John started off by explaining the meaning behind the name of the center which he co-leads with John Seely Brown – the Center For The Edge. For them, the edges are those areas on the periphery where you first see emerging new opportunities. The challenge with the growth opportunities at the edges is to scale them – either by connecting them to the core where all the money and all the people are, through collaboration, or through competition. There are many different types of edges, including geographic ones (think China, India), demographic edges (e.g., the younger generation entering the workforce), marketplaces with unmet needs, or technology edges. The key take-away for executives is to keep focusing on those edges as they are the places where future growth opportunities will first show up. They also need to realize that many of those edges are not part of their organizations or their existing ecosystems.
Next we talked about the newly released Shift Index, a set of three indices and 25 metrics designed to make longer-term performance trends more relevant and actionable (you can download the full report here). The Index, which was based on a yearlong research project, helps explain, among other things, the intensification of competition that many companies are witnessing today, and which has lead to the mean for company survival to come down to 10 years compared to 75 years in the 1930’s. Other metrics within the index help executives measure the consequences of that intensifying competition and also allow them to measure their performance relative to others. The research also uncovered some concerning trends – one of which is that ROA (Return On Asset) in the US decreased by 75% in the last four decades. And that in the face of consistent increases in labor productivity over that same period.
One of the key conclusions of the study is that competition is intensifying and that companies are not doing so well – their existing management practices are not keeping up with the changes.
We talked about some of the things that companies can do in order to cope with the changes afoot. One of those is to shift from a knowledge stock mentality, where you aggressively protect and hoard proprietary knowledge, build scalable offerings around it, and then extract value from it for the longest possible time, to a knowledge flow mentality, where you realize that what you know today has rapidly diminishing value and where you refresh your knowledge stocks by participating in knowledge flows. One of the big challenges for companies is that unlike information or data flows, knowledge does not flow easily – as it relies on long-term trust-based relationships. So the key to success in this new economic reality is to move from a transactional world to a long-term trust-based world. Examples of taking on a knowledge flow approach include letting your key customers participate in product innovation, or turning them into affiliates to allow them to help one another.
In this increasingly fast-cycle world, John believes that the role of serendipity will be progressively more important. He defines serendipity as “unexpected encounters that are valuable and generate pleasure when you encounter them,” and rather than believe that serendipity is based on pure luck, he believes that we can shape serendipity – both by increasing quality and quantity of unexpected ecounters. One way of doing that is by selecting location. By choosing a “spiky” physical location where there is a high concentration of talent you are much more likely to encounter serendipity than if you were on a farm in Iowa. The same is true for the virtual locations you decide to hang out in – whether social networks or communities. Choosing location by itself won’t do the trick however. If you want to shape serendipity you still need to set yourself up so that you are attracting attention, and increasing visibility and findability for yourself.
Another thing that companies need to focus on to better deal with this new economic reality is to shift from a push model to a pull model – one in which you attract partners, customers and talent, instead of pushing out products and messages. John reiterated the importance of shifting from an intercept, insulate and inhibit marketing mentality to one of attracting, assisting and affiliating customers and prospects.
We wrapped up by talking about John’s evolving views about business communities since he wrote Net Gain almost 12 years ago (to date, and in my biased opinion, probably still one of the most important books on business communities). He would reaffirm that there are huge challenges to building communities, but that if you build them around the needs of the members they can be very powerful. He would also expand on the need for three distinct, and sometimes conflicting, skill-sets or cultures that are required to ensure successful communities – centered around content, social interactions, and economic business models. Unfortunatelly, most communities only have one or two of those skill-sets engaged.
We also talked about:
- The need to shift from firewall around the company mentality to a modularized firewall around core company IP
- How you cannot participate in knowledge flows for very long if you are only a “taker”
- The importance of face-to-face in building trusted relationships
- The importance of having hyper-local face-to-face components in large online community
- The balance between the need to increase the number of partners we engage with with the need to build deep relationships in order to allow knowledge flow
- The talent Dilbert paradox and how talent is motivated by the talent development
- How you need a high growth strategy to attract and keep talent
- The importance of the “collaboration curve” in scaling the organizational learning, which they described in detail on their new blog – The Big Shift
- The importance for companies to start adopting a federated view/architecture for their online community efforts
You can listen to the actual CMO 2.0 Influencer Conversation on the CMO 2.0 Conversation site and soon we will be putting up a transcript of this conversation.