When I look at what has shaped my interests over the last decade, it all started with my collaboration with C.K. Prahalad. I have been working on the concept of co-creation for a while. I started with co-creation with customers. At that time, there was a huge traction in emerging markets, particularly in India, as companies were vying with each other to tap into the growing market. In some sense, being of Indian origin helped me connect with a lot of opportunities in India, and understand why Indian enterprises could be very resilient, working with limited resources, and be ingenious in terms of finding frugal solutions to problems. I found that aspirations could indeed exceed resources, as Prof Prahalad used to put it.
I think there is something about the fact that talent from India today can not only collaborate with people from all over the world in terms of their skill base, but also bring the ability to look at problems in a multi-dimensional manner. In my own work, I find that effective co-creation requires some holistic thinking, and if you look at the eastern culture in general, it has been more holistically oriented. A lot of western management style has been very process-oriented, and co-creation is really going beyond processes to human experiences. I remember when “social networking” started taking off on the Internet, I used to say social networks have always existed very deeply in India. From that perspective, people of Indian origin can easily relate to the global social phenomenon, which is just growing more and more, and I won’t be surprised if a lot of innovative thinking on how to leverage social communities as an integral part of business design emerges as a result.
I find that people who have been socialised, managerially speaking, in terms of managing “processes” have a very difficult time shifting to this new world of human experiences as the basis of value creation. On the other hand, when I interact with executives in emerging markets, people there relate faster conceptually but they still have difficulty in executing because a lot of them have copied the western style of management and have become very process-oriented. India has a huge young population. The younger generation has an instinct for social networking. But I am also aware of a paradox—that the organisations are not necessarily ready for that.
When I look at the opportunity that exists in India, one could take advantage of the principles of co-creation by actually engaging employees in redesigning work experiences and make for a much more flexible, agile, collaborative, co-creative enterprise that would give a lot of competitive advantage to such organisations in terms of actually generating new business ideas and innovating faster and smarter. In the past, I haven’t seen much of a willingness to co-create from the management side, although this may be changing. What I mean is that while the senior management may be of Indian origin, if you look at management practices inside the organisation we have tried to emulate the GEs of the world.
All of those things might actually impede the ability to move faster to co-create, simply because you then start getting into this process culture and everything becomes “process, process, process”—a one-way view if you will, from the enterprise “to” the employee, or any stakeholder you are looking at. Co- creation is more about “two-sided engagement”. There is actually a huge opportunity to build co-creative enterprises in India, just as we led the way in global delivery models in IT services.
I believe the enterprise of the future is going to be a co-creative enterprise. I define such an enterprise as one that actually engages all of its stakeholders to create value together, through their human experiences. It is implicitly a multi-stakeholder “win more-win more” engagement model. As I go around the world, I find that most people today see that one of the biggest challenges is working and engaging with multiple stakeholders. A lot of it has to do with people having to work together effectively. A lot of it also depends on people thinking holistically about where “value” actually comes from...not just from delivering goods and services but from interactions among people, whether they are customers, suppliers, partners. The notion that people have to actually work with each other more productively and solve problems together more effectively is indeed recognised by most companies.
On the other hand, what I have found is that it is difficult for companies to move in this direction because we really haven’t built “engagement platforms” inside the organisation. You see a lot of conflict in companies among the expectations of the younger generation and the dominant management style prevalent in the firm, although this is beginning to change slowly. Both younger consumers and younger employees are well into utilising new forms of connectivity, communication and collaboration, and want that to drive how they work inside the company and interact with people outside. In the US, Europe or Japan, where the population is actually aging, you see all the social networking phenomenon externally but I haven’t yet seen it really penetrating the company. India has a big opportunity to actually drive the next generation of enterprise—tomorrow’s co-creative enterprise. Having said that, there is a huge challenge in terms of redesigning work experiences to harness this opportunity.
Prof Prahalad was a mentor to me. I started interacting with him in 1998. We were teaching together in India. We used to sit in each other’s sessions and later talk about the implications of the dotcom boom and bust. We used to think about the future...what if one billion people were connected in the world, would that change anything? It took us six years to write The Future of Competition together. And if you look at that book, a lot of that future is already here! When I wrote the book with C.K. there was no YouTube. C.K. had told me co-creation is going to happen—“You have to be patient”. The exponential growth has been amazing. People are now starting to connect with some of that early thinking that we had, and we ourselves evolved in our thinking. When I Google “co-creation” now, I get over 30 million hits. It was just over a million about three years ago.
(Venkat Ramaswamy, Hallman Fellow of Electronic Business and Professor of Marketing at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, as told to Ashish Kumar Sen, based on his new book The Power of Co-Creation: Build It With Them to Boost Growth, Productivity, and Profits, co-authored with Francis Gouillart, Free Press, forthcoming in October 2010.)