Posts Tagged ‘co-creation’

Why demographic segmentation is bad for democracy

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

It is a bad outcome when the main lesson learned from the recent US Presidential election is that future political leaders will win through a better understanding of demographic segmentation. The conventional wisdom emerging from the recent victory of Barack Obama is that Republicans lost because they failed to understand that the United States is becoming more diverse, and consequently over-relied on older, white votes. Conversely, Democrats are deemed to have won the Presidency and gained seats in the Senate by energizing the vote of Latinos, African Americans, women and younger voters.

The problem with this argument is that it represents a static view of the situation (yes, the numbers are as advertised in the re-election of President Obama), but fails to recognize the dynamic role of political innovation in electoral success (no, there wasn’t any of that in the recent election). Like in business, political innovation does not reside in the ability to activate one’s traditional segment by honing in messages specifically crafted for them (the proverbial “red meat” for the equally proverbial “base”), but in rearranging the segments and building new creative coalitions among them. The name of the game should not be to grind out electoral victories through micro-segmentation and predictive modeling of votes county-by-county or citizen-by-citizen. The role of a political leader should be to engage a large electorate of diverse people in not only redefining their relationship to the candidate, but to each other. There is room for operational micro-segmentation processes as a second implementation step, but it is hardly a substitute for the broad democratic engagement process a candidate should orchestrate. In the election, both candidates had a lot of the former, and precious little of the latter (particularly if one compares Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign to 2008).

Successful campaigns are those where demographic frontiers get blurred and new relationships develop among supporters of widely varied ethnic, gender, sexual preference or age backgrounds, triggering new electoral coalitions. A campaign platform should be about drawing as many people as possible to become active members of the system and co-create with the candidate what he or she stands for. Voting is but the tip of the democratic co-creation iceberg, with day-to-day life in the community its underwater part.

Political campaigns should start in wide open form, not as manifestos. The pressure put by pundits on candidates to define their programs very early, down to the specific tax deductions they will eliminate and the energy programs they will support, is a negation of democracy, not an enhancement thereof. In a co-creative electoral system, there ought to be room for the much derided “listening campaign” of Hillary Clinton in her first senatorial run, or for the highly ridiculed etch-a-sketch views of Mitt Romney. Thinking that candidates should state their views once and for all, then execute them flawlessly once in office under penalty of becoming flip-floppers is as ridiculous as would have been to ask Steve Jobs to define the Apple strategy down to the scroll wheel of the next iPhone, all the while testing whether Latinos or women respond favorably to it.

The new leadership we need is not about ideas, but about process. It is not about reconfiguring party lines, or even bipartisanship from the top-down. It is about democratizing democracy at the community level, and reconstructing it piece by piece.




Business women of the world, unite

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012


Last night, I found myself watching the PBS documentary entitled Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Hosted by the two journalists Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (his wife), and patterned after their book by the same name , it took me on a roller-coaster from utter despair (when a fourteen year old Sierra Leone rape victim gets expelled from her home for confronting her predator) to powerful hope (learning how innovative some of the militant women are who help young girls or women victims fight and survive).

Unlike Kristof and WuDunn, I am not in a position to write about women oppression of the physical kind (rape, mutilation, sexual slavery), but I do witness quieter cases of women’s moral oppression in global business every day.

I’m talking about you, anonymous Yemeni woman in my Dubai class of the London Business School last year. As often in the Arab world, I was instructed not to address you first. For three hours, you patiently listened to my challenging your male Middle-Eastern colleagues without engaging, eyes mostly down on your notes. In the last fifteen minutes, you found the courage to raise your hand and suggested a brilliant application for your bank of what I was trying to teach. I can still remember your dark eyes, glittering with the excitement of a new thought.  I would have liked to put you on stage and have you teach the next class with me. But I didn’t, because this is no place of a Yemeni woman.

I’m also thinking of you, bright young women I have known in academia or consulting over the years in the US or Europe, who never knew how good you were, and who settled for second best careers (or no career at all) because nobody told you you had the power to change the world. How I wish some senior woman in your department could have taken you by the hand and shown you the way! Images of workshops are dancing in my head, with ebullient Brazilian males listening to their head roar while women with richer experience would not dare speak, or post office women in France keeping silent on their experience of work while listening to their male superiors describing their life as if they were not there.

It’s not easy advocating for women in business when you’re a guy. I always feel a bit awkward, if not downright silly. When I timidly do, I immediately get haunted by images of male politicians discussing women’s health issues, or memories of top-level women’s sports teams coached by mediocre men. What do I know about a woman’s experience? And who am I to even try to help? And so I shut up, most of the time.

