Creative cooperation across borders

Barbed-Wire-Fencing hbyoulian.en.made-in-china.comBorders are not limited to geography: from one industry to another, surprising contrasts arise in ways of conducting business. If previously one could stay in his private domain, globalization and global connectivity have blown up protected nests. The question knocking at your door is: since cooperation is a “must-do”, how do we lay the foundation to drive it as its best?

Connected world urges you to cooperate

Greg Satell highlights very clearly how ‘Smart’ and ‘Connected’ are embracing every industry, involving a new way to innovate through co-creation. He explains:

  • ‘Digital technology pervades the physical world, changing the principles of scale’; despite significant unplugged ilots, “virtuality is coming into reality, virtureality is here” observes Bertrand Cathelat, enthusiastic sociologist of the Web;
  • ‘The Internet of Things is born, linked to smaller computer chips’; thanks also to cheap and reliable connectivity, enabling sensors to collect data everywhere; the good thing is that your ‘intelligent thing’ doesn’t have to be so smart: at your hand is your smart phone, and above your head is the smart cloud, both computing to complete the job;
  • ‘The Web of Things is making machines interoperable and allowing consumers to tap into the Internet of Things. 4 pillars emerge: Smart Phones, Smart Homes (including Smart TV), Smart Cars, Smart Retail’ underlines Greg. Smart Cities stand out as well: reviewing the EU City SDK project, I was impressed by bold initiatives run by cities of Helsinki, Amsterdam, Lisbon,  and Manchester.
  • ‘Hackers start taking apart product system in order to build new things with it. Marketers will have to think in terms of SDK’s and API’s. ‘Everybody will be using the Web of Things to co-create products and services with their consumers’.

Every business has to flip the switch for digital, and cooperate with people from corresponding industry: digital start-ups with peculiar know-how, IT consulting and software developers, hardware manufacturers, interactive design agencies, digital marketing and media agencies, user experience and testing consultants, digital sociologists and ethnographs … Cooperation doesn’t mean subscontracting: it involves partnering and cocreating with in-depth commitment.

Cooperation principles are powerful but demanding

Cooperation and the way to harness collective intelligence has been studied thoroughfully. From the front line of innovation to actual product co-development,  it is worth capturing the benefits unfolded by ‘open innovation’, ‘strategic community networks’, ‘user-led innovation’, ‘crowd sources innovation’, ‘idea improvement program’, ‘business plan competition’, ‘open source’ approaches.

However cooperation road is not paved with roses. Stefan Lindegaard highlights frequent obstacles, and suggests precious tips, centered on people management and open mindset:

  • ‘Trust is an essential component for open innovation. It is the basis of any successful, long-lived relationship’
  • ‘You should look into the following questions: what does it take for you to trust others? How do you convince your external stakeholders to build trust in you?’
  • ‘Frequent barriers against building trust and relationships are: internal rather than external perspective, external partners viewed as someone paid to deliver a specific service rather than a source of co-creation, focus on protecting its own knowledge and intellectual property, insufficient time and personal commitment, and fear, people commonly feeling threatened by a new way of doing things.’
  • ‘Organization is not consistent with cooperation: internal silos are too firmly ingrained; if you cannot make innovation happen across your business units, how could you expect innovation to sing beyond your company borders?’
  • ‘Networking culture is lacking: people can figure this out by themselves, executives say. Not true. Executives need to establish networking strategies and employees need training, along with the time to build and nurture relationships.’

Kingdom of Bahrain, Manama,         Photo By Phil Weymouth

Business re-modeling with digital stakeholders might be even tougher. We are not dealing with familiar partners from our industry, or competitors turned into copetitors: we rethink business with a digital viewpoint: it requires a deep dive in the digital world, acquiring knowledge on technology, media, and user behaviours to create a thrilling customer experience, matching our business identity. It all converges to knowledge sharing with the digital world, and making digital stranger a close relationship.

