Archive for the ‘BusinessWeek’ Category

Structuring the healthcare ectoplasms

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

The art of co-creation lies in structuring the right exchange platforms at the outset of the debate. For having forgotten this simple fact, the Obama administration is now in the unenviable position of having to extract  common themes across five different bills generated by five different committees, and trying to cajole enough senators and house representatives into rallying around some kind of consensus bill still to be developed. The administration’s challenge is now to hang five ectoplasms on a common skeleton it still has to anatomically define, and get the ectoplasms not to slime in the process.

Imagine if eBay had had the great insight that there are lots of people with stuff in their attic they want to sell, and buyers who want to buy it, but had somehow forgotten to structure the market in categories such as cars, computers, or– my personal favorite  — “dolls and bears”. Imagine also what would have happened if eBay had forgotten to establish rules for its bidding system, including how long an item is put up for auction, how buyers and sellers establish or judge each other’s credibility through a rating system, how buyers and sellers can communicate and how the commissions get levied by eBay on both buyer and seller. If eBay had just said: “go out and co-create”, we’d have a real mess. That’s the healthcare debate so far.

Co-creation is not a free-for-all. It is an organized way of engaging different parties in a different kind of dialogue by structuring new platforms that create transparency between the various points of view. As a result, the process enables a better optimization than would have been possible under the old, non-transparent system. Absent this structuring, the healthcare debate has naturally reverted back to frozen, partisan characterizations of the other camp,  as either bleeding heart liberals or insensitive capitalists, not to mention absurd slogans such as “not letting anyone come between you and your doctors” – as if insurance companies were not already there!

As Business Week pointed out in its August 6 issue, health insurers have stepped into the breach and structured the debate on behalf of the administration. Not only have they framed the platforms, but they have used their considerable lobbying firepower to present actuarial evidence in favor of their proposed solutions. In a debate between free-form, idealistic regulators wishing for a better world and business legionnaires armed with scores of data, who do we think is going to prevail in the end?

Out of this mess, perhaps a new policy-setting process will arise in Washington, where regulators view themselves not as partisan advocates of a point of view they try to impose on others, but as architects and implementers of a new democratic process where issues are framed along citizen-centric lines. When regulators learn to design debate platforms rather than a priori outcomes, a new form of democracy will emerge.

In the meantime, it’s back to chasing ectoplasms. Whom you gonna call? Ghost busters.

The redemption of business journalists

Monday, August 10th, 2009

I never liked business journalists. Their articles always struck me as editorially slanted toward “good” or “bad” stories, without much interest for the subtle tapestry of most business issues. At the personal level, I found many business journalists to be cynical and arrogant. By definition, they’d always have the last (written) word and relish their ability to make or break you at the stroke of a pen, a power (and lack of accountability) they ferociously defended under the guise of journalistic independence. Fourteen years later, I can still remember waiting all night for the appearance on the BusinessWeek web site of a negative article calling out the reputed inconsistencies between my firm’s strategy (Gemini Consulting, now integrated into Cap Gemini) and a book I had just co-authored. I can even remember agonizing over how to explain to my then 12-year old daughter that her dad was not a hypocrite, in spite of what was being implied about him.

This morning, I woke up with a new faith in business journalists. It all started two weeks ago with the discovery that McGraw-Hill is considering selling BusinessWeek, after owning it for the last 80 years.

I was first animated by a vague sense of poetic justice in seeing my old tormentor deal with the same business downturn issues my firm had faced long ago. When I opened up the BW web site, I found, much to my surprise, that John Byrne, now head of BusinessWeek.com, was inviting readers to suggest stories BW should write about (I remember meeting John a couple of times when he was Management Editor and he struck me as wicked smart, but not particularly interested in co-creation at the time).

Still skeptical, I then ran across another blog on the BW site, written by one of their senior writers, Stephen Baker, which is downright touching in its honesty and the transparency it fosters. For the first time, I found myself connecting with a person of flesh and blood at BW, who talks about his own uncertainties on the value of his writing and editorial work, and who genuinely invites readers to think with him about new ways to create value for his magazine. If BW and McGraw-Hill have any sense, they will engage this gentleman and others like him in becoming the transformation agents for the magazine, rather than rely on some hypothetical new business model provided by a private equity firm or investment banker.

As for me, dear Stephen Baker, I want to thank you for reconciling me with your profession. I do not know you – the title of Senior Writer leads me to believe you must be a very old man with a long white beard — but any journalist who writes as you do clearly understands the power of co-creation in publishing. Please send me your invoice for your counseling services in helping me overcome my journalistic phobia.

Love everyone?

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Okay, full disclosure. I love the way Suzy Welch writes. She’s also a friend of a friend and I have met her once at a party (with her husband and former GE CEO, Jack Welch). Suzy and Jack have a column in the June 17 issue of BusinessWeek giving advice to commencement speakers for the class of 2009.

Their advice? Love everyone. You’ve heard me. Love everyone. How un-business is that? I can hear the snickering from here. Must have been Suzy. Jack would not write mushy stuff like that.

Their point? If you’re patient and open enough, everybody will teach you something. If I weren’t afraid of looking like the kid in college who starts his essay with “Shakespeare and I agree that …,” I would think I’ve found a soul mate (or maybe two).

Love – or at least empathy – is the cornerstone of innovation. You can’t innovate if you can’t feel. In our co-creation process, we encourage managers to “spend a day in the life of their customers”. The idea is not so much to break down analytically what customers do, but to get them to feel it. Emotion is the precursor of creation. So yes, love everyone.