If I ever find my voice on this topic, here is what I’d like to say: business women of the world, unite. I see you everywhere, full of talent, able to do things that guys cannot do as well as you, and yet you contort yourself into the male-dominated, individualistic, process-driven model of the business world that has been oppressing you for years. Break those shackles. Let your instinct take over: focus on the human experience, starting with your own. Build communities of business women inside and outside your firm. Unleash the forces of co-creation by shamelessly slanting the resources of your firm toward women. The business world will be a better place for it. Even for the guys. (As Dr. Seuss sort of said, the guys who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind).

Women are alone in the business world. Their interactions remain mostly directed at men they try to please, because this is still often where the power lies. There are of course women’s business associations and support groups, but none of them can play the role of a company-centric community of women helping each other. Governments try to provide incentives to remove the glass ceiling, but they can’t do as good a job as your establishing yourselves into a community of powerful self-advocates.

Sometimes it’s OK to be biased. Women should also build communities outside their firm. They should buy from other women and sell to other women. Better be on the field than talk from the sideline. Use the resources of your firm for advantage. Support other women. Hire women. Promote women. Play to win. Be tough.


Co-creation as a cross-over genre

Monday, July 9th, 2012

 Yes, there is such a thing as business methodology fashion. Big data and social enterprise are hot. They’re the Kate Perry and Lady Gaga of business concepts, drawing huge crowds to seminars everywhere. Innovation is not far behind, but like Justin Bieber, it’s hot, rising, and in need of growing up. Customer experience is still high on the charts, but its Eminem alter ego, the Net Promoter Score band, is on the way down. Process design and quality, those Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd of the 70s, now belong on NPR fund-raisers for middle-aged corporate types. Organization and strategy have long gone punk and disco and only get rotation on oldies but goldies stations featuring specialty acts by aging professors. Leadership, like Jimmy Buffet, is still drawing huge crowds of parrot heads to executive education seminars at Harvard Business School. Operations is like hip-hop, more or less always in fashion, changing form all the time, sometimes Ice T gangsta rap, sometimes Black Eyed Peas mainstream.

So where does this leave co-creation, you might wonder? I think we’re like Beyoncé. A little r’n’b, a little hip-hop, a little pop. We’re a cross-over genre. Co-creation, through its communities aspect, is often listed by Billboard as HR and transformation (employee communities), sometimes as product development (customer communities). Because engagement platforms require technology, the charts have us as an IT act. When we rock on experience, we become Marketing artists. When we sing about interactions as the new process, we end up in Quality, 6 Sigma and Lean concerts. And when we show the cost effectiveness of co-creation, we end up on the financial charts.

We sometimes confuse our public, but heck, if it works for Beyoncé…

The Co-Creation Opportunity of Big Data

Friday, June 1st, 2012

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology just announced the launch of a new Big Data initiative. For those of you who have lived under an analytic rock for the last few years, Big Data is the name given to the movement that involves mining large volumes of consumer and social data in an attempt to identify behavioral patterns usable by corporations to market more stuff to you. Not surprisingly, the Big Data movement is largely financed by technology firms who see an opportunity to sell expensive equipment to CIOs and general managers, in the hope that algorithmic inspiration will magically arise from the fumes of the data landfill. If you’re old enough to remember the data warehouse debacle of the 70s and 80s, or the unfulfilled promised of Customer Relationship Management software (CRM), welcome back to the future.

I actually like the Big Data movement, but think it is largely misguided in its arrogant assumption that a few analytic experts can generate insights from large amounts of data through the sheer power of their brilliance, while all evidence points to the fact that these expert-driven approaches repeatedly fail. If one more person quotes Moneyball to me as evidence of the virtue of business intelligence, I think I will puke (or better yet, direct them to the latest American League standings where the Boston Red Sox occupy the last place, thanks to the aforementioned Moneyball approach).

To be clear, I very much believe in the power of analytics, as long as we understand who generates insights from data. And in most cases, it ain’t the experts, but the users of the data.

