Posts Tagged ‘engagement’

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?

A great day

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

Yesterday, I went home chirping like a bird. As I started scanning the events of the day, though, I could not find what had made me so happy. I thought it might have to do with the fact that after many months, the snow is finally vanishing from the Boston suburb where I live and work, but this seemed like an insufficient explanation, particularly given that yesterday had its share of bad news. A major automotive manufacturer had to delay the start of a large project because of the disruption caused by the Japanese situation on the company’s supply chain. There is a translation problem with one of the foreign editions of the book I co-wrote with Venkat Ramaswamy. We had a review of the firm’s economics, and it had its usual cohort of cash-flow and performance management challenges. So what is it that made me so chipper?

It finally dawned on me that the smile on my face had to do with one of the day’s meetings. The meeting was about what software or “engagement platform” we should use to encourage co-creation on a global project for a major manufacturer of medical and scientific equipment. Our gathering had the usual attributes of a business meeting: PowerPoint report prepared by a team, projection on the wall, discussion of the issues involved. As you can see, this is intensely emotional stuff. You’re probably already imagining the treatment afforded such a dramatic event by John Grisham, or the movie Martin Scorsese would make from such rich material.

What made the meeting so engaging was the lead presenter, a young man recently hired by our partner firm. He’d been working hard to put the material together over the last few days and conveyed it with the enthusiasm of his youth. He was genuinely excited about what he’d found, and one could not help but share in the excitement. He was curious about everything, eager to get directions, and I found myself dragged out of my morning torpor and animated by an irresistible desire to share whatever wisdom I could conjure up. All of a sudden, my brain was in overdrive, examples and stories were colliding in my head, and new avenues for research were emerging. We could all feel the energy in the room and at that moment, we were all individually smarter, and collectively co-creative.

I also found the excitement caused by the morning’s meeting to linger in the afternoon. I started thinking of other applications of the research the young man had done, for example in approaching a large European high-tech company that develops software for engagement platforms and which had earlier expressed its interest in our co-creation work, but which we’d never gone back to. When I conveyed this idea to the young man at the end of the day – I am desperately trying to resist the urge to call him “the kid” – he told me he’d discovered new avenues of research for the project and couldn’t wait to show me what he’d got. I found myself trying to find wiggle room in my overbooked schedule, plotting late-night calls next week from Europe that my jet-lagged body will undoubtedly resent when they occur.

I’m not sure I even know how to describe the process through which energy gets generated in such exchanges. Very little is written about how human connections happen in business. All I know is that it feels unbounded and transformative when they occur. A great day indeed. Co-creation works in mysterious ways.

Teaching as co-creation

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

I love teaching. Give me an audience, and I move to a different state. Suddenly, I’m at home in the universe. I love waking up with the feeling that a group of avid students is awaiting me in some room somewhere. I relish the first question they’ll ask from me, the moment when they’ll discover something new, the instance where the eye of someone in the back row will light up. I may have had only a few hours of sleep, but I’ll always find the energy to teach. I’m not very good with pain overall, but I can teach with the flu, a broken foot, or a kidney stone. There’s an extraordinary clarity of mind that sets in when the audience engages with me: suddenly, I’m in the zone. I may struggle to remember my nephews’ and nieces’ names at home, but I can learn and remember the names of 30 previously unknown people in a classroom after only a few minutes. After most sessions, I feel drained and fulfilled, knowing I have given my all and people have responded. I imagine this is the way athletes feel after a good game. There’s a river flowing in me, bringing me peace and joy.

So what is it about the experience of teaching that produces this inner happiness for me? Cynics will argue that I’m well paid to do what I do, so I’m simply enjoying the economic benefit associated with teaching. This is undeniably part of it, but I make as much money doing other things and they do not take me to the same emotional state. Others say it is the pleasure of being a performer receiving the ego gratification granted by people expressing respect for my craft. And yes, ego is also part of it, since teaching is the closest I will ever get to fulfilling my fantasy of being part of a rock band.

But there’s more to it than that. What I truly love about teaching is the connection it creates. Teaching is less about me than it is about interacting with others. When I’m in a classroom, the energy that flows in me comes from others. The reason I light up like a bulb is that I am a bulb, powered by the energy of others. In the classroom, I am connected with an entire energy system, and together, we light up the whole room. I cannot create this energy by myself. My power comes from the interaction I am allowed to establish with others.

