Educating the bottom of the pyramid or of the market: the difference between Prahalad and Christensen

On first sight, the approaches of Prahalad (bottom of the pyramid) and Christensen (disruptive innovation) seem very similar. New firms offer products with less functionality at lower prices, making the products affordable for more customers, especially those with lower incomes.

It is even so that firms who aim for the bottom of the pyramid will be disruptive in their market in the sense that their new offerings will replace the old products and so the old firms.

 However, at a more fundamental level both approaches differ substantially from each other. Prahalad tries to combine social responsibility, capitalism and social welfare in a sustainable way. By producing for the millions, a small profit rate can generate enough absolute profits for a sustainable development of the firm.

Christensen describes a situation in which small firms are able to offer a product of a lesser quality for a lower price to both existing and new customers. By offering less functionalities and a lower technological quality they attack the lower end of the market, where the profit rates for the existing firms is lowest. Yet, when the last of the high-cost high-price firms has left this segment, competition will drive the price towards its zero-profit level. This will induce the low-cost firms to innovate their products, adding quality and functionalities, and attacking the new bottom of the market. This process will be continuing until the top of the market has become the new bottom.

[For non-economists: Profits is often used in several ways; here Prahalad uses the word profits for the income of the firms; at the zero-profit level of Christensen, firms have a 'normal' level of income; so not to worry, no people starve because of this kind of competition]

I see the same fundamental difference in the approach to Open Education. People and institutes involved in the production, distribution and research of Open Educational Resources do this because they see a linkage between social responsibility, welfare and offering education towards people whose access is financially or otherwise restricted.

Business models for OER are conducted in line with the approach of Prahalad. Given the need for free education for the bottom of the pyramid, how can this be organized in a sustainable way? This concentrates not only on the kind of earning models, but especially on efficient ways of production and organization.

 

Other initiatives, as Moocs and the online offerings of for-profit educational institutes, have explicit earning models. For example, most Mooc-platforms have contracts which contain regulations about the usage of the courses in commercial settings, about the usage of learning data or about future income selling student data to prospecting employers. For-profit institutions see students as customers, stripping all academic overheads, making the student an offering which is inferior in the eyes of the traditional educational sector, but sufficient in the eyes of the potential student.

This could induce a disruptive development, in which the Moocs and for-profit institutions move upmarket; each time segmenting the market more by offering the lowest quality at the lowest price, adding to this with an increasing price until they replace the traditional institutions.

 

Problem is that once offerings move from the not-for-profit towards the for-profit sector, the price mechanism will not automatically take negative externalities into account. Political agencies which set the goals for not-for profit institutions often take into account other goals. In the case of educational institutions, not only the direct effect on the carrier of the students, but also on social welfare and the relationship between research, education and economic and social growth.

One actual effect can be seen: for-profit institutions which concentrate solely on education can offer educational programs at fees which are below the fees of traditional institutions. One of the reasons for this is the fact that they have lower cost as they have not to pay for the investment in new knowledge (research). Often they work with part-time teachers, who gather their knowledge elsewhere. By acting in this way, for-profit institutions forego both direct research costs and indirect coordination costs.

Assuming education has major positive external effects on general welfare. Most functions associated with these effects will be removed as part of the reduction in quality which is part of the disruptive tendency as described by Christensen and others. In this sense, disruption of education is one of the worse things which could happen to a creative competitive society.

Creative Innovation thanks to the wisdom of crowds

In this blog I would like to return to one of my earlier central themes: business models, co-creation and collaboration. As the Business Canvas of Osterwalder shows, there are two linkages between the value proposition and the customers: the customer relationships and distribution channels.

One of my students, Rick op den Brouw, wrote a Msc-thesis on critical success factors of co-creation. Based on nine case studies, he concluded that -among others- the chosen strategy of co-creation and the actual business model not always coincide (4 of 9). However, most of the theoretical expected results of co-creation, as an increase in sales and a reduction in risks, were realized.

