Category Archives: partnerships

Collaborate to Innovate: Learning to Unlock Value from Your Alliances and Partnerships

How can you achieve competitive advantage using your alliances and partnerships?

What is “Network Advantage” and how can your company benefit from its collaborations with customers, suppliers and competitors?

How do giants like Philips and Samsung achieve profitable growth using their alliances?

I recently gave a 7 min TEDx-style talk for INSEAD Alumni reunion to answer these questions.

Collaborate to Innovate: Learning to Unlock Value from Your Alliances and Partnerships

How can you achieve competitive advantage using your alliances and partnerships?

What is “Network Advantage” and how can your company benefit from its collaborations with customers, suppliers and competitors?

How do giants like Philips and Samsung achieve profitable growth using their alliances?

I recently gave a 7 min TEDx-style talk for INSEAD Alumni reunion to answer these questions.

Make Wine with Me: How to Use Small Wins to Build Trust Between Partner Companies



Douro Boys is a group of five independent wineries in the Douro River Valley in Portugal that built an alliance network after realizing that they could not compete on their own. The partners act almost as a single firm, sharing knowledge about wine making and markets. Their wines, such as “Quinta do Vallado” or “Niepoort” now routinely get over 90 points by the Wine Spectator and sales have doubled over the last ten years.

As I write in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, they achieved this through an unusual exercise: the CEOs of the five companies decided to pool a small amount of their best wine to make 500 bottles of a one-off premium wine they called the “Douro Boys Cuvee”. They auctioned the bottles off at Christie’s at an average price of 300 euros, a price that put the Portuguese wine on par with high-end Bordeaux. The success of this small joint project instilled a strong sense of collective achievement among the member companies, which helped them to work on other projects much more effectively.

Douro Boys solved the problem of trust building among alliance partners by achieving a small win, an initiative (or a small number of initiatives) that partners can accomplish within a maximum of twelve (or even six) months after starting collaboration. We are not talking about conquering a new geographical market or investing millions of dollars in joint R&D. A small win can be as simple as winning a new client together or modifying an existing product to serve a small new customer segment.

When I started working on my book Network Advantage: How to Unlock Value from Your Alliances and Partnerships, I was often struck by how little attention alliance partners pay to the importance of small wins.  They tend to focus instead on mobilizing their stakeholders around big, audacious goals.

Setting such goals is important, of course, but you first need to develop trust. Otherwise, a partner will not share their knowledge or resources with you. And the small win is the shortest way towards developing trust: it helps partners to learn about one another and develop informal rules of collaboration. This leads to familiarity, familiarity leads to trust, and trust leads to improved information and/or resource sharing.

Here’s another example. N2build is a startup that wants to disrupt the construction industry by using new composite materials. For example, some of the innovative fuselage material in a Boeing Dreamliner could also be used to make wall panels or roofs for houses. The new composites have higher insulation properties, are more resistant to the elements and, after substantial R&D, can cost much less to manufacture than conventional building materials.

N2Build has a large network of R&D alliances: it collaborates with researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and INEGI (National Institute of Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Management), the eminent Portuguese research institute.

But researchers are often not the best collaborators: they tend to prefer to work on solving problems within their academic disciplines without engaging in cross-department collaboration. What’s more, institutions like these are accustomed to working with multinational corporations or space agencies rather than startups. INEGI in particular was skeptical of N2build’s ambitious goals. The small, yet decisive win for N2Build was to organize seminars within INEGI that brought together scientists from INEGI’s different departments to discuss the idea of how composite materials can disrupt the construction industry. The researchers later commented that it was extremely unusual — as a matter of fact, a first in INEGI’s 25 years history — to have people from all around the institute together in the same room brainstorming towards a common goal. The event was a turning point for INEGI.  It is now an integral part of N2build’s R&D activities and has opened doors to other scientific collaborations.

