When the dark days of winter get to me, I head for Mumbai. The business junkie I am does not need sun – although you also get that in Mumbai in January – but economic excitement. So here I am once again, arriving exhausted at midnight at the airport. My driver is not here and conversation with the hotel operator produces a strange mix of reassurance that the driver is already there and disturbing evidence that they may not have scheduled him after all. Unfathomable India. At the airport, I try to recruit the other drivers of competing hotels to help me locate my guy – building communities is after all what I have come here to teach – but instead, I get multiple offers to spend the night at other hotels or to drive me to my original hotel at what seems to be an exponentially decreasing cost. One hour later, the driver shows up, vaguely apologetic, making laconic references to a parking problem. I will never know what happened.
I have come to organize a preparatory workshop with a large European crop protection company wanting to develop a new partnership with a larger Indian trader. The idea is to get organized internally first, then propose a co-creation workshop to the partner at a subsequent time. The exciting part is that both parties are already poster children for co-creation, having each set up successful farmer communities of their own, which they now propose to connect. I have slept very little – adapting to a 10.5 hours time difference is never easy– and yet I feel totally “on” because workshop participants are so excited that all I have to do is feed off their enthusiasm. By the afternoon of the first day, the account manager for the trading company picks up the phone and calls someone at the trader to let them know we want to engage in co-creation with them. By the afternoon of the second day, we have a call organized between the two parties involving senior leadership on both sides. Yes, they agree, this makes a lot of sense, maybe a bit more of this hypothesis and a bit less of that one. We’re off to the races.
In the US or Europe, someone would have to check with legal or make sure everybody in management is on board. One would have to verify with a project management office that resources can indeed be allocated to this initiative, and a painstaking process of initiatives prioritization would have to take place. In India, the excitement drives everything. Passion is the currency. They even set up dates for the full co-creation workshop that will follow. And so I find myself volunteering for another visit to India in short order.
The other striking part of the workshop is the contrast of business model between the European and the Indian view of the same problem. The European model is a classic capitalistic model where the crop protection company tries to build a direct line between the investment in time and resources that the new partnership will require and more profits for the company. There has to be a “business case”, which implies an ability to see a causal relationship between what gets spent and the increased profits that will come out of it. By contrast, the Indian trader has adopted the triple balance sheet view that sustainable success is defined economically, socially and environmentally. The economic model is also quite important – they want to make more money – but they also understand that trying to build a linear cause-and-effect relationship between an investment and a predictable outcome can be a fool’s errand. As a result, they are quite content to take initiatives that will help the farmers that supply them make more money, on the assumption that good things will follow if they help the community of farmers grow their overall income and adopt more environmentally balanced agricultural practices. When pushed, they can articulate that more competitive agricultural products grown by their farmers will produce more quality supplies for them, or generate more goodwill with the Indian government, which may pay off in less regulation, but I can tell this is a concession to Western thinking. Left to their own device, they do not feel the need to map out every possible outcome from the co-creation effort, realizing that beyond the first or second-order hypotheses they develop, the outcome of the co-creation is largely unknowable. The European contingent struggles with the decidedly “un-analytic” point of view offered by the Indian folks. “If we build those communities of farmers, I know good things will happen”, a young Indian marketing manager simply states to me at dinner, as we are having a drink on the hotel terrace under the moon.
After a while, he adds: “… and this makes me proud of what I do.” That’s all he needs to know.