©Business Model Generation by Alex Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur

Romero en Molina (2011) try to describe co-creation on a more concrete level. The role of the customers changes in this approach. No longer are they seen as the destroyers of the value produced by the firms. Instead, the act of consumption is seen as the ultimate contribution to the creation of value. A product or service not consumed is without value.

In this process of co-creation of value are several possible partnerships of the consumers.

  • Co-designers, in which customers are used as partners to generate, develop and test new ideas.
  • Innovators, where organizations give so-called toolkits to make their own products and services; the knowledge gathered in this process is used to improve the original product or service.
  • Marketeer/Branders, customers become marketeers, for example for event marketing or lifestyle marketing. Viral marketing, on-line word-of-mouth commercials is mentioned as one of the most effective instruments.
  • Social Corporate Responsibility, by entering a dialog with the customers as stakeholders, the organization can reach a common perspective with respect to the effects of a product or service on the environment. Customers are not only involved with the CSR of an organization as passive clients, they participate actively by using the products or services.

Technical and social developments facilitate collaborative networked environments, in which organizations collaborate with so-called con-colleagues. Romero en Molina (2011) call these networks collaborative network organizations (CNO). Although these play a central role in Prahalad and Krishnan’s co-creation, Romero en Molina (2011) do not go into the role of the CNO’s in co-creation.

Next to the organizations do customers organize themselves in on-line communities; Romero en Molina (2011) call these Virtual Customer Communities (VCC’s). The VCC’s are aimed at discussing shared experiences with products and services.

These communities can be used to realize eight different kinds of co-creation:

1. Adjusting Products (IKEA);
2. developing new products (Procter & Gamble);
3. Feedback and evaluation (Microsoft Knowledge Base);
4. Mass-customisation (NIKE);
5. Using customer creativity (LEGO);
6. Developing new services using old services (TeliaSonera);
7. Real-time marketing and adjustments to services (FEDEX);
8. Personified value and knowledge creation (IPod/Itunes).

The examples above require new core-competences. To realize the diversity of demands, to react to the increase agility and the increasing complexity, an organization has to be flexible, agible and adaptive.

In the contacts with (potential) customers and co-creators, the Virtual Consumers Communities play a central role. To stimulate the creation of the VCC around your products or services, Romero and Molina (2011) give ten tips:

  1. Invite the right customers, keep the community private and be familiar with the essential characteristics of the customers (which is more than the geographic or demographic facts).
  2. See members of the community as advisers, not as simple marketing instruments.
  3. Focus on the interests of the members, not necessary on those of the organization.
  4. Create common activities and rituals.
  5. Be open and honest, even as the facilitator of the community.
  6. If you want information, ask for it.
  7. Listening is better than talking.
  8. Don’t ignore the negative, learn from these comments.
  9. Don’t ask to much.
  10. Communities are about people, not about technics.

Romero en Molina (2011) concentrate their analyze at the customer side of the organization by describing the success factors of the VCC’s, giving less attention to the collaborative network organizations (CNO).

The research of Bengtsson en Kock (2000) concentrates on collaboration, especially on those firms which are both competitors as collaborators. They analyzed several companies in three different industries. For example, Skega Ltd. and Trellex Ltd. worked together developing new materials, whereas they are competitors in the field of lining materials. In the deary industry, companies work together in developing means of transport, but simultaneously protecting their geographical markets. In the beer industry, bottles are standardized so the collection of empty bottles can be done in cooperation  whereas they compete through lifestyle – marketing and brand loyalty.

The conclusions of Bengtsson en Kock (2000) are:

  • heterogeneity of resources stimulates collaboration;
  • firms collaborate on the input side of the organisation, whereas they compete on the output side;
  • – the decision to collaborate or compete is a strategic decision, it involves the position of the organization within the network;
  • individuals can not be responsible for both collaboration and competition;
  • the combination of collaboration and competition within the same organization will give rise to internal conflicts and stress, which should be addressed by the top management.