Correos, the Spanish postal service operator, uses the same strategy to build partnerships in the e-commerce domain. It collaborated with Luis Krug, a Spanish Internet entrepreneur and now the CEO of Pixmania, to build an e-commerce platform Comandia.com. The goal is to become one of the largest online marketplaces in Spain to connect companies of any kind, including small or very large retailers, to their customers. But before the two companies joined forces to work on Comandia, they started with a small win: collaboration over the Oooferton.com website. This was a discount webshop started by Luis Krug in 2009 on which Correos worked as a logistics partner and had to adapt its logistics chain in order to handle a wide variety of products. The two partners learned a lot about each other and developed trust, which then lead to Comandia, a much more ambitious project in terms of the number of potential sellers and customers.

If your company is planning a strategic alliance, aim for a small win first — this strategy works just as well with customers, suppliers, and competitors.

Alliance Radar: Locate Competitive Advantage Outside of Your Firm’s Value Chain

PSA Peugeot Citroen, or Peugeot for short, is a former French industrial icon. In the past two years, it struggled to escape from € 7 billion losses. A €3 billion capital increase from the French state and Dongfeng, a Chinese carmaker, should help Peugeot secure its future[1]. Will it be bright?  
The alliance between Peugeot and Dongfeng is one of the thousands of alliances that companies formed around the world in the past 10 years. The classic frameworks of strategy analysis, however, don’t provide much guidance for how to extract value from alliances. Take for example a classic “value chain” tool popularized by Michael Porter:

* This figure is borrowed from http://www.insemble.com/software-value-chain.html
As a business educator and a consultant, I love this framework. It helps map activities of a firm and to think about how they relate to its competitive advantage. The weakness of the framework is that it is too much focused inside the firm and is not meant to help executives think about opportunities for value creation by collaborating with other companies.
I recently co-authored a book “Network Advantage: How to Unlock Value from Your Alliances and Partnerships”. In this book we offer advice on how companies can achieve competitive advantage by managing alliances and partnerships with customers, suppliers or competitors.
When I taught this book at INSEAD, a group of Executive Education participants[2] proposed a really cool way to integrate the logic behind the value chain with alliance thinking. This gave birth to a new framework which we call “Alliance Radar.”
The Radar can help you look outside of your firm.  It:
·       links alliances to specific parts of your value chain
·       helps visualize all of the alliances which your company has
·       identifies new opportunities for value creation across different alliances.
Let’s use this tool to compare alliances of Toyota and Peugeot. I picked these examples because I own cars from both car makers. Another reason is that lately Toyota has been much more innovative than Peugeot and this tool can help understand why.
Let’s start by identifying the key areas of two companies’ value chain. For simplicity, let’s assume that they are Production, R&D, Sales and After Sales.  You can draw a radar like this:

Now let’s take all of Toyota’s alliances and classify them into three categories: primarily aimed at cost reduction (red), aimed at innovation and differentiation (green) and those aimed at both cost reduction and differentiation (yellow)[3].


This approach helps us immediately see that most of production alliances are aimed at cost reduction (and efficiencies in general), whereas in other areas Toyota focuses on differentiation of its products.
We can also see areas in which Toyota can create value across different alliances. For example, let’s take three alliances and move them in the “bull’s eye”. Between 2008 and 2013, Toyota worked with Google to optimize search experience for Toyota’s products, collaborated with GM to make Prius in the U.S. and worked with Intel to integrate sensors inside the car with your smartphone. The tool tells us that Toyota can create value by integrating ideas across these three alliances and make a new product “Smart Social Prius”. I am not sure such car exists yet, but it is definitely in the works!

