Futurist Predicts Reciprocity Will Be Biggest Innovation Opportunity in History

“The fact that I say something like this is worth noting.”

Reciprocity-Based Innovation Will Be Biggest Innovation Opportunity in History
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“Reciprocity is the currency of the cloud,” claims Bob Johansen, distinguished fellow at The Institute for the Future. “IBM is the best example of this. They practically give away the software and then sell consulting at high margins.”

Johansen is so impressed with reciprocity he calls it Bob’s Biggest Forecast, claiming it will drive more innovation than any other opportunity in history.

“I make ten year forecasts, so I’m usually understated,” he insists with a smile. “The fact that I say something like this is worth noting.”

He points to TEDx as testament of reciprocity’s power to add value while ceding control. Organizers of the popular TED conferences “give away” the TED talk concept to independently organized events such as TEDxBoston, and in return the original TED has become more elite and higher priced.

Voluntary Sharing

“You have to ask, can I protect this product anyway?” he says, using the Microsoft Kinect rollout as an example of what he calls Involuntary Reciprocity-Based Innovation, in which third party developers adapted the technology for purposes other than the original product intent.

Lamar Johnson, executive director of the Center for Customer Insight & Marketing Solutions, and a former Procter & Gamble marketing executive, notes that P&G now opens its technical patent vault with the intent to capture increased value in that intellectual property after others have added their innovations.

“There is a definite move amongst progressive companies to become more reciprocal,” he says, pointing to General Mills, which allows other companies to use its wheat genome research.

Can the approach backfire? Kapil Jain, senior lecturer in marketing at the McCombs School of Business, is a proponent of reciprocity as an innovation tool, but he adds a caution.

“What comes to mind is outsourcing the manufacturing function to low-cost sources. There are numerous reports of loss of IP and eventual failure of the business relationship,” Jain reminds us, placing much of the blame on failure of trust, which must underlie any reciprocity arrangement.

Apply With Care

“Reciprocity is not the answer to all business scenarios,” agrees Johnson. “Companies have to balance the risks, but this is definitely a viable business option today, versus not even being considered just a few short years ago.”

Bob Johansen, Author of Leaders Make the FutureJohansen foresees reciprocity as one more way to deal with the dilemmas that face human society, and he is unconcerned about the specifics of how that will happen.

“Clarity is very different from certainty,” he reminds us. “You want clarity, but you do not want certainty, because it is not a certain world.”

Bob Johansen was a keynote speaker at the McCombs Marketing Conference 2012 hosted by the Center for Customer Insight and Marketing Solutions, and the CCIMS Marketing Fellows, February 16 and 17, 2012.

Dr. Bob Johansen, Author of Leaders Make the Future, on Thriving in a VUCA World


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