Open-as-Strategy Part II: The Three Dimensions of Open Value Creation

As executives and senior government officials that want to unlock the value from next generation technologies, we will need to address the following three questions: How can we employ openness strategically? How can we organize and manage collaborative communities that combine their knowledge? What are the appropriate platforms for our specific collaboration needs?

In more than 10 years of working with senior executives at major corporations such as Pepsi Co, Google, CEMEX, BMW, and governments in Europe, Africa and the Americas, we have identified three dimensions that we need to consider when implementing open-as-strategy. All three are necessary by themselves, but only together they are also sufficient to unlock the value of open-as-strategy.

The First Dimension: Open Strategy Design

For the last 30 years variations of competitive strategy such as Porter’s five forces, portfolio analysis, BCGs learning curves, new market development, and blue oceans determined how we think strategy today. Originally, competitive strategy was built on the 19th Century Prussian military understanding that business could be described through strategic interaction of rational players in environments that stay relatively stable over time – keeping information secret from the competitor/enemy was integral to that.

Competitive strategists basically do the following: analyze their market, forecast the future, and optimize the company accordingly. This might have worked very well for the stable business world of the 60s, but it assumes that we can know all of the relevant variables, including who our competitors are, and that we can forecast their actions. These assumptions unfortunately do not work very well in today’s world. There are technological reasons for this, the open Internet favors network organizations that organize flexibly across space and time, but also an increase in complexity, with non-linear corollaries such as tipping point situations, unintended side-effects, and butterfly effects.

In terms of organization, we have been observing a move from the simple black box production framework, the value chain management of the 1980s, to the co-production or supply chain management of the 1990s and to peer production and shared value creation (user-generated communities). Some of the most successful companies of the 21st Century are creating incredible wealth by organizing collaborative communities and then skimming some profit from that. Google, Facebook or Apple are just the tip of the iceberg. Kickstarter, the Pebble Watch, MySportWorld, Fab, Ushahidi or even Wikipedia are harbingers of a new type of economy organized around the strategic opening aspects of their value chains. This means that our focus in strategic thinking in business changes from competitive strategy (positioning) to communicative strategy (building, persuading, integrating, gardening), because more of the value-added is generated from the non-Prussian strategic aspects of opening the value chain and building communities of collaborators.

The core idea is to cut up the value chain into modular, granular, and redundant processes so that very different contributions can be integrated without endangering the quality of the output. A collaboration platform must be governed by a combination of self-enforcing code, simple but strong core principles, automated quality control, and an inclusive culture (think Canonical’s Launchpad or Wikipedia’s rules of engagement).  The sustainability of a firm’s ecosystem is the strongest indicator for competitiveness in such a world.

The Second Dimension: Open Community Management and Leadership

With the advent of constructivist thinking in schools in the early 1980s, teachers have been slowly moving from taking the role of “the sage on the stage, to the guide by the side.” This is a process that has taken time and has not yet been mainstreamed in most schools in most countries, but in the second decade of the 21st Century senior executives that went to elementary school in the 1980s have been making their mark on the enterprise. The appointment of Marissa Meyers to CEO of Yahoo, the role that the founders still play in Google or Facebook are prominent examples of that transformation in leadership.

Constructivist or Anti-Leadership is moving from clear targeted communication, incentivization design and the effective use of carrots and sticks to a moderating role of community management. The core principles of anti-leadership are fairly easy to outline. When you cannot analyze, forecast, and plan anymore, you need to empower your organization to be able to modulate it to turbulent contexts, by allowing for variation (think of Google’s 20% rule), define meta-principles of selection through mechanisms such as simulation, scorecards, or actual performance (think Google’s testing of any interface changes), and amplify what works, through scaling-up mechanisms. For example, Hackfests or Hackathons, events in which computer programmers and others in the field of software development, like graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software-related projects have been proliferating as management instruments. Facebook’s Pedram Keyani argues in Wired,

“There have been hackathon projects that have changed the direction of the company in terms of what we focus on, and how we think about our strategy, and what we realize is possible. The thesis is, if 100 people have an idea that could be awesome — the next big thing — try all of them. 99 of them are going to be terrible, but there’s going to be that one idea that is going to be awesome.”‪

Other such instruments of community management are ideation jams, contests, open workflow systems, electronic townhalls, etc. Executives need to learn to become community leaders that are able to engage communities successfully over time. Great leadership becomes a question of organizing communities.

The Third Dimension: Platform Selection and Interface Design

The Internet, Cloud Computing, Big Data, Cybersecurity – or if we drill down XML, Wikis, Blogging, and Social Software – once intertwined transform strategy. Open value creation is possible because of these new technologies that allow us to structure idea generation and information aggregation in digital form. The core technologies of open value creation are the wiki (principle-based, user-generated platforms with flexible moderation capacity), the forum (question driven user-generated knowledge platform), blogging (core message with feedback/discourse loop), and work flow management and visualization tools. The overall trend of the social changes deriving from the utilization of web 2.0 technologies is a move from market-based “at arms-lengths”  and hierarchy-based firm relationships as described above to platform-based exchange relationships that can be categorized as,  peer production communities. These can be implicit, algorithm-steered (post-human) anonymous interactions that lead to value creation (the amazon recommendation engine, google search, spotify, etc.). Or, workflow-based granular/modular asynchronous social co-production (Wikipedia, Canonical’s launchpad, Basecamp, etc.). Or mediated social production and world creation (facebook, Xing, Ning, LinkedIn, etc.). Senior executives need to understand the situational logic of these platforms and be able to integrate them into their strategic frameworks. They need to assure that interface design questions “how do contributors interface with our systems?” get the needed attention. Bad design kills great ideas.

Next Generation Systems Integration: Connecting Strategy, Community, and Technology

Only a combination of the three dimensions leads to a successful integration of openness into the process of value creation. Together they allow us to structure value creation processes, by enhancing ideation (idea-generation), deliberation (commenting and discussion), collaboration (generating value), and accountability (parsing data to hold organisations accountable).

What we need is a new way of reimagining the corporation: Systems integration that understands openness as a fundamental tool for value creation combining strategy, community management, and platform design. Next generation technology and services provision needs to have this framework as an arrow in its quiver. It is the biggest challenge facing us since Champy and Hammer originally formulated the idea of reengineering the corporation around processes 20 years ago.


Philipp Müller

Philipp Müller

Dr. Philipp S. Müller is the general manager for the Public Sector in Central & Eastern Europe at CSC and teaches strategy and leadership at top universities worldwide. He is a renowned public speaker, the author of three books and many articles focusing on the interplay of technology, strategy, and organization. He has a PhD from Ludwig-Maximilians-University, was a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, and is a member of the MOC Affiliate Network at Harvard Business School.

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