Because of Intel’s sensors, the car will feed information on your Prius driving habits to your social network. Some “friends” (like your parents or your insurance company) might actually want to know how well you are driving. In fact, an insurance company might even lower your premiums for good driving habits and make your insurance really “personal”! And you can even have a contest among your friends who is a safer (or environmentally friendlier) driver.
Now let’s compare Toyota’s Alliance Radar to that of Peugeot :



It is clear that Toyota has a lot more alliances than Peugeot, most of Peugeot’s alliances are aimed at cost reduction and not much on differentiation. Peugeot has a lot fewer opportunities to innovate across alliances. For once, it can work with both Mitsubishi and Changan: make electric cars in Spain (with Mitsubishi) and outfit them with Chinese interiors. Not as exciting as a “Smart Social Prius”? Well, Peugeot’s network of alliances doesn’t allow it to do much better than that because most of the collaborations are focused on cost reduction anyway. If I were to consult to Peugeot, I would have suggested to take a hard look at their alliance network and see if they can collaborate with partners that can provide them with something better than just cost cutting. 


Does your company want to have a big space for innovations a la Toyota? The Alliance Radar tool can help you see the opportunities. Experiment with moving different circles into the bull’s eye and challenge yourself whether you can create value by combining ideas or resources or market access across different partners. If you don’t see exciting opportunities, then maybe you need new alliance partners!
Lately Peugeot has been on an upward swing financially. Sales are looking brighter as the European market recovers[4]. Hopefully the company builds more and varied alliances that will help it not only to cut costs, but also to create innovative solutions by integrating ideas, resources or market access across its customers, suppliers or even competitors.
If you find Alliance Radar tool to be useful for thinking about your company’s alliances or to identify new value creation opportunities (like a Smart Social Prius), share your story with me (shipilov@insead.edu).
If you want to discuss this tool, you can do so in the “Comments” section.




[1] http://tinyurl.com/melxd2a
[2] Thomas Gudbjerg, Arvid Svenni, Haakon Fjeld-Hansen, Finn-Arne Lorentsen and Jarle Steen Stueflotten
[3] The data is on alliances which were formed between 2008 and 2013.
[4] http://tinyurl.com/melxd2a

Can Your Alliance Network Lift a Stealth Bomber Off the Ground?

Does this airplane look familiar?
1940s Stealth Bomber Image
Source: Wikipedia
As I recently wrote on Harvard Business Review blog network, it should, because it’s a predecessor of the famous Stealth Bomber, a prototype completed by Jack Northrop’s company in 1948. In his time, Northrop — the inventor of the flying wing concept — was considered to be the aerospace genius, but he was not able to deliver on his promise to the U.S. military. The revolutionary airplane you never got beyond the prototype.
In 1980, Jack Northrop, then age 85 and confined to a wheelchair, visited a secure facility to see the first B-2 Stealth Bomber — the most advanced military aircraft capable of flying at extremely high altitudes and avoiding radar detection.
1980s Stealth Bomber Image
Source: Wikipedia
Even after 40 years of technological development and use of sophisticated computer design tools, the new bomber looked like a replica of Northrop’s original design for the flying wing. Reportedly, after seeing the aircraft, Northrop said he now realized why God had kept him alive for so long.
So why did one model fail and the other succeed?  Part of the explanation can be found by comparing the different networks of alliances that Northrop’s company formed in the forties and in the seventies.
In 1941, his alliance network looked small and simple hub-and-spoke system. Otis Elevators worked on design, General Manufacturing and Convair provided production facilities. Notice that the partners don’t work with one another and the U.S. Army Corps was actually brought in to arbitrate a dispute between Northrop and Convair.
Northrup's Alliance Network, 1940s
In 1980, the alliance network was more complex and highly integrated.  Network partners worked with one another, jointly negotiating technical standards. Vought Aircraft designed and manufactured the intermediate sections of the wings, General Electric manufactured the engine, whereas Boeing handled fuel systems, weapons delivery and landing gear.   In addition, each main partner formed individual ties with other subcontractors specific to their areas of responsibility.
Northrup's Alliance Network, 1970s
As we discuss in our new book “Network Advantage”, networks like this have two main benefits.  First, alliance partners are more likely to deliver on their promises.  If information flows freely among interconnected partners, how one firm treats a partner can be easily seen by other partners to whom both firms are connected. So if one firm bilks a partner, other partners will see that and will not collaborate with the bilking firm again.
Second, integrated networks facilitate fine-grained information exchanges because multiple partners have relationships where they share a common knowledge base. This shared expertise allows them to dive deep into solving complex problems related to executing or implementing a project.
This is not to say that the hub-and-spoke network of the 1940s doesn’t have its uses. In fact, they are usually more effective at coming up with radical innovation than are complex, integrated networks. In a hub-and-spoke configuration it’s more likely that your partners will know stuff you don’t already know and combining new, distinct ideas from multiple spokes leads to breakthrough innovations for the hub firm.
But Northrop’s hub and spoke portfolio was not useful in 1940s, because he already had an innovative blueprint for the bomber. All Northrop needed to do was to build reliable manufacturing systems that would execute his ideas based on incremental improvements made by multiple partners at the same time.  That scenario called for the integrated network of the 1970s.
The key to choosing between the two types of network is to ask: do you already have a final idea that needs to be implemented with incremental improvements? Is it important that all of your partners trust each other and share knowledge in implementing your idea? If so, then the integrated alliance portfolio is right for you. If you are exploring different options and it is not critical that your partners trust one another, work together to develop and/or implement them, then the hub and spoke portfolio is the best.
You can read more about this and other network-related stories in my new book “Network Advantage: How to Unlock Value from Your Alliances and Partnerships”

