Business 2.0, Sustainability

Intrinsic and extrinsic value

I’ve been having some further thoughts relating to my previous post on value creation, platforms and trust, and the terms “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” value keep coming to mind.

Intrinsic value = “belonging to a thing by its very nature”

The way I’ve been thinking about the concept of “intrinsic value” is the underlying value a business/organisation provides, just by existing.  It’s the value, taken from the community/customer/environmental perspective, that is generated by the business simply existing.  It is the business’ core purpose — the reason that employees will be passionate about coming to work, and customers will be passionate about spreading the word.

In the case of Airbnb, the business exists to support people sharing their spare space.  This provides community value, whether you are a buyer or seller – it enables the community to do things it wouldn’t otherwise be able to do — i.e. afford to travel longer, generate financial return for disused space.  It also has environmental (and one could argue economic) value because it maximally utilises resources.

Similarly, GoGet creates a more convenient mode of transport at a lower cost to the customer.  It also reduces demand for resources (space for parking, one car shared among many people) and places the returns for efficiency back to the company, so they are incentivised to improve efficiency of vehicles etc.

Extrinsic value = “being outside a thing; outward or external”

What I conceive “extrinsic value” to mean is the economic value the business derives from its activity — i.e. financial return to the business.  This is the reward to the company/organisation for providing the intrinsic value that is its core purpose.

A strong intrinsic value proposition makes it much easier to generate these type of returns, as well as providing the broader social and environmental returns that might also be possible.

This is a shift in business thinking from extracting value from the market, to how to creating value for and with the market, and a refocusing on intrinsic value proposition —core purpose — to achieve deeper returns.

These terms might mean different things to different people (I know it means something very different in financial markets, for example), so I wonder if using this language makes sense?  But in any case, I hope it’s an useful take on focusing on core purpose to achieve business outcomes.

Business 2.0, Sustainability

Social innovation in business

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking (but clearly not a lot of blog writing!) about the idea of social innovation in a business context.  This ties into some previous thoughts I’ve posted about values and sustainability as a lens for innovation.

Two articles that I’ve come across recently expand on this concept.  The first is from Tim Draimin and focuses on shifting from Corporate Social Responsibility to Corporate Social Innovation.

In the article Tim references Michael Porter’s thoughts:

Michael Porter suggests that CSR has evolved.  He speaks about a concept he calls “shared value” or “corporate policies and practices that enhance the competitiveness of the company while simultaneously advancing economic and social conditions in the communities in which it operates.”

The thinking goes that while traditional CSR programs are often viewed as an adjunct to the core business, something that happens “to the side”, the idea of CSI is that the benefit comes from the core business itself.  (While I do have reservations about the Corporate Social Innovation moniker, I do think the concept has merit.)

This is akin to what Adam Werbach outlines in his book Strategy for Sustainability when he talks about North Star goals and aligning sustainability goals with core business activity.  To my mind this also very much aligns with the concept of “betterness models” as put forward by Umair Haque.

I was reminded of this article (which I read quite a few weeks ago now) when I came across Dan Gray’s post on delivering short-term “quick wins” for sustainability within the context of a longer-term sustainability agenda.

In his post he says:

The authenticity of your commitment stems from the materiality of your actions – i.e. beyond the thin veneer of charitable giving, cause-related marketing etc., that commitment should be self-evident in the very products and services you provide, and the manner in which you conduct your daily business.

And goes on to quote Jonathon Porritt:

In an ideal world, all actions taken by a company to enhance its own commercial success should simultaneously generate benefits for society, over and above those that come directly through the use of that company’s products and services.

There are, of course, a number of cultural drivers that make consideration along these lines important for businesses moving forward, and I think they tie into the shift we’re also seeing in relation to social technologies (social networks etc.).  A quick summary of my current thinking is that people are seeking:

  • Human connection: as organisations have grown in size and become more and more depersonalised, people are wanting more human interactions and personal response.
  • Authenticity and transparency: from greenwashing to the GFC, the market’s trust has been eroded.  People are looking for organisations to say what they mean and mean what they say.
  • Co-creation and collaboration: people are taking a more active role in developing the products and services that they use.  And if they don’t find what they’re looking for, they will often create it themselves.
  • Environmental and social responsibility: global warming, looming limits to natural resource consumption, pollution and waste; respect for human dignity with fair wages and conditions — people want to support organisations that take these issues seriously, not just as something “to the side”.

Building a business (or service/product/brand) that resonates in this new “economy of meaning” requires a rethinking of an organisation’s role in more than “market” or financial terms.  But also, I think, a re-evaluation of an organisation’s relationship with customers/constituents, stakeholders, and the environment.

And I believe that it is in this rethinking that significant opportunities for innovation can be found.

Business 2.0, Social media & networking

Building in meaning

Umair Haque’s post From Social Media to Social Strategy in the Harvard Business review (hat-tip: Michelle Williams) resonated with me, as I’ve been thinking along similar lines about building a more robust definition of “value” in a business context, beyond the financial bottom line:

… from Wall Street to Detroit to Big Pharma to Big Food to Big Energy. Our research suggests that 95% of organizations are unable to offer socially useful stuff that creates meaningful value for people, communities, and tomorrow’s generations.

Yet, most “social media” strategies have one or more of three goals: to “push product,” “build buzz,” or “engage consumers.” None of these lives up to the Internet’s promise of meaning. They’re just slightly cleverer ways to sell more of the same old junk. But the great challenge of the 21st century is making stuff radically better in the first place — stuff that creates what I’ve been calling thicker value.

I like the idea of “thicker” value – and I’ve also been wrestling with finding the right language to describe this concept. He goes on to say “Organizations don’t need ‘social media’ strategies. They need social strategies: strategies that turn antisocial behavior on its head to maximize meaning.”

This idea of “anti-social behaviour” is an interesting perspective on business attitudes and approaches. But that’s just a taste – the rest of Umair’s post is well worth the read also. Check it out…