The notion of supply chain collaboration, in its purest form, always held so much promise. When people spoke of it, I used to imagine this great coming together of brainpower, resources, and creative problem-solving insight. Collaboration -- most believed, myself included -- hinted at better supply and demand alignment and a less intense bullwhip effect.
Also, as Barbara Jorgensen has pointed out here, supply chain collaboration could help avert legal compliance and thorny social responsibility issues. (See Don’t Dictate – Collaborate.)
Undoubtedly, companies have had many collaborative successes, and I would be the first to applaud those efforts. Hyper-popular products, like Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)’s iPhone, can only reach the mass consumer market as quickly as they do because of dynamic, well oiled supply chain practices and partnerships.
But, frankly, while I’ve held onto this rosy interpretation of what collaboration is supposed to mean for quite some time, I have to fess up. I don’t think collaboration goes far enough. Really, how effective is collaboration if the biggest supply chain partner in any given ecosystem dictates the rules of the game and requires suppliers to implement obligatory procurement and logistics management programs? There will be a natural breaking point to those kinds of relationships.
Let me whisper an idea into your ear: Co-Creative Relationships.
I’m willing to bet more such business-to-business interactions will show up in the near future. I say this because, just in the last few weeks in other parts of my life, I’ve had several high-level personal and professional conversations with people across various industries who want to breathe life into this concept. (Honestly, by the time something like this reaches a reporter’s ears, you know more people are already talking -- or at least thinking -- about it.) Besides, co-creativity is already happening in the retail world, so why not carry it over to the business side of the fence?
For the record, I’m still researching this idea and can’t yet quote the folks I spoke to about this. But here’s my take on what it means in a general way and how it can be used by the electronics supply chain. Co-creativity extends the opportunity for all partners, suppliers, customers, internal functional teams, and stakeholders to play a bigger game. It engages participants in constantly evolving idea-generation and idea-sharing practices that allow individuals or companies to capture innovative thoughts and effectively execute ideas.
It’s like an endless feedback loop that keeps fueling product refinement, enhancement, and growth. This involves creative next-generation supply chain thinking and execution strategies: Build on the pre-established collaborative base; continually assess on-the-ground problems, solutions, and risks; take advantage of new media tools; and extend as many existing practices as feasibly possible to some not-yet-defined limit. The potential results will surely light up a supply chain executive’s eyes: lower risk, reduced costs, greater productivity, improved supplier-customer trust, and even more creative solutions to common problems.
In the B2C world, social networking tools have been instrumental in the rapid-fire communication crossover between end customers and corporate marketing or product development teams. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging platforms have amped up the business-consumer connections and given end-users a more decisive voice in long-term product planning. Empowered consumers, now accustomed to spirited interactions and instantaneous results, aren’t shy about communicating their desires to companies. And, companies that truly want to develop products consumers will buy have found ways to use this kind of interaction to their advantage.
Co-creativity, therefore, links people and ideas together in a vibrant way, and tears down the walls that have traditionally separated the makers from the buyers.
Perhaps, co-creative practices will finally deliver what supply chain collaboration promised but hasn’t fully achieved. Let’s think it through some more.
This week’s challenge: What are you hearing about co-creativity? Could this feasibly be the next-generation of supply chain collaboration, and how do you envision it coming together? What are you doing to be a co-creative force to reckon with, and what’s at stake if you and your team can successfully pull it off?