Insights come from the motivation of self-interested individuals confronted with the reality of their own data, measured against the backdrop of an entire population’s data, and hoping to discover new patterns of actions for themselves. Data itself is inert, and rarely produces action, except for a few left-brained people who teach at MIT. Most of us need to convert left-brained data into a right-brained hypothesis that we can only appropriate if we have participated in its development in some fashion. Few of us believe in universal truths to the point where we can put them into action (if this were the case, we would all be eating the right food all the time and exercising several times a day). This conversion from left-brained understanding to right-brained-driven action requires the co-creation of a personal hypothesis based on some objective evidence from the known data, and a unique act of creativity about what will work for us. This co-created hypothesis will lead to a willingness to experiment on a small scale. The experimentation on a small-scale will then lead to a more ambitious exploration of new causes and effects in the hope of figuring out new things selfishly helpful to us. Over time, the sum of all those self-generated experiments will generate population-wide hypotheses which can then be tested analytically, using big data sets (and perhaps a handful of experts from MIT).

For example, let us say I want to reduce the glucose level in my blood because I have been diagnosed as pre-diabetic. Of course, I will be told from day one by my doctor that I should reduce the intake of certain foods and exercise more (medical research has proven that broccoli is generally better than a hot fudge sundae to reduce cholesterol, so I might as well put that known fact to good use, but as already said, this will only carry me so far if I love hot fudge sundaes). What will motivate me is finding the ultimate combination of food and exercise that works for me. To get there, I will need to formulate hypotheses that apply uniquely to me (for example, by keeping hot fudge sundaes on my diet, perhaps a bit less frequently), and letting me create my own set of relevant data and measuring consequences of my personal food and exercise choices. In other words, I will want to generate my own set of data and devise my own algorithm as to what works for me.

The question I would ask is the following: given what is already known about cholesterol, from a clinical standpoint, is society more likely to make progress on the cholesterol issue by:

a. Looking for a killer predictive algorithm that predicts who will get diabetic from the pre-diabetic stage, using a Big Data approach (classic medical research and development approach)?

b. Distributing a user-friendly test kit and data log to the pre-diabetic population that allows them to test in real time their glucose level, encourages them to figure out what specific food raises their glucose level in their own body after each meal, and measures the impact of exercise on their individual glucose level after each work out (the co-created approach to research and development)?

I’ll leave it to the National Institutes of Health to spend my tax dollars on scenario a, and I’ll personally put my money on scenario b. Why? Because you will get a lot more engagement from linking personal data to individual courses of action for each patient. If we can get millions of pre-diabetic patients to self-create their own clinical experimentation – imperfect as this “clinical trial” would be from a statistical standpoint– we will learn a lot more than by having three scientists set up a double-blind, exquisitely narrow hypothesis and spend the next ten years collecting that data, complete with double-blind set-up and T statistics. Beyond the obvious advantage of collecting data on a large scale, the moment where patients start tracking their own data, they will start experimenting with new approaches that interests them and them only. This will create a wide field of distributed experimentation that can then be aggregated into wider insights, making the personally co-created data and insights into usable research data for the whole population.

The point here is that patients are contributing a lot more than data. They are also contributing insights, by formulating hypotheses about what could work for them, and by setting up personal experiments to test those hypotheses. Their motivation for doing so is not analytic (they’re not looking for a Nobel Prize of Medicine), but self-serving (they want to get healthy). Right-brained motivation for self-improvement is the currency of true research.

Of course, a lot of the hypotheses formulated by individuals will be dead ends, and they will naturally weed themselves out. Co-created research is a messy game where a few insights hide in a forest of marginal or even useless ideas. Experts could in many cases have elegantly dismissed these naïve or erroneous out of hand through their a priori knowledge, but it does not matter in the end because the sheer volume engendered by self-interested people will always trump the expertise held by a few . There is a legitimate role for experts, but it involves coaching patients into investigating some areas rather than ours and structuring the aggregation of both data and algorithms at the larger population level, not claiming a monopoly in generating those insights as the current Big Data approach suggests.

MIT, let the Big Data bird out of its expert cage.


Ten Leadership lessons from Steve Jobs

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

From Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, I have extracted the following ten principles of leadership.

  1. Start drugs early
  2. Smell
  3. Screw the friends that got you started
  4. Tell people they’re assholes
  5. Steal the ideas of the two or three people who are not
  6. Occupy handicapped people’s parking spaces
  7. Ignore your father, abuse your girlfriends, abandon your daughter
  8. Cartelize industries
  9. Post-date corporate options
  10. Despise philanthropy

Will anybody ever want to teach leadership after Steve Jobs?

