GuruSpeak > Mr Michael Plishka, Zenstorming
Mr Michael Plishka is the founder of ZenStorming Solutions, LLC, a design and innovation consultancy, based in a village in Illinois, USA. He is a design thinker with over 18 years experience in innovative design and development.
He has worked, almost exclusively, in the medical device arena, a highly challenging and patent mined landscape. Michael has over 15 patents issued and pending in the US and internationally. He is also an accomplished performing musician and artist who teaches and writes with joy and passion. In addition to his Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering he has a Masters of Arts degree.
Michael has recently presented at a web-based conference on "Empowering the Co-Creation of a Better World". You can listen to his interview on the same subject. This exclusive interview is based on his insights into the practice of co-creation in business and social sphere. Excerpts:
"Having an Openness to Shared Value is essential for Co-creation"
Mr Michael Plishka, Zenstorming
Sankar: Community building can be considered as in integral part of co-creation in many cases. And nurturing a community takes a lot of time. Does this mean a business that has made co-creation central to its value creation process cannot grow fast?
Michael: Co-creation is relational at its core. The natural stumbling block that slows down business growth then, is the infrastructure, or rather the lack thereof, that hinders conversation and collaboration. Along the same lines, community growth never ideally ends. It starts with the first "hello" and continues with with multiple shared "hello's", an intense and respectful listening to the experiential needs articulated.
As such, co-creation does not have to move at a slow pace. With the proper disposition and infrastructure, an organization may see tremendous growth and adoption quite quickly. The Nike+ story comes to mind. Humans, as social creatures, are amazingly adept at using technology to create community.
Sankar: You talk about the need for people to have a sense of wonder at their own creativity. After all people are creating value, in many facets of the life. From this perspective, it appears that when companies seek to sell a product or service, they actually seek the opportunity to be a part of the value creation process of customers. For instance, people save money - which is one type of value creation. And banks, by coming up with a safe and gainful way to save, are entering the picture as co-creators. In this context, do you think there is a merit in the argument that a lot in co-creation depends on the attitude that companies have towards their own role and that of customers?
Michael: Companies have basically two choices: 1) Relinquish control of their product lines and enter into a co-creative conversation with people (customers); 2) Decide that co-creation and community building isn't a fit or a necessity.
Each of these choices has, at its core, a certain disposition and perspective towards customers. (Professors Prahalad and Ramaswamy have published several great articles on this.) Once the decision to co-create is made, one of the main shifts is from seeing customers as targets to seeing customers as people with which to enter into dialogical relationship. That requires the establishment of a different infrastructure that enables co-creation and the exchange of ideas. Once the dialogue starts, the relationships (Company-People, People-People) will necessarily deepen and intensify and new opportunities, as well as the need for new tools, will become apparent.
So, the segmenting that's going on is with regards to what product lines within the company will be open, and which will remain captive. Nike+ is clearly a co-creative venture. Nike socks, are...well...socks, (though they are socks with an identity and socks that still need to fit in with the brand identity that is being co-built through Nike+.) Likewise, a toothpick company may decide that there's no reason or value to co-creating toothpicks. However, it could decide to allow people to 'make their own' toothpick design based upon the need for the toothpicks (picking teeth versus spearing olives), and this might be made possible by partnering with a different manufacturing company. In this case, the decision isn't so much about the customer as much as it is an internal decision to involve others in the value generation process.
Sankar: Building on strengths you say is very important for a co-creator. It is interesting. Because, typically co-creation - especially at B2B level - involves multi-stakeholder partnerships (sometimes with businesses in the own space or even with competitors), and hence it becomes important for all players involved in the co-creation process to stick to their strengths. However, I think the key challenge is that many businesses simply miss out on their core strengths, and assume their strengths lie somewhere else. How do you think companies can find what their core strengths are? And how co-creation can help businesses fill gap in their offerings?
