Use reciprocity as a tool for balancing value exchange.
There is a Nigerian proverb, attributed to the Yoruba people, that reads, “If I stand tall, it is because I stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before me.”
Hidden within the empathic context, is a message about adding your chiselled stone to the top of a pyramid of grand achievements, implying further that some work has to be done by those who answer the call of greatness.
This third article in the series on Ubuntu and Business Design (click here to view part 1, click here to view part 2) offers a view on the last component of the methodology, the implementation of innovation. From a market economy perspective, this part is possibly the most critical and is the metaphorical dotted line between design and business. Implementation is the performance component at the heart of strategy. Being the dark art that it is, strategy is a profession in its own right and has spurred libraries of knowledge on the subject. There are a myriad of strategy tools that hold value and are relevant to guide the implementation of choice. Regardless of the methodology chosen, we will focus rather on understanding value exchange in the stakeholder ecosystem as a means of managing risk in the context of creating value.
Reciprocity, in its positive sense, is epitomised by the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and mirrors Ubuntu in its circularity and empathic stance. But furthermore, in the business sense, it is also at the core of a good deal where both seller and buyer leave the marketplace content, with a desire to re-engage and re-experience that same contentment. Many social experiments have proven the inherent desire of humans to positively reciprocate a gesture of appreciation, whether it be a good deed, a smile or just a fair deal. What is unclear though, is the chicken and egg scenario of whether we genuinely wish to recognise others or whether we recognise others because we ourselves wish to be recognised. I think both is true and in its circularity does not matter as the outcome is the same – a feeling of satisfaction and a desire to relive the experience.
When we innovate, we are choosing to change the future. The simple choices we make have a ripple effect through the causality we have invoked through our actions. But how do we get to better understand the effects we are setting in motion, and how do we ensure those we wish to engage with are adequately reciprocated in the value we intend to create?
Take Uber, for example. Its booming global success can only be attributed to the value it has provided to its customers, yet there is destruction left in its wake that at every upturn threatens to derail their efforts (see Uber versus New York City). Disruption is an inescapable component of change. But by mapping the value exchange between stakeholders we can at the very least be informed of what that disruption (or value-add) may look like and then find creative ways of shifting resources to manage or better balance these effects if we so deem necessary.
The Business Design tools used for visualising value exchange borrow strongly from systems mapping. Typically, they comprise nodes of stakeholders linked by the flow of value to form a causal web that illustrates the exchange graphically and in one visualisation. The simplest exchange would thus be the seller and buyer nodes linked by the flow of money in one direction and the flow of goods in another. But this by far oversimplifies the relationship in the real world. The tool starts to reveal its genius when we extend our understanding of who the stakeholders are and even more so when we do the same for non-monetary value. If we looked at Uber again, we can easily extend our understanding of the stakeholders from the drivers, the customers and the company to include vehicle suppliers, service stations and valet services, for example. It gets interesting when we look at the different forms of value that these exchanges awaken. How could value be exchanged between the company and the valet service when there is no direct service between the two? We go further down the rabbit hole when we start adding nodes such as municipalities, the unemployed and metered cabs or, better still, minibus taxi drivers and owners as stakeholders in a bigger value exchange.
Consider employment as a form of value from the viewpoint of stakeholders such as the unemployed who may benefit from becoming Uber drivers and then the disruption leading to loss of employment by the metered cab driver. What resources may we be able to shift to be more inclusive of the value we create to, at the least, buffer the disruption we are invoking, to make our implementation more robust or, better still, what new value may we create that the disruption has made opportune? Uber now stands at the edge of backlash from some of these very same participants of the ecosystem they are undoubtedly a part of. It is interesting to observe and offers an opportunity to witness the difference between reciprocal value exchange and resources traded from power positions.
Following this thought process as far as our imagination allows leads us to uncover relationships we have not previously considered and challenges our understanding of how far we are willing to push the boundary of who we consider stakeholders. This reveals strategic touchpoints that are worthy of our consideration as they bring to light opportunities to mitigate risks further down the road and build a more stable ecosystem as our business evolves.
As South Africans, we seem a long way from untangling ourselves from power as the principal form of engagement. Unless we are able to unclench our dependence on physical and mental barriers and this unwillingness to engage with and include on equal footing the disparate groups in our society, innovation efforts for the sake of economic upswing or social upliftment, will remain but a fleeting illusion. As alluded to in the previous articles, our differences needn’t be a stumbling block to new value. Instead, our diversity is an asset to be leveraged, but requires the sharing of value grounded in the principles of reciprocity, and is the key to unlocking trust. Power always leads to extraction, which is a one way road to depletion and stagnation. Ubuntu in its circularity recognises the sharing of value and the contributions of others in a far more sustainable manner. Business Design gives us the tools with which to accomplish this.
If we are searching for a better future through innovation, perhaps this is a good place to start.
Jason Falken is a Geospatial and Business Design Professional. He is a 2013 UCT Graduate School of Business MBA alumnus who went on to study Business Design and Integrative Thinking at Rotman School of Management in Toronto, Canada.
This article appeared in the September 2015 issue of HR Future magazine.
Click here to view part 1.
Cclick here to view part 2.