow them to guide you. Maybe there’s a reason on the battlefield of business that the foxhole you think you’re ready to jump into is already empty and abandoned. Maybe you need the expert guidance on where to dig a more strategic trench in order to stay in the fight.

Lean in equipped to fight a better fight – and then trust that it will be worth it in the end.


We understand that figuring out where to go next can feel like a mighty leap into the unknown. For that reason, we want to invite you to into our trench so you can see for yourself how we get to what’s next through a human-centered design process. How you choose to engage with us is up to you, but if we’ve struck a chord or piqued your curiosity on how to get to what’s next, let us know.

As Twisthink's Managing Partner, Bob has a passion and gift for connecting with people and harnessing the power of a cross-functional team with not only Twisthink but also our clients. As a team builder and team promoter, he is committed to creativity and creating bold change.

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