(HBR article by Isaacson)

Top-ten list of sponsors for co-creation efforts

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Periodically, I ask myself: “who are the most effective change agents when it comes to implementing co-creation inside a corporation?” Here is my list, in descending order of effectiveness:

1. Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

  • Good news: The CFO’s source of power comes from controlling financial resources, often including IT money required for the development of co-creation platforms. They are often frustrated line managers who see co-creation as a means to gain influence over the operational side of the business.
  • Bad news: their analytical bias can overpower the human side of co-creation.
  • Good first step: issue cost reduction challenge to one of the businesses; suggest co-creation may be the way to reach that goal (get external people to do work for free that was previously done inside).

2. Chief Information Officer (CIO)

  • Good news: CIOs get to co-creation through the funding of engagement platforms. The role of CIO in co-creation is legitimized by the app store phenomenon (co-creation with third-party developers).
  • Bad news: CIOs often struggle with developing the human community part of co-creation (they can be too tool-focused).
  • Good first step: find a few APIs and open up some aspect of your customer-facing sites to third-party developers. Start connecting customers and developers.

3. Chief Purchasing Officer (CPO), Directors of Supply Chain

  • Good news: There is a new breath of fresh air with procurement departments; they increasingly recognize that they should be developing supplier networks rather than consolidating them. Supply chain people are often pushed to co-creation through the need to create transparency in their emerging country plants (often due to labor and sustainability issues).
  • Bad news: Supply chain people can get confused on the difference between collaborative supply chain tools that have been around for several years, and the actual development of co-creative supply chain communities that allows the constant reinvention of those supply chains.
  • Good first step: pick a particularly risky part of your supply chain (e.g., Chinese plant with labor issues), and demonstrate that you can remove some operational and reputational risk through co-creation.

4. Research and Development (R&D) Managers, Heads of Product Development

  • Good news: Many product development people know that co-creation is coming to product development and product design (also often referred to as open innovation, or crowd-sourcing).
  • Bad news: They often do not yet know how to involve their own people in co-creation and avoid the NIH syndrome. They often jump too fast to third-party platforms to generate product ideas, but fail to engage their own people in the dialogue.
  • Good first step: start inside.  Assemble your R&D people and see where they would welcome the engagement of external people. Only when you have their views will it become meaningful to engage external contributors.

5. Chief Experience Officer

  • Good news: more and more companies have experience officers.  Experience officers are natural sponsors for co-creation.
  • Bad news: many of them focus on measuring “as is” experience rather than trying to change it.
  • Good first step: pick a narrow segment (a single customer in B2B), engage the mini ecosystem involved in serving this narrow segment/single customer and see what co-creation can bring.

6. Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), Head of Market Research

  • Good news: CMO and market research people understand experience.
  • Bad news: they think of themselves as experience experts, and therefore see no reason to co-create any of that experience with anyone (since they know better).
  • Good first step: open up one of the brand management processes to customers and employees, e.g., advertising, and see what you get.

7. Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO)

  • Good news: sustainability is one of the best fields of application for co-creation because of the multi-stakeholder nature of the problem.
  • Bad news: CSOs don’t typically have access to senior people and may not know how to engage them.
  • Good first step: team up with the sales force to embed sustainability in the sales message.

8. Performance Management, Quality, Reengineering, 6 Sigma, Lean, Transformation Officers.

  • Good news: Performance management people naturally gravitate toward co-creation as “the new tool kit.”
  • Bad news: The concept of process can be so engrained that moving to platforms and self-configured interactions can represent a mental challenge. Many struggle with the notion that the transformation path can/should itself be co-created, rather than established by experts.
  • Good first step: pick a customer-facing process, e.g., sales or customer service, and show how moving from process thinking to co-creation changes the outcome.

9. Strategy Officers

  • Good news: A few strategy officers understand the power of human experience in generating insights.
  • Bad news: most prefer an information-gathering and analytical approach.
  • Good first step: pick a self-contained strategy issue, and ask customer-facing people and a few customers how they would frame and solve the issue. Compare to the answer an analytical approach would have provided.

10. Human Resources Officers, Diversity Head

  • Good news: Of course, senior HR development people should be major players in co-creation.
  • Bad news: In practice, they rarely have access to the proverbial strategic table.
  • Good first step: co-create HR processes (e.g., training, hiring, career development) rather than tackling line processes.


The bounty system of the New Orleans Saints as a perfect model of co-creation

Monday, March 5th, 2012

It has been widely reported in the last few days that some players on the New Orleans Saints football team developed a home-grown bounty system whereby players would reward each other with personal money for inflicting injuries onto opposing players. While the National Football League is investigating the New Orleans Saints specifically, there are indications that such a system might be in existence across the league, along a continuum from the clearly legal (players rewarding a punt return) to the apparently illegal variety (the NFL seems to have rules that prohibit intentionally putting a quarterback on a stretcher).

