Developing open cultural systems
Some attributes of digital technologies (open, shareable, adaptive, modular, scalable) exercise every day our natural human skills: sociality, empathy, creativity, altruism, adaptation. In the analysis of a company’s balance these words are not normally used but yet those companies who have organized themselves by opening borders to sharing knowledge and experience with others show excellent conditions not only of their spirits, but also of their economics.
Share and collaborate are the trendy words of the moment, and first of all are actions that bring benefits to those who do them.
e-collaboration and resource sharing are business models that I personally use very often, with satisfaction … and during one of my “excursions” in the world wide web I met Cecilia, living in San Diego, California.
Cecilia Wandiga is a senior management consultant focused on the intersection of sustainability and business development. She has over 20 years of experience advising business owners and executives about how to improve performance. Her public policy and economic analysis skills are combined with certifications as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and ISO 9000 auditor. During her career she has worked with manufacturers, real estate and insurance, banking, municipal government and community development organizations. Her keen understanding of environmental and social issues enables her to help leaders frame their visions and objectives in a sustainable manner.
Cecilia is engaged in projects in USA and Africa to allow African small and medium-sized enterprises to realize their own solutions, adapted to local environment and culture. It is not hard to guess that we both care about the development of solutions that allow companies and people to participate actively in the cultural and economic growth of their businesses. We think that co-operation sharing and co-creation are at the basis of companies’ success.
Q: Cecilia, Can you explain briefly what “Open Cultural System in Business” means?
A: Business has traditionally focused on transferring expertise. When a company operates in a foreign context the first round of training is to teach the local workforce “how to do things our way”. This leaves little room for heartfelt collaboration. Open Cultural Systems in business start with a dialog about values with the goal of first understanding the other culture’s perspective then asking the other culture what the locally equivalent standard is for the desired behavior. This leads to a system that combines agreed upon traits instead of one that unilaterally imposes preferences.
Q: We live in contexts in which those who have information have power … why companies should embrace the opening of their borders, with the risk of being robbed of their know-how?
A: We should start by examining what “power” really is in business. Is it know-how or is it the ability to create wealth? Libraries and educational institutions are full of know-how but nobody turns to these as wealth builders. Wealth is interpreted differently by cultures. In some cultures wealth is only financial. In other cultures wealth is the ability to lead others to do more than they could do themselves. In others wealth is natural resource management. A “power-being-robbed” mindset is predicated on the assumption that all that is foreign is “the enemy.” If you start by treating others as enemies who will rob you, why expect they will treat you or anything associated with you with respect? Business should view information as the power to create a favorable balance between equals. This gives the “foreign” party a vested interest in supporting your efforts.
Q: Could you tell a concrete example of how a group of companies organized themselves to create an “open cultural system”?
A. We can see many examples in several fields: in consultancy, in social media, in manufacturing, etc. For instance, n the retail consumer packaged goods sector foreign retailers often have shelf space wars with local brands. This adversarial position is company centered and completely ignores the evolving preferences of local consumers. A research by PWC has shown collaboration focused on leveraging strengths in order to deliver the consumer a better combined value boosts profitability and sustainable growth. Focusing on building trust is the key to success.
Q: In order to build an Open Cultural System we need to know how to do it. The first step consists in disclosing solutions and in bringing people who can work together. This is the spirit with which we created the Community “Collaborative Business Network”. Can you help me to explain this initiative?
A: Manufacturing (how we make things) is critical to both social and economic wealth. At a social level we learn to come together to solve problems and build things that make us happy. At an economic level we learn to transform the resources that surround us into value added products that are traded. Entering manufacturing has traditionally been expensive because factory equipment is expensive. Now we have affordable ($800 to $5,000) desktop 3D printers. We still need big factories with $40,000+ machines to make the big things and large volumes (imagine the looks from neighbors if you tried to build an 18 wheeler truck in your 0.25 acre backyard or trying to print and ship 10,000 products a week from your home office…). But we can help each other live more affordably by producing the small things (that odd shaped piece of pipe, that weird looking lamp your kid wants but nobody else will buy, micro-science kits so we can help scientists track data about our local environment, farming tools for small holder farmers living and working beyond retail outlets…). When doing this we cannot repeat the pollution practices that have caused climate change. Collaborative Business Network is a web space where small and micro-businesses come together to discuss how we too can be a force for green transformation.
Thanks to Cecilia for this reflection on open cultural systems. I think it will be more likely to see our neighbors to plow the garden with a tractor manufactured in house, or design, print and sell their products from their home-office … This setting of business, as well as feasible also appears to be sustainable.