Diamonds Are Not Forever: How to Avoid Problems with Your Alliance Partners

A recent New York Times article [1] describes a serious conflict between Lazare Kaplan International—the century old diamond cutting and polishing merchants of New York– and their former business partner Antwerp Diamond Bank. Lazare alleges that the Diamond Bank helped a high flying Israeli dealer launder 135 million dollars from illicit sale of Lazare’s rough diamonds. An Antwerp prosecutor sides with the Diamond Bank and calls the Lazare’s suit “defamatory”.
There is nothing strange about one business partner suing another. What’s unusual in this story is that diamond trade has been used as an example of an industry in which participants have almost blind trust in each other. A famous American sociologist James Coleman in the late 1980s marveled at the fact that the traders frequently give each other bags of diamonds to inspect in private without any formal safeguards [2].
The reason, according to Coleman, was that these people are connected in dense social networks and these networks comprise their “social capital”. The diamond traders have high trust because they have known each other for a long time, they live in the same neighborhoods, they worship together, their business associates all know one another, in short, they have a very dense social network. If one network member were to cheat another network member, this person risked ostracism from the community — the punishment that was worse than anything the courts could deliver.  
A lot of academic research since then has shown that dense social networks indeed promote trust which lowers the costs of doing business for the network members.
What happened to the social capital in the diamond trade? Regardless of who is right and who is wrong in the Lazare-Antwerp dispute, the story does point to the fact that a particularly daring company (or an individual) can decide to cheat its partners, especially if there is a considerable degree of trust in the relationship. This can happen when “the cheat” doesn’t feel that there is any value in continuing collaborating with its partners.
The broader lesson to firms forming partnerships and strategic alliances is this: even though you trust your current partner, you still need to periodically check whether you still have strong strategic and resource complementarities with it. If the answer is yes, you are likely to continue cooperating well in the future, if the answer is no, then you are at a risk of being cheated.
In the new book “Network Advantage: How to Unlock Value from Your Alliances and Partnerships” (networkadvantage.org) together with Henrich Greve and Tim Rowley, we develop a set of tools that can help you understand the risks and benefits of continuing to cooperate with your partners.
Based on over 40 years of collective research on the success of alliances and partnerships, we have developed a set of key questions to ask to determine whether you still have complementary strategy and resources with your partner.
Complementary strategies mean that collaboration continues to help both companies achieve their own long-term goals, but it should not make either firm a powerful competitor in the other firm’s markets in the long run.  
Some specific questions to evaluate the extent of your strategic complementarities are:
• What are the current objectives of this alliance from the standpoint of each partner?
• What are the key performance indicators for this alliance from the standpoint of both partners?
• What are each partner’s long-term objectives?
• Are the partners current competitors or are they likely to compete in the same product or geographic markets in the future?
• How might each partner cheat the other? What would each partner gain from each form of cheating?
Partners should also bring different resources to the table: human, financial, technological, market access, knowledge, intellectual property or brand. If your firm and its partners bring exactly the same resources, this begs the question, why did you decide to collaborate in the first place? Unless both firms want to pool their similar resources to achieve economies of scale in some markets, it’s best when partners contribute complementary resources to the relationship. This way both partners can gain from the alliance by creating synergies.
You can evaluate resource complementarities between your firm and its partner by asking these questions:
•  What resources does each partner contribute to the relationship?  Are they similar or different?
•  How do the resources contributed by each partner increase the value of the resources provided by the other partner?
•  What return on the contributed resources does each partner plan to obtain? How will each partner evaluate this return?
•   How will each partner’s resource contributions change over time?
Thus, a good old dictum “trust but verify” is a very important lesson that diamond merchants, and members of other industries, ought not to forget. Even after you have worked together with a partner for a long time, it is still important to periodically evaluate the extent to which there are complementarities in the relationship.
Andrew Shipilov is a co-author of “Network Advantage: How toUnlock Value from Your Alliances and Partnerships” with Henrich Greve and Tim Rowley. The book’s website is networkadvantage.org. #unlockvalue




