There are sometimes revolutions in business thinking and business approaches that some of us miss because they originate in academia. There’s no pipeline for these ideas from their origin to their application in business firms. Academia is isolated, and businesses are too busy to search for the information and make the adaptations necessary for effective application in the real world. But there’s value to be uncovered and released, if businesses put in the effort.
One such revolution began with an article in the January 2004 issue of the Journal Of Marketing by Stephen L. Vargo & Robert F. Lusch, titled Evolving to a New Dominant Logic for Marketing. The underlying logic was simple:
Marketing inherited a model of exchange from economics, which had a dominant logic based on the exchange of “goods,” which usually are manufactured output. The dominant logic focused on tangible resources, embedded value, and transactions. Over the past several decades, new perspectives have emerged that have a revised logic focused on intangible resources, the cocreation of value, and relationships. The authors believe that the new perspectives are converging to form a new dominant logic for marketing, one in which service provision rather than goods is fundamental to economic exchange.Stephen L. Vargo & Robert F. Lusch, Evolving to a New Dominant Logic for Marketing, Journal of Marketing January 2004
The authors called their new logic “Service-Dominant Logic”. The source article has generated a still-ongoing torrent of further development and discussion. The idea of a revolution in business thinking – a new dominant logic – has been very compelling. The authors referred to the new ways of thinking as “inversions” – turning traditional thinking upside down. Here, for example, is a summary of a 2015 article of theirs in Marketing Theory: Inversions Of Service-Dominant Logic. Inversion #1 is the one that particularly caught my attention.
1. Entrepreneurship over Management
Much of management thought has its roots in the Industrial Revolution, focused on control of large, bureaucratic organizations. The hallmark is efficiency, with bureaucratic central planning and top down management command and control, extended to sub disciplines such as marketing management, human resource management, customer management, financial management, supply chain management and information systems management. Entrepreneurial approaches to business are seen as the exceptions, such as start-ups, small business.
Entrepreneurship should be viewed as the rule, rather than the exception. Systems generate value through resource integration and service exchange in a continuous flow of emergence. There is no end state to optimize or to manage towards. Business is the ongoing discovery of new solutions to evolving human problems – market making. Entrepreneurial activities are fundamental to value creation in ecosystems. Management of bureaucratic firms is a special, limited case, temporarily required in institutionalized forms in institutionalized markets.
2. Effectual over Predictive Processes
The theory and practice of management is anti-entrepreneurial. Writing and building detailed plans about highly institutionalized markets, supported with detailed financial predictions that become the guiding framework for management action, resource allocation, marketing strategy and control. It’s a Newtonian view: maximizing economic value to shareholders via pulling levers of product attributes, price, promotion and channels to produce the result. A bureaucratic structure is established and management is a rules-based activity to be “played” correctly.
Effectual processes assume the future is unpredictable. Human action can shape outcomes through the exercise of choice; goals are emergent, changing and negotiable. Planning is counter-productive, and uncertainty and unpredictability are embraced as opportunities for market making or reshaping and new approaches to value generation. Learning comes from trying and imagining. It’s the natural practice of human actors.
3. Marketing over manufacturing.
In management, there is a focus on being “productive”, with a primacy of “product”, which can be traced back to Adam Smith and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. National wealth could be advanced through the application of labor (applied specialized knowledge and skills) to create tangible, exportable goods. A preoccupation with manufacturing and productivity led to affordable supply exceeding market development and hence to the systematic study of marketing – in a supporting role to manufacturing: taking units of output to market to be sold. Marketing has been trying to dig itself out of this stepchild role.
Service-Dominant Logic sees marketing as primary: the creation, increasing and recreating of markets (through innovative approaches to resource integration and service provision) as the essential purpose of the firm. Marketing and innovation are the same.
The firm is removed from a primary, central role in value creation to the role of participant in the value creation process for others in the context of service ecosystems. Marketing is a transcending function. It can’t be outsourced.
4. Innovation over invention
invention is an isolated device or process. To become innovations, they must be connected to actors in service ecosystems to become institutionalized solutions to human problems through co-ordinated development of a supportive, contextual environment. Value is created through innovation, not invention.
5. Effectiveness over efficiency
The Industrial Revolution pursued efficiency: productivity, doing more and more with fewer and fewer resources, and the elimination of “waste”. It’s producer-centric. Effectiveness is a user-centric concept, captured in value-in-experience. Without effectiveness, efficiency is a moot issue. Understanding this relationship is critical to innovation and value generation.
6. Heuristics over rationality
The rational decision-making of homo economicus persists in neo-classical economics, even in the form of bounded rationality. Heuristics can be more robust for human decision-making than calculation, and play an important role in decision making. Heuristics work for people because they are adapted to their environmental structure, including institutions that provide short cuts to value-related decisions. Rationality is a subcategory of heuristic thought.
Turn Your Thinking Upside Down
These inversions are thought provoking. They seem entirely appropriate for our time. Ask yourself what other aspects of your business thinking merit this kind of re-examination and inversion. Nothing is sacred.