Posts Tagged ‘experience’

When I’m 90

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

I will always remember an old professor colleague of mine. I had not seen him in twenty years. He was the last person coming off the plane in Boston at midnight and looked quite old. He was disheveled, slowly dragging his oversized suitcase up the jet way, holding a half-open shoulder bag full of flip charts. He was still wearing the same patched-at-the-elbows rumpled suit, and his shirt was stained by markers ink. He saw me waiting for him, and a large smile illuminated his face.

“I’m just back from the West Coast”, he shouted at me from twenty feet away. “Three-day-workshop with a bunch of kids managing a high-tech start-up. Not so bad for a ninety-year old guy who does not even use Facebook”.

This image of my old friend’s triumphant smile has stayed with me all these years. The ancestral anxiety of any educator is irrelevance. This is particularly true those of us who teach innovation. I want to look like my old friend when I’m 90. I want to come off the plane, physically exhausted, but exhilarated at the thought of having just learned about a new industry. When my consciousness starts waning on my hospital bed, I want someone to whisper in my ear how neural networks and 3D reservoir modeling algorithms are built.

I’m not quite 90 yet, so I’ve got a bit of a head start. The front-end discovery part of any new business is by far where I have the most fun (I feel like I’m being paid to go to school). Writing-up success stories based on consulting work I have done and teaching them on the lecture circuit is the second best part. Everything in-between is just hard work.

I’m learning about six industries right now and feel like a butterfly in the orchard of knowledge. Three of them are fairly easy to grasp at the beginner’s level: we can all visualize how a grocery store, a hotel or a movie theater chain work. Three others have a higher educational bar: few of us have an a priori knowledge of flow cytometry, software-designed networks, or smart grid optimization tools. And even the “simpler” industries become complex beyond the basic level: there’s nothing trivial about figuring out how to manage the supply chain of a grocery store, optimize the occupancy rate of a hotel chain, or improve the average spending per spectator in a movie theater chain. As my synapses fire at decreasing speed, I pray that the wisdom of my years and the presence of younger brains around me cover for my reduced mental agility.

This is where the power of a cross-industry framework helps. In the co-creation business, one sees opportunities for new connections everywhere. Some people’s experiences can be connected together to form “chains of empathy” (for example, suppliers, employees and customers can all help a grocery store figure out what its strategy ought to be). One can fairly easily visualize data flowing across previously disconnected individuals and companies, and new insights being generated between them (in the medical, telecommunication or energy worlds, for example). I am like the Haley Joel Osment character in the movie the Sixth Sense: I see dead people.  Unlike him, though, I arrogantly think I can make them come alive.

If you one day see an old disheveled guy dragging heavy luggage and coming last off an airplane at midnight, do not feel sorry for me. My dream is being fulfilled.



10 Seinfeldian questions about experience

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

  1. Do the children of NBC Olympic executives watch the delayed broadcasts at 8 pm?
  2. Have executives at the soon-to-be bankrupt Best Buy ever visited an Apple store?
  3. What would it take for my main course at Not Your Average Joe’s restaurant to not arrive on the first bite of my appetizer?
  4. What would it take for Skype to stop moving the “end of call” red phone on my screen so that I can cleanly conclude conversations with my mother (who never hangs up before I do)?
  5. Why is the freezer compartment on my GE refrigerator designed to break my back and why is it separated into bins that do not match the size of any commercially available food package?
  6. How can I get my GE washing machine to stop beeping at me when I load clothes into it?
  7. Why hasn’t any major oil company come up with a comfortable tire inflater at their gas stations (I often go to Exxon Mobil)?
  8. Could Microsoft and Dell tell me when my Caps Lock is on?
  9. Why do small TVs automatically have a bad sound (mine is a Toshiba)?
  10. Why do I receive two or three credit card offers from Capitol One every week, but my Bank of America small business banker never calls me?

We don’t know squat about economics

Monday, July 30th, 2012


We think of weathermen and stockbrokers as the two “often in error, but never in doubt” professions. Let me nominate a third: economists.

If stimulus or austerity policies worked, we’d know by now.  If Friedman and Keynes were right, our governments would long have adopted their policies, and our economies would be roaring like Formula 1 cars in the Monaco grand prix. The predictability of tax cuts or stimulus spending on economic growth has the reliability of Paul the Octopus forecasting soccer game outcomes: sometimes it works, and most of the time it doesn’t. Yet politicians everywhere hang on to these disproven theories as economic gospel.