Cooperation involves a ‘knowledge sharing DNA’

How to manage cooperative innovation and share knowledge in a fruitful way? Insead Professor Yves Doz is an expert of the topic: in ‘Managing Global Innovation’, he studies how companies can mobilize dispersed knowledge to learn from the world. He shared a few lessons recently at AX, Polytechnique Alumni Association, in a great session set-up by Professors Sihem Jouini and Christophe Midler:

  • ‘Modern distributed innovation means assembling a global jigsaw’;
  • ‘We have moved from projecting home-based knowledge to building global advantages, learning from the world, sensing, melding, leveraging’;
  • ‘Globalization is no more an issue, footprint is the problem: awareness of optimal global footprint derives in sensing, mobilizing and operating globally’; it’s not about susbtitution and outsourcing, it is based on complementarity and discovery’;
  • Value of skills diversity shall be balanced with cost of dispersion: small team perform better, let’s focus our endeavour on established sources of knowledge’;
  • ‘Knowledge is complex: one needs to foray and experience, to build ground for interaction; knowledge sharing is cultural: language facilitates exchanges, context affects embeddness. Knowledge breaks in different forms; tacit, experiential, endemic, existential’ (referring to Professor Nonaka);
  • ‘Connection mechanismes are key: codified knowledge, connecting knowledge holders, connecting sites, setting-up situations for common design rather than formal knowledge sharing’;
  • ‘To maximize absorptive capacity, tolerate a partially loosed culture, not entirely dependant from the culture of origin’;


‘Modular design’ streamlines cooperation

While speaking of organizing cooperation, Professor Doz mentionned TopCoder example: TopCoder divides IT project in modules and present them in an auction format, seeking for the best value on each module. It has its origin in Open Source where work is split according to modularisation and distribution, enabling a large range of developers with different profiles to participate.

Other posts have underlined the merit of ‘modular design‘ to facilitate cooperation, speed up deployment, and extend innovative ecosystem: API is a hefty tool to foster open innovation and distribute your business, generating new revenue streams, strengthening your marketing campaigns, and extending your reach.

Falling Domino Pieces Arranged in a LineWhy is ‘modular design’ triggering such a swift domino effect? ‘Modular design’ is pure ‘explicit knowledge’, that is formatted to be used by others: the kind of request, the format of the answer, the parameters you can use are well defined in API documentation, so that you can get up and running at lightning speed.

Furthermore, when knowledge is fully explicit, dispersion can be extreme: an API defined in the Silicon Valley can be used by developers teams from all over the planet.

Best contribution is what benefits to your customers

Cooperation makes us part of a bigger value chain. Entering the digital world is a kind of technological formatting. One might be afraid to dilute its business identity, or be bypassed by the digital realm. Let’s be positive: we do not not “cope with” digital, we shall leverage enthusiastically its assets.

To strenghthen our position, the issue is to concentrate on the modular part where we bring best value, and where we can express leadership.

One guidance is to keep in mind a straightforward customer focus: how can new technologies enhance the value of experience to our customers? Does the latest greatest thing meet customer top of mind, or is it just fantasy? Let’s drill down digital technologies and set them up in order to create great impact on our business.


Forrester Analyst Thomas Husson believes ‘Mobile platforms will act as a catalyst for the next generation of connected experiences. Smart apps connected to products and CRM systems will emerge’. Thus Thomas examines core mobile benefits: how can we use the intimate link we have with our mobile, its capabilities to provide immmediate and contextual information, to serve more timely our customers? Thomas focuses on ’empowering people in their key moments of decision and action’ and lists a few accurate hints: connect product with smart apps bringing convenience and utility, help the customer in his next task, proactively suggesting or reminding a purchase, nurture an emotional link with the brand, and ensure consistency by connecting mobile interactions to IT.

Now, it’s your time to take chances, experiment, listen, adjust, and iterate.

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