Cooperative Innovation Trumps Collaborative Innovation
Matt McAlister makes a distinction between leading and managing in this examination of Chinese motorcycle supply chain dynamics:
Matt McAlister, Leadership lessons from China
John Seely Brown and John Hagel examine how a network of motorcycle parts assemblers in China break traditional centralized management tactics to optimize for innovation in a paper called “Innovation blowback: Disruptive management practices from Asia.”
In the Chinese city Chongquing a supplier-driven network of parts developers work together under the loose guidance of their customers rather than under the orders of assemply-line management:
In contrast to more traditional, top-down approaches, the assemblers succeed not by preparing detailed design drawings of components and subsystems for their suppliers but by defining only a product’s key modules in rough design blueprints and specifying broad performance parameters, such as weight and size. The suppliers take collective responsibility for the detailed design of components and subsystems. Since they are free to improvise within broad limits, they have rapidly cut their costs and improved the quality of their products.
As a manager, when you define what is to be done and how it is to be done, then you are setting the exact expectation of what is to be delivered. There is no room for exceeding expectations, only for failing to meet expectations. Your best-case scenario is that you will get what you asked for.
So, let me get this straight: instead of detailing exactly what you want, you provide the minimum requirements for what you want and allow each part of the supply chain do whatever else they want to do? Sounds pretty cool to me… sort of like saying “I want a TV, but it can also be a microwave oven, too.” And the more ingenious the change/add-on/innovation the more the individual part of the supply chain has invested in the finished product. This, instead of every part being just a link in a mindless conveyor belt. Like I said, sounds pretty cool to me!