“The collaborative advantage is the new imperative for the coming decades”

Oliver Gassmann is Professor of Technology & Innovation Management at the University of St. Gallen. We spoke to the inventor of the “Business Model Navigator” about his new book “Collaborative Advantage” and asked him what opportunities this opening up to the outside world brings, why collaborative working in the ecosystem sometimes fails, what risks still remain and why there is still no alternative to networking in global business.
Oliver Gassmann talks about why there is no way around collaboration -c-Gassmann

Green Tech Valley: “The title of your new publication breaks with the prevailing concept of ‘competitive advantage’ by calling for ‘collaborative advantage’. What has changed? Why should managers rethink long-established approaches?”

Oliver Gassmann: “Up to now, generations of managers have learned how to develop competitive advantages using Porter’s thinking. It was usually about a limited playing field, the industry, where there are only zero-sum games. This means one wins at the expense of the other. Companies have to be better than their competitors. Today, these things have changed massively: Falling transaction costs via APIs and other standards are reducing the cost of cooperation. ubiquitous computing is generating huge amounts of data that can improve the customer journey. Modern AI, improved algorithms and, especially since the last decade, the new deep neural networks have enormously increased the possibilities of an improved customer journey. Customers also want a one-stop, competent and convenient service. For the new competition, this means New ecosystems are emerging along the customer journeys, with suppliers, partners and competitors working closely together to deliver an improved or new customer promise. However, ecosystems only work on the basis of close collaboration and mutually networked value creation systems. In short: the old industry analysis of competitive advantages has had its day. Competitive Advantage is being replaced by Collaborative Advantage, in which entire value chains compete with each other instead of just products or companies as in the past.”

Green Tech Valley: “You emphasize that the win-win formula is no longer sufficient in a competitive economy. What is the new, genuine added value?”

Gassmann: In the past, it was enough for a company to deliver added value for the customer and make a profit itself. Customer value and own profit are the classic win-win constellations. In modern ecosystems, however, the value chains are closely interlinked. It is no longer enough to offer the customer something. Business models must be designed in such a way that there are win-win-win constellations: The customer must have added value, that is clear, but all partners in the ecosystem must also benefit. That’s not always easy.” 

Green Tech Valley: “In science, collaborative work on problem areas has become a valuable tradition – the keyword is ‘open innovation’. Nevertheless, companies are still reluctant to open up too much. Are these fears unfounded?” Or to put it another way: doesn’t collaboration also harbor new risks, especially in international business?”

Gassmann: “From my 20 years of research in the field of open innovation, I can summarize: The risks of opening up are overestimated, the opportunities underestimated. People often go it alone for fear of knowledge drain. At the same time, enormous opportunities for concentrating on one’s own core competencies with leverage effects through smart partnerships are completely underestimated. Unfortunately, SMEs and mid-sized companies, which have few resources, are the least prepared for open cooperation. Large tech players are heavily involved in collaborations. This importance will increase even more with the current GenAI topics. A single company can hardly build large-scale language models from scratch; it is important to work with partnerships in order to deliver maximum added value for your own customers.”

Green Tech Valley: “What can we expect if these ecosystems are not played together? Who will take over the playing field?”

Gassmann: “I am firmly convinced that only those who cooperate will survive in the new world. There will still be lone wolves in niches, but the big growth potential will come from collaborations. The collaborative advantage is the new imperative for the coming decades.”

Green Tech Valley: “Broken down, what are the most important to-do’s in companies to effectively orchestrate agile, collaborative networks?”

Gassmann: “First of all, I would start with the ‘purpose’: Why do we need to collaborate? What is our vision? Where can we win more together? How can we create a better customer journey together? These questions need to be addressed very thoroughly. Shortcuts in setting goals and answering the ‘why’ question will come back to haunt you later. 

Secondly, it is important to shape an open mindset. This sounds easier than it is. Both organizations need to develop an open, learning-oriented culture. The good news is that this is possible. We have developed practical tools on how to create an open innovation culture and have received very positive feedback from industry and business.

Thirdly, there are sufficient methods for maintaining agility in collaborative innovation processes. It is important to learn as quickly as possible and to make mistakes early on. This is already standard today, but it only helps if the first two steps are successful.”

Green Tech Valley: “The companies in Green Tech Valley are characterized by a high degree of innovation. As an internationally recognized innovation management expert, what is your ‘tip’ for our companies?” 

Gassmann: “My robust tip is: think big, start small, make cheap mistakes and move faster. Big visions are important, but every journey starts with concrete first steps.”

Interview: Veronika Pranger


Veronika Pranger
Green Tech Valley – Communications

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