What Derrida might say about Building the Co-Creative Enterprise and improving Business Processes

In the October issue of the Harvard Business Review, Venkat Ramaswamy and Francis Gouillart explore an interesting thesis regarding  how to build what they term the Co-Creative Enterprise in their article entitled “Building the Co-Creative Enterprise.”    They suggest that instead of simply paying lip service to the idea of involving stakeholders in the design of products, services, and business processes, companies need to truly involve them in the process.  This idea in itself is not new or ground breaking.  However, the authors go a little further by explaining and observing in their own consulting work, that the stakeholder won’t fully participate in the co-creative process unless they are given a way to generate value for themselves.  So even though the explicit objective is to improve the customer experience, Ramaswamy and Gouillart explain that, “generating new experiences for end customers often requires designing better experiences for internal players, a fact frequently overlooked in conventional process analysis.”  To put it more bluntly, it might be time to start listening to the seemingly selfish gripesof your employees if you want to improve your business processes.

The authors go on to give several great examples from their own work.  In one example they describe how the key to an improved insurance sales process involved taking into consideration the “junior advisors’ desire for career advancement.”  As the authors point out, this is not something that traditionally gets considered in classic process design where the problem would normally be addressed by asking, “How should we redesign the steps …to minimize cost and time …while meeting the requirements of the customer.”  Thinking about the career aspirations of a junior advisor position would definitely not enter into this classic Six Sigma stance on how to redesign a business process before automating it in bpm software or workflow software.  However, in this case, listening to this perspective yielded dramatic results.

In another great example the author’s talk about an Indian call center that really looked deeply at the perspective of the call center employees and decided that by letting the employees apply in groups with their friends, the needs of the agents would be better met.  This is definitely what I would call radical business process redesign!  Taking into account the needs of the call center agents to the extent that they encouraged groups of friends to apply together for positions that they then managed together – that is avant guard without a doubt.   The interesting point here is that this call center turned on its head the concept of thinking first and foremost about the customer.  In this case by looking first at the point of view of a key stakeholder, the company eventually provided a better experience for the customer.

I think that the authors might want to look at the work of the French philosopher Jaques Derrida and the concepts of deconstructionism that he popularized.    Deconstructionism tries to demonstrate that any text is not a discrete whole that can be interpreted by a given absolute point of view but rather contains multiple irreconcilable and contradictory meanings.  In other words, any given text has more than one interpretation and more than one reality.  Ramaswamy and Gouillart are simply expanding this from “text” to “enterprise?”  And isn’t the idea of the C0-Creative Enteprise just that? – A validation of the multiplicity of perspectives and interests that make up any product, service, or business process?   I believe it is, and I think that the Co-Creative Enterprise will yield even greater fruits than what Ramaswamy and Gouillart have been able to achieve in their writing and consulting, if we understand this fact from the very beginning.  It isn’t that we are necessarily looking for disgruntled employees in order to try to figure out how to improve a business process, but we do have to recognize that there is no such thing as “enterprise” and “customer.”  A customer (of which there are many) interacts with employees, people, teenagers, aspiring managers, single moms, moonlighting artists, etc (and these perspectives make up the enterprise).

As with Deconstructionism, the author’s are challenging the idea that business process reengineering should assume that there is a single truth, i.e. that of cost and the customer, and recognize that there are a diversity of perspectives that create the reality behind how today’s products, services, and business processes are delivered.

Perhaps Faulkner‘s As I Lay Dying should become required reading in business schools for business process management and business process reengineering coursework?  This American classic from the 1930s is a truly seminal work in deconstructionist literature and clearly throws into question the idea of an objective view of any narrative.   For those of you that haven’t read it, this great American novel is a “single” story told by 15 different narators about how a family tries to honor the dying wish of Addie Bundren to be burried in the town of Jefferson, Mississippi.    What it teaches us, however, is that there is no single story that is the true story.

So, just think about this, the next time you try and analyze a business process in your company.  After all, a business process is simply a narrative, or a text as Derrida would say – one where we cannot take for granted that there is no supreme or correct point of view or objective reality.  And as Ramaswamy and Gouillart demonstrate, by questioning the existince of a single process point of view, we may just end up delivering what we are seeking- better service, lower costs, and happier customers.

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