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Monday, 28 November 2011

Dematerialisation and Density: New Business Models

So I spent my last post on things in context which will now lead me to talk about how we create value in context. This is quite a complex post so bear with me.

Value is created through interactions, through acting on someone or something. We integrate resources available to us, available in context and available through the thing. These resources available in context allow us to enact out the value creating practices. These practices could be to realise what the thing is for (e.g. watch TV) or even to manipulate the thing itself and modifying it, not physically, but in terms of altering its function to what it can afford (enable) in context. A simple example would be to put a few books under the overhead projector to get it to project at the appropriate location (functional affordance) so the individual harnesses the book's material agency to achieve his outcomes. Another more complex example is the social and subtle battle between managers to locate the photocopying machine as far away as possible from their offices not because of noise etc. but the lowered social status associated with the office being closest to the photocopying machine (we've all been there before?)... you can read all about sociomateriality from Wanda Orlikowski's work.

So back to the point. We can harness the thing and people around us for resources to be integrated to create value but what is the value? In my earlier posts, I talked about emotional, practical and logical dimensions of value but value, to me, is some form of 'goodness'. We co-create value in use because it's good for us and we are better off because of it right? But being good for us may not just be functionally good, it could be some emotional good. So let me give you a very concrete example around a project we are in the middle of. This project can be seen here (EPSRC Co-production of Physical Products and Value Co-creation - Scalability in the Wild). The topic..... CHOCOLATE .......the BBC coverage of our work is here, the Telegraph coverage is here. Essentially, Exeter engineers have developed a chocolate 3-D printer which allows design and printing of chocolates as gifts. This is great. My job - what's the business model?

The answer is tricky because business model has to think about demand (i.e. what is the need fulfilled) as well as supply (how do we scale that fulfilment). The 3D printer isn't very scalable so if suddenly a million people wanted chocolates printed in their own customized way, there is no way that printer can do that. Also, chocolate is a complex product - hedonistic in many ways.

So what did we do? Before I tell you that, let me give you description of the thinking behind our chocolate project and explain dematerialization and density.

Dematerialization and density are the concepts introduced by Normann (2001) to illustrate the possibilities and opportunities to rethink the logic of value creation through reconfiguring value constellations. Technological development liberates us from constraints of time, place, actor and constellation in terms of value creation. We can separate information in terms of activities from physical world and assets and allow it to be easily moved about. This is one mechanism referred to as ‘liquification’. We can also separate activities from the well-defined existing time/space/actor units and assets (unbundleability) and then relink these activities, new time/space/actor units and assets (rebundleability) to create new value configuration. This is another mechanism of ‘dematerialization’ termed as ‘unbundeability’. Thus, dematerialization refers to the two mechanisms (liquification and unbundleability) to further promote rebundleability to create new densities (Normann, 2001). ‘Density’ is described as the best combination of resources mobilised for a particular context such as a particular customer at a given time and place. (summary above thanks to my postdoc Susan Wakenshaw. Tks Susan!)

With that description, here is what we did.

We went and conducted a series of interviews about what is so good about chocolate (consumption practices, ethnographical study). We found 10 major practices of chocolate and we also deconstructed the meaning and value of chocolate in these practices. Then we separated out the physical from the information. What does that mean? Out of the 10 practices, only 3 really needed the actual physical chocolate. The other 7 were practices that didn't really require the physical chocolate as a resource e.g. nostalgia, sharing - they required emotional, past memories to co-create some of the meanings but not the actual physical chocolate.

What we did next. We then separated the information of the chocolate (the 7) and are now creating a new website as a chocolate co-creation platform for individuals to co-create the meaning of chocolate. In other words, we are translating the physical practices of chocolate into virtual practices of chocolate. However, there are still 3 that need the physical so we have to ensure that the platform that enacts the 7 physical-to-virtual practices (pvp) interact with the 3 physical practices by having the chocolates designed and printed out on 3D and sent/eaten. But the business model has to make sure that the 7 pvps platform can be fully scalable while rationing demand for the 3 physical value practices (not so scalable). Not going to give you the gory details but it's really interesting for me who works in understanding value and using it to derive new business models. It is also interesting as we start moving towards greater connectivity and technology how we need to understand value creating systems and what value is created where, with whom and how, and more generic frameworks around it. We also have to think about recreating contexts, and resources that can be enabled in context by the platform. Fun stuff!

