In the world of service many people talk about the co-creation of value - the idea that customers and providers work together to create value in service. Take, for example, a restaurant. As a patron you and your companions (assuming you are not eating alone) help create the experience. You engage in conversation. You banter with the waiters. You compare and often share your food. In a more complex business-to-business setting, the provider of the service is often dependent on customer inputs. When maintaining complex engineered equipment, for example, customer feedback - what's working, what's not - is an essential input to the maintenance diagnosis process.
I have spent the last couple of days at the launch meeting of the NEMODE - New Economic Models in the Digital Economy - network. One of the most interesting themes to emerge for me was the idea of the co-evolution of business models, rather than the co-creation of value. An apposite example is provided by eBay. When eBay was first launched it was created as a market place for selling cheap, second-hand goods. The idea was that you could go to your garage, find an old set of tools, put them on eBay - a form of electronic car boot sale - and sell them, rather than trash them.
Over the years eBay has evolved - it has become a virtual market place. People use it to sell everything - from second hand garage items to new cars. Some use eBay as virtual store, selling their goods online. What has happened over the years is the users of eBay have found ways of using the platform that were never originally envisaged. As the users have innovated their use of the platform, eBay has responded and innovated its business model.
Co-evolution doesn't rest there - it is not just the interaction of customers and providers. You also have to consider the broader eco-system. Take, for example, Apple. Through the Apps store and through Apps themselves, Apple have created a platform that allows others to offer services (Apps) to customers. The three parties involved - Apps developers, Apple and the customers - are jointly co-evolving the business model. This raises an interesting question - how good are you are co-evolving your business model with your customers? Have you created a platform that allows the customers to find new ways of creating value? And if so, are you capable of spotting these customer innovations and incorporating them into your business model to allow the next round of co-evolution?