Combining Bengtsson and Kock (2000) with Romero and Molina (2011) we can state that with respect to the development of a N=1/R=G strategy, involving co-creation and networks, organisations have developed good practices with respect to the consumer side  but the development of virtual network-organizations lags behind. The rise of the Organization 3.0 (Marco Derksen) might be predicted, but not yet realized.

Literature:

Cover of "Business Model Generation: A Ha...

Bengtsson, M., S. Kock (2000), “Coopetition” in Business Networks—to Cooperate and Compete Simultaneously, Industrial Marketing Management, Volume 29, Issue 5, September, Pages 411-426

Romero, D., A. Molina (2011), Collaborative networked organisations and customer communities: value co-creation and co-innovation in the network era, Production Planning and Control: The Management of Operations, 22: 5-6, 447 -472

Opening up: Open Innovation in a closed market?

When Paul Prinsloo asked me if Chesbrough’s funnel could be open on both sides, the economist in me cried NoNoNo!

This initial reaction is caused by schooling in traditional economic thinking. The concise version of this reasoning is as follows. Firms have to invest funds in research and development. Only 20% of the projects started will survive towards the stage of commercialization, where another part will be lost in the implementation stage. This means that, once the final product or service is on the market, the profits have to be large enough to compensate the firm for all initial investments, including failures and restarts. To generate profits of this size, the firm has to have some kind of monopoly power for a given period. This can be guaranteed through some specific competences, materials but mostly through property rights and patents.

The theory tells us that in a world without protection, the firm which makes the initial costs will not earn enough before its competitors enter the market with imitations or even improvement on the initial innovation. Innovative firms will go bankrupt, so there will be too little or even no innovation in this world.

Open innovation still depends on property rights, but it changes the situation in the sense that inventions, patents and innovations are bought and sold. Firms search externally for usable patents and supply their inventions and patents to the market if they deviate to much of the existing business model. Chesbrough assumes that through this mechanism costs will decrease and efficiency will increase as more research is used in innovations and failures will only influence the innovating firm (how these costs are influence the collective wealth is unclear in his model).

So open innovation is about increasing cooperation, but within a market setting. However, cooperation will lead to shared experiences and this can result in shared values, creating more business opportunities.

Collaboration is also necessary because on the output side of the model things are changing. Firstly, there is the influence of ict. For a lot of business, their main function was to select and stock products, produced by others. For example publishers (both of music and books), who selected the writers and bands of good quality, took care of the distribution of their work and made a living by selling these products. In essence, this is the same for super markets, which decide which goods to offer to the consumers, choosing from a large range of alternatives.

 

However, as Chris Anderson described in The Long Tail, in a web based society producers can place their products on websites, whether self published books, music or specialized goods which were normally not chosen by large risk adverse companies. Although some authors, composers, bands and small producers will act purely on their own, others search for collaboration to share sales channels; using each other traffic on the website to generate trade for themselves, see for example the Strange New Products website or Weird Music.Web.

Secondly, the tendency towards co-creation. Accepting the fact that value is created in the use of products, not in the sales transaction, the buyer plays a major role in realizing the full value of a product or a service. To give a consumer the freedom, to adapt the product or service to his or her own wishes, collaboration with other firms is almost unavoidable.

Taking those two tendencies together, the market side of firms is opening up, requiring the input side to open up. Open innovation makes co-creation and specialization possible, but market developments in their turn push collaboration (and by that open innovation): opening up one side of the process will cause the other side to open up too.

Berkeleyan, Hulda Nelson imageOpenness means different things in different fields. Open in the sense of open source means free. Open access in the sense of the British government means that the producer (author) pays for the deliverance of his product, open in open education can mean without start qualifications or gratis. Open innovation means that the research outputs are shared over the borders of the firm, caused by or stimulating co-creation on the output side of the firm; increasing access to knowledge and innovation without fundamentally changing property rights.

Another difference is that –despite the fact that all behaviour is free- the openness in innovation and co-creation is enforced by the market forces, whereas openness in software and education mostly is voluntary. Perhaps a nice subject for another blog?