Michael: That's an interesting question. A company basically has three choices when confronted with gaps in offerings: 1) Invest in plugging them; 2) Work with somebody else to plug them (co-creation); 3) Continue to build on what they know and work around the gaps (and just because they know it doesn't mean it's a strength.) From a B2B perspective, co-creation can indeed help fill the gaps but it requires a shift in perspective and an openness to relinquishing some level of control. Co-creation also creates a sort of mirror. Just as it's not unusual for a friend to point out another person'strengths, (often to the person's surprise) by being open to co-creation, a company becomes open to being in relationship, and a healthy relationship will bring out the real strengths of the parties involved.
Sankar: Creating a shared value - value for all - is obviously the end of a true co-creation exercise. In one of the recent examples in the B2B co-creation context that I know of Ingersoll Rand, a energy products company, partners with IBM for the latter's software to analyse energy use in buildings to offer a energy efficient building solution to customers. Interestinglgy, both these companies have "shared value" big pictures: Ingersoll Rand pursues "innovation convergence" and IBM aims at "smart planet" (and that includes "smart buildings"). Can we say that having a big picture on value or shared value enables companies to find co-creation opportunities better?
Michael: Most definitely! Having an openness to shared value is essential. However, that openness is not easy to come by. I had an experience with a client where we had identified a product and market niche that was worth millions of dollars in new business. It required, like in your example, that another company provide a key component. Discussions with the partner company went very well and they were on board. However, my client decided against moving forward with the partnership as they only felt comfortable playing in the spaces they were in with the structure they had in place. They didn't grasp the big picture. In the end we had to change the approach and design a different product that played solely to my client's perceived strengths. All signs point to that product being successful. Will it be as large of a win as the co-created product? Unfortunately, we may never know.
Sankar: Do you think that there is a relationship between customer experience and customer co-creation. In other words, can we say that co-creating customers are happy customers?
Michael: Yes! Co-creation is very much about creating experience that can be customized for the individual. When we can create something that does what we need it to do, when we want it to, we'll be happy. There is research that shows that we value things we help create. In that vein, Lego Mindstorms is a great example of a system that enabled people to create specific products utilizing the robust, Lego infrastructure.People had a great experience designing and purchasing products that reflected their own personalities. People were happy!
Sankar: How does listening - with or without social media - helps companies innovate?
Michael: The word, "listening," is perhaps too limited. It implies that people are simply listening to what other people say. Unfortunately, it's not unusual for people to say they do certain things, but in reality do something totally in opposition to what was said. And, the kicker is that we may not even realize it - Our actions say volumes! So instead of "listening," perhaps "experiencing" a person's experiences is more to the point. Experiencing is a kind of 4-d listening. It's more than just words, it's experiencing actions and their contexts. When we "listen" in this way, we can design for, not only verbally articulated needs, but those unarticulated, or latent needs. I once was watching a clinician do a procedure. During the course of the procedure, the clinician, never once, mentioned that he was doing certain motions with his hand. Yet, I incorporated that very same set of motions into the product I designed - something that none of the competition had done to that point. The product was extremely successful and surgeons enjoyed its intuitive and simple nature. That patented innovation was only possible because listening didn't stop at words. Instead, my entire experience of the procedure informed the design process.
It is important to mention here that technology is also key in innovation. The product I mentioned was only possible because material technologies enabled it. A few years later, a colleague took that design and improved it (simplified it and made it cheaper) by eliminating a component. That was only possible because a manufacturing technology, in concert with material properties, made it so.
Sankar: What do you think are the roles of social media/social technologies in enabling co-creation or the democratization of value creation process?
Michael: Social media can play a vital role in co-creation - so much so, that I think that there is almost an acceptance of the fact that without internet/Web2.0, co-creation would not be enabled -or at least it would look radically different. Perhaps it might look like the co-creative "jingle" contests of the mid 1900's. Using Radio, budding TV, and the US Mail, companies looked to people to help build the brand through catchy sayings. Even then, social technologies played a role.