What’s wrong with economics? To paraphrase Mitt Romney in one of his awkward statements, economics is people. Instead, we think economics is policies. From government to universities, we teach economics as a massively aggregated database from which we extract insights, then policies, at the level of a state or a country. This leads to lame assertions about interest rates, monetary mass, jobs, trade deficit, and vague concepts of rational expectations reputedly anticipating economic behaviors. If we understood the true causes and effects in the economic system, our Presidents would not be sweating the job numbers every month: they would tell us beforehand what to expect.

Do you wake up in the morning thinking about interest rates, inflation and trade deficit? Do you actually decide to buy a car, a house, or go grocery shopping on the basis of interest rate and inflation? Do you look at your Turbotax statement to decide whether the rise in the marginal tax rate just passed by Congress will authorize you to go to Wholefoods and buy the fresh organic tomatoes that day, instead of going to the regular grocery store where the tomatoes are cheaper? Of course not. Yet this is the micro-level at which the economy works. Unless we can begin to comprehend decisions at this individual level, we have nothing of value.

If I were an economist, I’d start by diving deep into understanding how five or ten of my neighbors experience the economy. I’d try to build a model of their income statements and their balance sheet, and figure out how they decide to patronize five or ten local businesses (say, restaurants, grocery store, day care, etc.), or why they decide to save and for what. I’d try to understand the economics of the five or ten local businesses my neighbors buy from, why these small businesses decide to expand and hire, or why they scale or shut down. If there were one or two big businesses in my local area (corporate headquarters, big hospitals, etc.), I’d try to understand how the success of those large businesses contributes to the local economy through local taxes and jobs. I’d then try to model how the local township or municipality benefits from all this, and what impact local people and businesses have on the finances of my town (school, public funds, etc.). If we could just model this microcosm of economic interactions, we’d have data on a real, living ecosystem of actual people and entities and begin to understand how a local economy is co-created through their interactions.

Would this be representative of the economy as a whole? Of course, not. There would be massive biases linked to local industrial fabric and wealth levels. To roll up this data into a state, national, or global economy, one would have to empower people to build their own model at the local level. Providing the structure and platform that allows this local modeling would be a great role for government, instead of pretending that it owns the economy or creates jobs. The role of government in economic policy should not be to build top-down expert models of the economy as a whole, but to empower local folks to build models of their local market and learn from their interactions.

Even more importantly, if we began to understand causes and effects at the local economy level, the “economic agents” involved would be able to do something about the economy, rather than passively describe it. Individuals could change their relationship to local businesses, for example, by forming communities around them. Local businesses could mobilize those communities by setting up platforms that better connect them to their local customers (for example, I’d love to rally a few of my local friends to help a local hotel improve a few things in their menu and rooms, and we’d collectively bring them our out-of-town business). If local officials were to facilitate this dialogue, this would do more to create jobs and get them reelected than repeating hackneyed Republican or Democratic theories of austerity or stimulus.

Unfortunately, the scarcest commodity in economics is humility. Witness for example the recent Business Week article on the discussion between Paul Krugman and the President of Estonia and on the value of austerity in running a country. I will not venture an opinion about who’s right or wrong in this debate, but getting rid of the condescension conveyed in this dialogue seems to me to be job 1.

I, for one, would like to understand the economics of my village.

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?

Elton John and Leon Russell co-create on HBO

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

I have a new teaching aid for co-creation: the HBO documentary by Cameron Crowe showing how Elton John and Leon Russell came together to produce a new CD called The Union (this is also the name of the documentary). On the analytical side, it shows how two people coming together initiated the development of a global community of fans (the record opened up at number 1 on Amazon in 2010 and rose to number 3 on the Billboard charts). On the experiential side, the story provides a window on the beautiful mind of Elton John and bears witness to the second birth of Leon Russell (“I was in a ditch and he treated me like a king”). The words of Elton John describing the transformative power of the experience on himself offer a better motivation for co-creation than any of us “experts” will ever provide.

The documentary starts with Elton John in a middle-aged funk, wondering how to avoid having to record a Christmas album for his label. He suddenly remembers the early influence on his piano playing of the American song writer and performer Leon Russell, once a pioneering rock star in the late 60s-early 70s, now a marginal musician in Nashville, Tennessee. He approaches Russell, a grouchy, tired 67 year old with this unlikely proposition: “Let’s make a record together, full 50-50 partnership, I’m renting a studio, let’s get on with it, what do you say?”