The New Orleans Saints have developed a perfect system of co-creation we should write up in Harvard Business Review, not decry in the New York Times. The system developed by the players has all five ingredients of co-creation:

  • A community. The players who decided they were going to build a kitty to reward injury-causing hits on opposing players set themselves up as a community. Had the NFL not intervened in ill-advised fashion, the player community might have expanded into allowing investment from fans into the bounty scheme. A “Knock Tom Brady cold” Super PAC could not have been far behind, supported by Libyan or Syrian capital.
  • An engagement platform. The platform was an organized spreadsheet where players kept tabs on bets and rewards. The spreadsheet was further institutionalized when an assistant coach started keeping score on behalf of the players. The next expansion would have included an idea generation web site open to the public (, with an injury pricing site and rotisserie league to follow.
  • Continuously expanding interactions. The platform was originally developed as an incentive system to reward legal plays (e.g., causing a fumble), but started sprouting injury-causing moves over time. The community and platform in place could have been further expanded into player gambling on football games, sponsoring dog fights, or financing armed robbery by young deserving football players.
  • New win-win experiences for all parties. We’re told the bounties helped young players round off their modest paycheck, allowing them “to buy shoes” with the proceeds. I understand Zappos and Nike were eager to become involved in the Saints co-creative ecosystem. Elder players enjoyed the developmental experience of providing nurturing advice to their younger colleagues, supported by the team’s Human Resources function. The assistant coach was clearly on the short list for Coaching Innovation of the Year. And the New Orleans Saints fans got a winning football team after years of futility, allowing the entire city to regain its pride after Katrina (well, sort of).
  • New value for the club owner. The bounty system produced a highly motivated work force that fully dedicated itself to the task at hand, ultimately winning the Super Bowl.  Absenteeism was at an all-time low. Career progression was rapid. The bounty system had no cost to the owner since everything was financed by the players.  The system did have a tremendous revenue impact in terms of gate attendance and media revenue. What else could one wish for as an owner?

The bounty system was such a perfect example of co-creation and produced an ever-expanding win for all parties (except for a few injured parties along the way, but doesn’t there have to be some Schumpeterian creative destruction?). The Saints bounty system could have become the new Facebook, the new Google or the new Groupon. Will regulators ever learn?

The role of personal data in co-creation

Friday, February 24th, 2012

I work with a lot of analytically-minded people. These people can be colleagues or client, often both. Because analytically-minded firms tend to hire analytical consultants, they often lock in a powerful embrace that makes it hard for either of them to view the world through the lens of co-creation. These are the workshops from hell. Their first objection is often that co-creation feels like a random process of human discovery void of any data. Real men don’t do co-creation, they say. They formulate a hypothesis, gather some analytical data through research that proves the hypothesis is right, may test the idea with some customers or other relevant stakeholders, and then go build whatever needs to be built, be it a product, a process, or a strategy. Data drives the hypothesis, and humans are there to validate the hypothesis.

Co-creation follows a different logic. In co-creation, the hypothesis is the result of the engagement process, and insights are in fact generated jointly by the company and the people it engages (this is the uncomfortable part, the “letting go” part). What is even harder for analytical people to see is that co-creation is equally data-driven as the more traditional company-centric process, product or strategy design, but the data is of a different nature because it comes from the people themselves.

In co-creation, what comes first is the platform, typically a very crude prototype in the early stages. The primary role of the platform is to generate data that can be analyzed and structured, which will then guide the next iteration of design, in effect making the early users of the crude platform into co-creators of the next iteration. When Mark Zuckerberg created the first Facebook site, he devised a blunt instrument that allowed obnoxious Harvard students to rate the attractiveness of female students at Harvard. Was it the ultimate design of the platform? Of course not (and mercifully so!). But what he did was engage a group of campus students on a topic that defined a community (Harvard male students) and a basic platform concept that could evolve from this humble beginning. The first draft of Facebook allowed Zuckerberg and his team to engage into a creative dialogue that generated subsequent interactions, leading to new features such as communicating one’s social status, or sharing photos.  Since then, the platform has continuously morphed as a result of a natural Darwinian process where users co-evolve the platform through use.

