Posts Tagged ‘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.


Personal road map to co-creation in six easy steps

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

I’m often asked at parties what individuals must do to engage in personal co-creation. It recently dawned on me that I only knew how to describe co-creation from the organization’s standpoint, producing quizzical looks from my relatives and friends who are not in the business world. After all, it is a lot easier for a consultant to generate fees from a large organization hiring you to make more money, than it is to sell co-creation one individual at a time. So let me pick up the gauntlet, try my best incarnation of Wayne Dyer or Steven Covey, and tell you how to get on the road to co-creation in six easy steps.

STEP 1: PEOPLE. Co-creation is about people, so start out by mapping out the people you interact with. This includes your spouse, your neighbor, your friends at work, and the kid with freckles who throws toilet paper on your lawn every Halloween. Depending on how social a creature you are, you’ll rapidly be able to define a list of at least 15 or 20 people (Ashton Kutcher has over 7 million friends on Facebook, which makes his network map a bit complex). Put yourself at the center of the map, draw three or four concentric circles to represent decreasing frequencies of interactions, and place everybody in those circles. You now have a map of your personal network.

STEP 2: INTERACTIONS. Starting with the people you deal with the most, list the main things you do with each of them. This defines the existing interactions you have with them. This will allow you to put together an integrated view of what interactions you have with everybody (typically something like 15-20 interactions typically drawn as columns, and 15-20 people you interact with, drawn as lines). This may include shopping with your daughter, attending meetings with your work colleague, discussing the existence of God with your spiritual adviser, or stealing hubcaps with that old college friend of yours every Saturday night in the city. You now have a map of the major interactions you have with members of your personal network.

STEP 3: EXPERIENCE. At the end of each interaction, describe the quality of experience you get from this interaction – good, bad, or indifferent. You may rate the experience of stealing hubcaps a 9 out of 10 (thrilling), the experience of discussing the existence of God exalting but tiring (say, a 6 out of 10), and the experience of shopping with your daughter a frustrating 2 out of 10, because you don’t really think the leopard-skin jacket and stiletto shoes she wants you to buy for her qualifies as business attire. Arraying these experiences in left-to-right fashion from low to high will yield an experience curve that describes your general dislikes and likes before embarking on the co-creation journey. Your job is now to lift this experience curve through co-creation, eliminating or reducing the negative elements, raising the positive ones, and inventing new ones altogether.

STEP 4: TRANSPARENCY. Now comes the action part. Assemble members of your network together in your living room and get them to start sharing their experience of life with each other in transparent fashion and help them imagine new interactions between them to produce a better experience for all parties involved, possibly adding new members to the network. How much visibility does member A have about the broad experience of life of member B, and how could they interact with each other in new ways? What do you wish A knew about B and vice-versa?  The more transparent everybody’s experience of life becomes, the more new connections are likely to happen, so your job is to structure, activate, and grow your network. If my spiritual adviser and I start sharing our experience of life with each other, he may be able to dispense more relevant advice after understanding that he and I are essentially in the same business of ministering to communities (OK, his ministering may be more altruistic than mine, but we’re both selling ideas we’re passionate about). This will constitute a new interaction for both of us (and the source of a new experience for both of us). I may learn a lot from hearing my wife describe the tour she gives at the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston, get to know her work colleagues, and, who knows, dispense a bit of free business advice to the management of the museum and learn how the museum’s management model may apply to business. Ultimately, my job as a co-creator is also to enable new interactions between the spiritual adviser, my wife’s friends, and my daughter’s friends at the museum, independently of me.

STEP 5: PLATFORM. Beyond the one-off opportunities to create new interactions and new experiences between members of your network (including yourself), you will eventually have to set up a more permanent engagement platform linking everybody together. It may start as ad hoc conversations or meetings in your living room or by phone, but you will eventually have to utilize or build a larger scale, more formal engagement process tool between the members of the network. This will typically require a mix of a physical place and virtual technology platform. For example, I may have to invite my spiritual adviser to come on one of my business trips with me, or the spiritual adviser may have to enlist me in preparing a sermon for his congregation, but beyond the first event, we will need a means to continue engaging with each other. The platform may consist of a personal journal, a blog, or a social network platform such as Facebook or Twitter. It’s best to start live and move to tech enablement once you’ve gotten the live network going. If you don’t, you’ll run the risk of having nobody show up. Also bear in mind that you’ll need to structure the discussion along specific interactions if you want to avoid producing an oatmeal of unfocused ideas. You don’t necessarily want the spiritual adviser to interact with your old college friend on the details of how to steal hubcaps every Saturday in the city.

STEP 6: CO-CREATION. Once you’ve established your engagement platform and people start coming to it, you may find yourself having reached the true co-creation stage where the growth of the network becomes self-sustaining. At that point, the universe of your network starts expanding naturally. Your role has now become one of orchestrator, rather than generator of energy as was the case in the early stages. You now have more and more people joining in your network. The range of experiences being discussed is perpetually expanding, with members of the network continuously generating new interactions between them. You have now become Ashton Kutcher, attracting millions of friends, but with interactions that are less self-absorbed and more meaningful to you and your friends. Your wife, your minister, and your daughter all coach your friend into no longer stealing hubcaps on Saturday night in the city, and he talks to them about God.

You are finally at home in the expanding universe of co-creation. Co-creation in six easy steps…