The early collaboration is awkward. Russell does not really understand what Elton John wants from him and why he’s there, complete with a camera crew filming a documentary on the creative process (“what are we going to do together for two days?”). Elton John’s approach is to pick a few standards and get Leon jamming. Early on, Russell suffers a major setback in the form of a brain incident requiring hospitalization, from which he comes back quite diminished. Elton John hangs around, relentless and passionate. He puts songs in front of him, patiently drawing him out.

As trust starts growing from the early timid sessions, Leon Russell comes alive. The perceptive camera of Cameron Crowe catches the early twinkle in his eye, particularly when a group of female singers comes in to provide back-up vocals on one of the songs. The rewiring of Leon Russell has started, giving him access to the talent of a broader cast of characters than he’s had in a long time. (As he touchingly confesses, he’s grown used to doing everything himself, playing the keyboards, the guitar, the drums and doing the singing). At some point, he begins to realize the opportunity he’s been offered. One morning, he shows up frantically looking for a piano to compose the music to some lyrics he’s developed overnight. The song, entitled In the Hands of Angels, is too well-meaning to be effective musically, but shows a man transformed.

The co-creative process is gently managed by T Bone Burnett, the record producer. He’s the ego-less voice of the public, subtly guiding both artists through gentle nudging. Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s lyricist, is never far behind in the ecosystem, at least in spirit (Elton John states in the movie that in thirty years of collaboration, Taupin has never witnessed the development of the music by Elton John in a studio, thereby showing that co-creative interactions can be remote, yet powerful). We feel privileged to watch just that, particularly when Elton John puts together the introduction to the haunting “Gone to Shiloh” and Elton and Leon start harmonizing. There again, something in the eyes of Elton John suddenly illuminates, and one cannot help but feel the power of creative voices coming together.

Perhaps the more remarkable part in the collaboration of the two artists is the fact that Elton John, the artist with the most powerful “bargaining power” of the two, never uses it to push Leon to do what he wants. Our entire business model is predicated on the notion that success comes from creating a competitive advantage and exploiting it. For Elton John, value derives less from exerting his clout than from connecting with a disadvantaged human being in a creative new way. Connecting human experiences is the new source of competitive advantage. May Michael Porter forgive me!

Human experience before process, please

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Increasingly, my work starts in a barren, Mad Max-like world of deadened emotions. Why do cops not feel the pain of a woman who’s reporting to them she’s been raped? Why does a bank advisor keep pushing credit cards on a customer already stressed by too much debt? Why does a car salesman use hard-selling tactics when buyers tell them at every opportunity they hate the car buying experience? Why does the head of R&D at a chip-designing firm not care about the rising suicide rate of its engineers pressured by competitive deadlines? Don’t they feel the pain they inflict onto others? Aren’t they made of flesh and blood like the people they inflict this pain onto?

Unavoidably, an exploration of these deeply emotional issues reveals a hyper-rationalization of everybody’s behavior through process. “The process made me do it” is the most common answer. Nested inside the process are the productivity and cost metrics associated with it. Let us look at the neighborhood cop and victim, for example. The neighborhood cop operates within the constraints of a quickly shrinking police budget in most cities of the world, and therefore has to move quickly from victim to victim, making sure that the paperwork will hold in court if the incident results in a court procedure. This becomes the legitimization for the cop’s heartless behavior (“it is in your best interest that we fill in this paperwork right so that your aggressor can be condemned in due time”), which, while true, is not exactly what a rape victim would like to hear immediately after the emotionally shattering episode. When the local police force initiates any kind of lean, quality or reengineering effort in this area, it is likely to be framed as: “how do we make the incident reporting effort more efficient?”

From this moment on, the effort is doomed. The project will start with a map of the reporting process. A visual representation of each step in the process will highlight each “pain point” for the protagonists. Each “pain point” becomes a narrow view of everybody’s experience in that particular process, leading to some lame recommendations such as “we need for the cop to be trained in sensitivity” or “we should give the victim the address of a local rape victim association”.

Instead, the redesign should start with the mutual sharing of their experience by the cop and the victim, and have them co-create new interactions between them that would help both parties, not only in the context of incident reporting, but to make the experience of life more meaningful on both sides. This constitutes the “experience before process” principle. Starting with the experience of these two humans of flesh and blood will take them to dramatically different places, and may involve the connection between them long before and long after the crime, the relationship between the police force and their community, potentially involving the demographic make-up of the police force to resemble the community they supervise, the career path of the cops, and the family and social environment of the victim. Starting from this rich terrain, they will identify together new ways to work together, which may or may not have anything to do with paper work and the crime reporting process.