So what is the role of data in this process of co-creation? Simply put, data is everything. The platform is a data machine. It records who comes to the platform, how long people stay on it, what people do on the platform, and what features they utilize. Platforms can be of a physical nature, like a store, or virtual kind, like a web site, but the metrics tend to be comparable. We’re all by now familiar with the “eyeballs” and “stickiness” metrics of interactive sites. Since co-creation requires the development of scale and efficiency (this is one of the main differences between collaboration and co-creation), co-creative firms need to develop scale and efficiency measures for the platform itself, e.g., how many interactions take place, how quickly they unfold, how many of them complete successfully, etc…

The most important data on a co-creation platform, however, is the constant qualitative bending of the performance model. Users continuously stretch the limits of the platform, imagining new interactions that would be of value to them. It typically starts by offering unfiltered feedback in exchanges between users (the site becomes the market research department). In some cases, on electronic platforms, this evolution occurs through downright hacking. The development of the Lego Mindstorms operating system (Lego robots) was one such case of hacking (ultimately grandfathered by Lego designers), and the insertion of Google maps into the Nike + runners community site is another case where two technologies were “mashed up” by users, rather than orchestrated by Nike web designers.

There are however a few fundamental differences in the data required by a co-creation strategy vs. a classic strategy.  The first difference is that in co-creation, the data is not resident in some data base of trends or financial analysis of competitors which any analyst can access. This data is by definition much richer than any “study data” because it is only accessible to the company that curates the platform. It is original data generated by real people using the platform who find it valuable to share their data. This data is often quite intimate. Nike users will share weight and running patterns.  Patients on the Patients like Me site share personal health and effectiveness of treatment data on profoundly debilitating diseases such as cancer or depression, because they believe insights and potentially new treatments will emerge from the sharing of this data. (Of course, no doctor or health insurance company would have the right to share this data, but patients willingly contribute it because they have a vested interest in it). People on find such value on the platform that they give the platform access to a large amount of personal financial information, because offers them insights they cannot get anywhere else.

Even more importantly, the data on co-creation platforms is alive rather than static. It is associated with individuals who are interested in continuously interacting with the company on new topics of mutual interest. At any one time, the company or the individuals can initiate the development a new branch in the tree of co-creation. They can generate a new algorithm on how to look at the data itself, e.g., suggest a new way of looking at how to train for Nike, a new treatment for Patients Like Me, or a new financial strategy insight for Not only is the data co-created, but so is the analysis and the insights that come from this data.

The possibilities become endless when data and the development of associated insights are driven by the self-interest of passionate people combining with the professionalism of a co-creative staff at a company. The future of analytics in business is not company-created algorithms accumulated through CRM or other third-party data bases. It lies in the co-creation of both data and insights by willing individuals interested in working with companies of their choice to generate new experiences for themselves.

Look at her run

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

She’s young. She’s passionate. She’s an environmentalist. Her ecological ideas feel a bit out of place in the conservative bank where she works, but she doesn’t care. That’s her passion. Every Thursday night, she goes to the local movie theater to participate in the meetings of the sustainability group she’s part of. She wants to change the world, just from where she is.

She’s also a triathlete. She can swim, run and bike faster than anyone around her. She shrugs her shoulders when the conversation moves to the local soccer team and the thousands of people they attract every week. “Have you ever attended a track and field meeting she asks us?” None of us has. She describes the excitement of having so many things going on in the stadium at any one time: watch a race, then focus on a pole-vaulter clearing the bar or watch a javelin fly across the field. I feel like signing up.

I ‘m having lunch with a group of bank advisors, between a morning and an afternoon workshop session. I’m sitting next to this young bank advisor, and I feel young again. She operates in a small town that does not quite fit the community-building scheme we have devised, so we make lame excuses about not having enough resources to support her in her small town. She just ignores our objections. We rapidly understand that any resistance is futile. She wants to get involved in this co-creation project, and we will help her.

So we agree to run a workshop with the customer she’s identified. I am long gone by the time the workshop happens, but I get an account a couple of weeks later. Between her client and herself, they have mapped out what the community should do, how the bank should get involved and how everybody would benefit. The community is building itself. One of my colleagues calls me at the end of her day in Europe to give me the news. No need for deep analytics, or motivational speech. All we have to do is watch her run. It’s hard to know who’s more excited — the customer, the young bank advisor, the consultants or the banks’ management.

Why didn’t it happen before? She was there all along. All we did was give her a platform. Her passion is now channeled through her job. She’s become a business activist. I know she’ll run far and drag thousands of people with her. I will be rooting from afar.



Passion as the currency of co-creation in India

Sunday, February 5th, 2012



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.