At the risk of stretching the concept of interaction, I also interact with a more indirect set of protagonists when I teach: the members of my family who have preceded me in this noble craft. Both my parents were high school teachers. My brother is a university teacher. There’s even a grandmother I never knew who taught grade school in a small village in eastern France, who has left a moving legacy in the form of a letter where she instructs her daughter, my mother, on how to teach the imperative tense in French, complete with a description of how to involve students in the lesson. I sometimes feel the presence of this grandmother in the classroom with me, smiling in the back.

When a session is going really well, I know the audience is having as much fun as I am. I can see them smile. I get lots of questions. People take the material and start explaining it to each other. Their experience and my experience are deeply correlated. This is unfortunately also true when the session is a bad one. If I die on stage, the experience is painful for the audience, both because I bore them to death and because they feel my pain in failing to teach them something useful.

Teaching is co-creation. It involves creating a unique experience for two parties: the audience and me. Good teaching involves using an engagement platform: the classroom, some agenda structure I may bring, and some content. And then it’s up to the two parties to devise a unique interaction between them. Every now and then, I lapse into process teaching and start delivering a packaged experience to the audience, which may still be gratifying for my ego, but frustrating for the audience.

Tonight is a teaching session in Raleigh. Tomorrow is Boston. Friday is Chicago. I hope they come fired up. I’m counting on this co-creation teaching thing to keep me eternally young.

The limits of rationality in the Gulf

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

President Obama’s approach to the BP oil spill is so rational it makes me want to scream. Yes, here’s a man who’s learned the basics of geology and the engineering of oil and gas exploration in a few weeks. He’s learned enough to explain how gas pressure builds in the well, where the severed pipe lies at the bottom of the ocean, how hydrates form, and how various dispersants generate different droplet sizes. He can explain the actions of BP and various government agencies, and why they’re doing the right thing.  Barack Obama, the beard-stroking professor acting as President, and Tony Hayward, the PhD geologist masquerading as BP’s CEO, are two intellectual peas in a pod. I can see them from here discussing the exquisite ability provided by grid computing to model in 3D the configuration of the Macondo reservoir and the marvelous engineering of the Deep Horizon half-submersible platform.

In the end, this intellectual high-wire act is a gratuitous and self-absorbed display, however. People’s frustrations are emotional. They do not look to their President to display an ability to intellectualize the answer, but to relieve them of their frustration. The answer to emotional frustration is engagement. If you’re a fisherman in the Gulf, you want to go out and do something. You may not be able to dive in a wetsuit and go plug the hole yourself, but you want to be out there with the Coast Guard and set up some kind of barrier against the approaching oil. You want to go scoop some of the orange stuff with a spoon. You want to go clean up a brown pelican or wash a turtle. You want to take ten square feet of marshland, clean it up with your own hands, and show your kids how it’s done. But the last thing you want to see is a President trying to impress you with his command of the facts.

Of course, understanding the facts is a good thing, if it serves as a foundation for engagement of all available resources, particularly those impacted by the disaster. I still do not understand why President Obama had figured this out as a candidate – he pioneered the use of social media in his campaign – but is proving so inept at involving people in his Presidency. This is where the suspicion of arrogance lies. Of course, few of the Gulf people would exhibit the technical competence required for solving the leak problem itself, but they could be heavily involved in the damage control if coached properly. In the face of a spill of such magnitude, would you rather have a few thousand experts from BP and the government doing something by themselves, or have them use their expertise to orchestrate the work of millions of local people in dealing with the crisis?

Great wars are won by volunteers, guided by the expertise of a few. In the end, mobilization trumps expertise every time. Miracles come when both are brought together. Barack Obama needs to climb out of his own head and ask his administration to co-create new solutions with the impacted populations. President Obama keeps saying he’s open to “all good ideas.” This is itself an arrogant statement, because it assumes the solution is an analytically generated solution that he himself is in the best position to evaluate. The solution will not come from a President-centric idea contest.  It will come from a massive engagement process.