Particularly key to the “experience before process” principle is the attention paid to the experience of the cop. Reducing the cop’s pain to the narrow process that has been defined will lead to focus on the administrative burden of having to do the paper work (admittedly a real issue), but the real pain may be about carrying too much gear, not trusting the beat cop who is with them, not feeling safe in the neighborhood they patrol, or feeling they will be left on their own if they use their weapon prematurely. Similarly, the victim’s experience is typically reduced to the moment of pain following the crime, while the problems would require tackling everything that preceded the actual rape (was there a pattern?) and everything that will follow (emotional support after the reporting).

In business, we have been so trained in the way of process that we forget business is about the human experience. The key here is to view the cop and the victim as two people who have the power to reinvent their relationship. If we can get these two people to co-create a new relationship in a live workshop, then we can do it between a community of cops and a community of victims, providing we give them the tools to engage with each other and the community-organizing structure to co-develop the best solution for their neighborhood.

And by the way, my own experience is connected to the experience of the people I consult to or teach for. My life became a lot more meaningful when I discovered that formulating my “expert” ideas on optimizing the paperwork in the police incident reporting process was a lot less rewarding than helping cops and victims figure out together how to change their life. My job is now to connect the experience of people together by activating empathy, and I am part of that chain of experience. People are a lot more imaginative when they sense you’re interested in starting from their experience than from analytical picture of the process that throws them together. When people start sharing their experience with each other, they unavoidably come up with new interactions between them, which nearly always represent a better economic model for the organization that houses or serves them. At this intersection between the experiential and the economic lies the miracle of co-creation.

A business SOS

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

Everywhere I look, corporate people are stressed. It’s true at the top, the middle, and the bottom of the pyramid. Being hired by a successful business used to contribute to personal well-being. I can still remember how giddy I was when a large US multinational hired me out of school and how much it contributed to my early enthusiasm about life. This, in all evidence, is no longer the case. Everywhere I go, I collect stories of rising managerial expectations and reduced access to resources, resulting in a productivity squeeze that destroys the fun of business life and in some cases increases suicide rates. France, for example, is beginning to raise the issue of “work health.” In inimitable fashion, the French want to legislate on the topic, which creates a new class of stressed people: managers afraid of being accused of having induced suicides among their direct reports.

Has business lost its way? How did we get to the point where companies destroy the lives of their people instead of making them better? Like anybody else, I can point to the forces that drive the endless quest for productivity in business: the rise of shareholder expectations, the development of global competition, and the do-or-die nature of the modern labor market. But where in this equation are the ethical braces that prevent humans from oppressing other humans? Have we become collectively insensitive to the point where we’re lost the ability to remember why we’re engaging in business in the first place? And if corporations have become the new gulag, why hasn’t there been a management revolution?

Our conceptualization of business as a company-centric science rather than a human-centric creative network may have something to do with it. Conceptually, we have it all wrong. We should start from the viewpoint that employees and managers have an experience of business, and this experience is as important as the experience that customers have of the business. The latter is much talked about, analyzed, and continuously worked on. There is a rising caste called Chief Experience Officers whose job it is to worry about customer experience. Yet there is no equivalent for employee or manager experience. As long as their frustration stays below suicide range, we are content to take their temperature once or twice a year in the form of an employee survey. The employee survey is usually managed by HR people whose role is to delineate for business managers how far the corporation can push in the name of productivity. This is a frustration containment strategy, a far cry from the experience co-creation strategy it should be. When HR people venture to advocate for the employee experience, they rapidly become accused of being a part of the problem, an obstacle on the road to productivity. Understandably, few of them choose this path.

We should view business as the coming together of a set of individuals, from employees to customers and other stakeholders, in order to invent worthwhile personal experiences through the development of a common economic model. Employees should matter as much as customers. The role of business managers should be to help employees figure out the work experience they want to have for themselves, allow customers and other stakeholders to do the same, and give all of them the tools that will allow them to interact as efficiently as possible. The self-interested pursuit of greater well-being by employees and customers is what will produce the most efficient corporation and create the highest shareholder return. The obnoxious expert opinion of a few top managers on what processes those employees and managers should follow will at best represent a mediocre approximation of what humans with passion and an intimate knowledge of what needs to be done would have devised for themselves. At worst, it will become an oppressive machine with a mediocre economic engine.

Engaging employees in the co-creation of their work experience is job 1 for business. But it’s getting dangerously late. Business, it is time to save your soul.