By the way, I need a whole community of beta testers so keep in touch on twitter and we'll let you know when it's up!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Dematerialisation & Density: The Value of Things in context

We hear it all the time and I've certainly said it again and again. Value comes from use, value is in context but why is it we still hear firms talking about value as the money they get for their things, and we still hear how they firms 'add value' as though the things in themselves have value?

So I really want to blog it to set things right. It's also the first of a series of blogposts around Dematerialisation and Density because it leads up to my current research projects. So let's start.

THINGS HAVE NO VALUE IN THEMSELVES. repeat after me. ok. then you go back to business and start talking about getting more value from the things, keeping the factories open, keeping the jobs coming in and you have forgotten what you said. so let me join the dots for you.

THINGS HAVE VALUE BECAUSE YOU IMAGINE IT'S USE. so basically, its not the thing you value, its what you THINK the thing is going to do in your life. that iPad has no value, you are imagining reading a book, checking emails... you are attaching the use of the thing in the context of living your life that is of value.

so.....WHEN YOU IMAGINE ITS USE, YOU IMAGINE THE CONTEXT. so not only do you think about what the thing is doing in your life, you had an imagined scope of where and how and when the thing is used for (the context). that's why you think the thing is good. you are really thinking thing-in-context is good, which you believe means the same thing (wrong)

YOU IMAGINE THE CONTEXT IS CONSTANT BECAUSE THE THING IS CONSTANT. yup, so when you buy an iPad, the iPad doesn't change its form, get moody, or become a different iPad at different times so you believe the context of use can stay the same when you buy the iPad, you are thinking about lying in bed, reading. when you're thinking of buying that apple, you are thinking about eating it in the next hour, the toaster and the warm toast etc. etc. etc. so when you're buying something, you're actually evaluating the value of the THING thinking that it is a  THING-IN-CONTEXT

here's the bad news, firms don't manufacture context. they manufacture things.
and the good  news? YOU 'manufacture' the context. and then magically, they come together and it is good.

that's co-creation for you.

but CONTEXT changes. context comes with contextual resources for you to be able to use, experience the thing. From simple contextual resources such as light to read, quietness to talk on the phone, to more complex 'emotional states' that lend resources such as mood (to enjoy a glass of wine), or composite combinational resources created by you and your environment, CONTEXT is not a simple concept. And context exist in layers as well - from a micro to a meso to a macro level (see Chandler and Vargo, 2011, Marketing Theory). Also, context is not external to you. YOU are part of the context. So is the thing. So the value creating system is YOU(ACTIVITY)-THING-ENVIRONMENT - that's context. change one, change all. change the 'goodness' created. change the value of the thing.

so what do firms mean when they talk about 'adding value'? well, ahem, they just assume you will do your part right? just like you thought the thing was constant and you decide to  manufacture all sorts of contexts to use the thing, the firm thinks YOU are constant and they decide to make better stuff (we hope). and they call that adding value because they want you to pay more NOT because they are giving you more 'goodness' (how can they do that, when they dont control the context?). what firms DON'T often get is when they change the thing, they often change the context that you need to 'manufacture' as well. example. mobile phones morphing into life-enabling-thing.

why does this matter? The world of connectivity is starting to enable different contexts, we can now 'see' context better, measure better (you see me talk a lot about context in my research into systems and how we are collecting 'verbs' etc. as measurement of contexts, I have an EPSRC research project on contextual invariances in energy consumption and business model). also, you see the rise of data analytics because the visibility of experience and consumption is giving rise to a new strategic lever for changes in behaviours and society - strategies surrounding CONTEXT. you also see things and contexts interacting at design stages.

so... for all those who really want to know what is value, how it's created and why people buy at higher or lower prices etc...........IT'S THE CONTEXT S****D.....

lol, i've always wanted to say that. next blog post (soon i hope).... more on contextual value...I will soon come to dematerialisation but these are a series of blog posts that would lead up to it.