There are three ways to add value: make something others need/want, provide a service others value, but not enough to do it themselves, and deliver a totally satisfying experience around a package of something(s) made and services provided.

When I entered the business world in the U.S. some forty-plus years ago, it was all about exploiting natural resources elsewhere and making things in highly, vertically-integrated production enterprises. Over the last 25 years, there has been a distinct split between making things and providing services others would rather not spend their time doing, vertically-integrated firms were decentralized and distributed, and U.S. businesses have “gone global” in an effort to exploit human resources elsewhere. During the last 10 years, there has been a significant uptick in melding a particular desired experience with things and services to provide an integrated, experiential package. The work I currently do with businesses and non-profit organizations focuses on helping them take advantage of this shift and get more efficient and effective at doing the integration and promoting the anticipated experience with customers.

A Working Example

The process Andrius Kulikauskas followed in the Chocolate Project to collect and compile information about the chocolate industry yielded a potential goldmine of business opportunities. These include:

  • Making things–beans, nibs, cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, finished chocolate products ready for retail
  • Providing services such as logistics, inventory management, quality assurance, traceability, trading, etc.
  • Developing integrated, experiential packages using chocolate as the centerpiece (more)

For that matter, the process, tools, and techniques Andrius used for the project can be replicated in other projects where there is a similar opportunity to merge openness with the proprietary in ways that “do no harm.” Some of the approaches Andrius used in the Chocolate Project include the following:

  • Working openly / working in parallel wiki where all the information gathered was categorized and posted for the world to look over the participants’ shoulders and see
  • Focused moderation to keep collaborative energies and efforts in the spaces where the value would be greatest for the sponsor
  • Direct correspondence with the sponsor to assure that proprietary boundaries are honored

No doubt there are more. The point isn’t to be exhaustively philosophical in what they are, but to apply the ones we can do elsewhere for broader benefit. As an example, currently, I am floating the concept of a wiki to a private sector client wherein key questions related to the business are posed by the moderator. The wiki is organized to “catch” the responses in ways that prompt more questions and accelerate the exploration of those strategic spaces where the client’s business will be heavily influenced over the next 5 – 10 years.

As another example, several colleagues and I are completing a grant proposal which will be submitted later this month that explores characteristics of leadership in institutional contexts where the key objective is to prompt a higher rate of adaptation and responsiveness within non-profit organizations. One of the major elements of the strategy we are proposing is the use of a moderated wiki a la the Chocolate Project. Our intent is to create an extensive library of information on the wiki about leadership that is open to all, yet we are able to extract and compile specific content into publications that target particular audiences within the non-profit arena.

The Bottom Line

This approach can be leveraged / applied over and over again to generate an enormous amount of information on a particular subject, identify potential candidates to participate in a supportive broad-based network, and develop opportunities to add value. However, adding value is only half of the equation…

On New Year’s Day, there was a posting on the Yahoo! Group, Cyfranogi from Stephen DeMeulenaere, about the organization he represents–Complementary Currency. It makes a strong connection between adding value and receiving fair compensation. When people are compensated, in part, with a complementary currency that remains in the local community where it was earned, its expenditure continues to benefit the community. The bulk of mainstream financial systems used to compensate people for value-add are extensions of hierarchical and global political / economic systems. They are organized to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a few. As a result, when people are compensated solely by these global federally-backed currencies their expenditures remove the purchasing power from the community to a place far afield from the point of value-add.

Finding Alternatives

Unfortunately, there is no system we can devise that escapes this reality–inequalities among people drive inequalities in access to power and wealth. What we can do, though, is experiment with more locally-based complementary currency systems that mitigate the forces of concentrating wealth on the global level from draining creativity, energy, and resources from local communities. Andrius’ approach to blending federally-backed compensation with home-grown complementary currency compensation on the Chocolate Project is a start. As this blending is pursued on other projects, the experience base will be broadened and the mettle of the emerging complementary currency systems tested so the combination between the two becomes more robust, scalable, and, ultimately, effective.

Projects born in a social network are only as good as there are participants representing a wide and comprehensive set of perspectives about the topics under consideration. People are attracted to these efforts within a social network by a variety of reasons: alignment on the values the project leader and other participants hold dear and readily espouse, affinity for and commitment to the cause being advanced by the project, recognition for performance which can be carried into other opportunities where more compensation is available, and fair compensation for value-add. Obviously, the more of these a project offers the higher the likelihood of widespread participation. For this reason, if an alternative to federally-backed currencies can be offered which fairly compensates people for the value their contributions add then, the chances are substantially increased that the creative talent, skill, and expertise in the social network can be tapped. The challenge is to know that we are no where close to where we need to be and to keep trying!

Originally posted by Steve Bosserman on Tuesday January 3 2006 on Diary of a Knowledge Broker

Photo Credit: Original image ‘Green Wheat‘ by Phillipe Put on Flickr Commons