Guest blogging for Harvard Business Review and Front End of Innovation

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

I’m pleased to be a contributor to two blogs, and

As part of’s new series on “Creating a Customer-Centered Organization,” I wrote about the need for companies to design new and better customer interactions.

Experience Co-Creation

Many companies now have senior officers in charge of customer experience. The executives’ role is to define the attributes of the customer experience in partnership with their operational colleagues, organize the customer-satisfaction-measurement process against those attributes, and encourage remedial action wherever warranted. What they hardly ever have, though, is an approach to evolve the design of the customer experience, let alone create a new experience.

To develop a new customer experience, companies need a real-time engagement process that encourages customers and employees to devise new interactions between them and facilitates the emergence of innovative customer experiences.

Yes, this co-creation takes time, but there is no alternative. Each customer designs her own experience in the unique context of each interaction she has with the company. So when companies rely solely on market research to design the customer experience, the result is a manager-biased lowest common denominator of customers’ expectations.     More


On the Front End of Innovation Blog, linked to the FEI 2011 Conference, where I will be a keynote speaker on May 17, I listed seven words I’d like to see banned from the lingo of product development (with apologies to George Carlin).

Seven Words We Should Ban From the Product Development Language

The American stand-up comedian George Carlin had a routine entitled “Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say on TV.”

Here are seven dirty words I’d like to ban from the product development language:

1. process,
2. customer,
3. needs,
4. market research,
5. engineering,
6. product specifications and
7. idea management.

1. Process: the appearance of rigor conveyed by a flow chart representing product development on a wall, disguising a cesspool of messy interactions as a neatly flowing river.

In the classic company-centric view of business, product development people follow a process. In reality, there is no such thing as a product development process. Product development is a series of interactions. To state the obvious, the difference between a process and an interaction is that the latter flows in (at least) two directions. One should therefore not design product development processes, but product development engagement platforms inviting multiple constituencies to participate in the design, with the product development people acting as facilitators of those interactions.


Which came first: the process or the experience?

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

This week, I visited a manufacturer of electronics components that believes that process design and key performance indicators (KPI) are the key to its business success. In parallel, Harvard Business Review just asked me to write a blog entry for its website on the role of co-creation in customer experience. This led me to reflect on what comes first in business design: the process or the experience?

Most companies have been trained to think that processes are what matters most for corporate success, and that good processes generate good customer experience. In this view, process clearly comes first, and a good customer experience is the result. By contrast, co-creation starts with the broad experience of two of more people (customers and employees) and invites them to develop new processes or interactions between them that will result in new experiences for both. In co-creation, the human experience comes before the process (or the interaction).

Back to my visit of the semiconductor manufacturer: I first thought the large wall displays were integrated circuit designs with red and green coloring, but I was told they were actually “trees of KPIs.” I think I saw a KPI tree in their bathroom urging me to do my business effectively. I asked one of the executives whether KPIs were always defined by management in top-down fashion, or an operator on a particular line or in an office could instead define her own “bottom-up” KPI. His answer: “Oh yes, we discuss those things all the time.” Upon pressing, he conceded that what could be discussed was the way to meet the top-down target, not the definition of the KPI itself from the vantage point of the operator.

In a subsequent private discussion with another executive at the same company, he started exhibiting some impatience. “What do you propose?” he asked. “That we ask every employee whether they like the goal we give them? This is not a popularity contest. We have to hit cost and volume targets.” I pointed out that my goal was the same as his, but the way to get there might be different. “I believe the best way to uncover new, innovative ways of lowering the cost of your operation or increasing throughput might be to tap into the individual experience of your operators and let them define new interactions between them – maybe between equipment manufacturers, suppliers, or your management team. You need a combination of a top-down and bottom-up process.” He clearly thought this was the most absurd thing he’d ever heard.

The notion that the personal quest of a fabrication line operator for a self-interested, better experience of work might provide the most direct line to a productivity improvement for the plant was so foreign to him that he could not even conceive of the connection. He could only think of my suggestion as a gratuitous expedition into an experiential la-la land and a demagogical bridge to nowhere.  I pointed out to him that it is a sad place where business goals and aspirations to experiential well-being are structurally incompatible. “The business world is not a happy place,” he told me, as we parted.

At the risk of veering toward “angelism,” as French people call it, I believe there is something inherently good about placing the human experience at the center of business design. Human experience is rich, varied, and unbounded, while processes are made of blue steel. Who wants to live in a business world of cold rationality? Experience before process, please.