[1] “Scrutiny Pries Open Insular Gem Trade” International New York Times November 26, 2013
[2] Coleman, J. (1988). “Social capital in the creation of human capital.” American Journal of Sociology Supplement 94: S95-S120.

Diamonds Are Not Forever: How to Avoid Problems with Your Alliance Partners

A recent New York Times article [1] describes a serious conflict between Lazare Kaplan International—the century old diamond cutting and polishing merchants of New York– and their former business partner Antwerp Diamond Bank. Lazare alleges that the Diamond Bank helped a high flying Israeli dealer launder 135 million dollars from illicit sale of Lazare’s rough diamonds. An Antwerp prosecutor sides with the Diamond Bank and calls the Lazare’s suit “defamatory”.
There is nothing strange about one business partner suing another. What’s unusual in this story is that diamond trade has been used as an example of an industry in which participants have almost blind trust in each other. A famous American sociologist James Coleman in the late 1980s marveled at the fact that the traders frequently give each other bags of diamonds to inspect in private without any formal safeguards [2].
The reason, according to Coleman, was that these people are connected in dense social networks and these networks comprise their “social capital”. The diamond traders have high trust because they have known each other for a long time, they live in the same neighborhoods, they worship together, their business associates all know one another, in short, they have a very dense social network. If one network member were to cheat another network member, this person risked ostracism from the community — the punishment that was worse than anything the courts could deliver.  
A lot of academic research since then has shown that dense social networks indeed promote trust which lowers the costs of doing business for the network members.
What happened to the social capital in the diamond trade? Regardless of who is right and who is wrong in the Lazare-Antwerp dispute, the story does point to the fact that a particularly daring company (or an individual) can decide to cheat its partners, especially if there is a considerable degree of trust in the relationship. This can happen when “the cheat” doesn’t feel that there is any value in continuing collaborating with its partners.
The broader lesson to firms forming partnerships and strategic alliances is this: even though you trust your current partner, you still need to periodically check whether you still have strong strategic and resource complementarities with it. If the answer is yes, you are likely to continue cooperating well in the future, if the answer is no, then you are at a risk of being cheated.
In the new book “Network Advantage: How to Unlock Value from Your Alliances and Partnerships” (networkadvantage.org) together with Henrich Greve and Tim Rowley, we develop a set of tools that can help you understand the risks and benefits of continuing to cooperate with your partners.
Based on over 40 years of collective research on the success of alliances and partnerships, we have developed a set of key questions to ask to determine whether you still have complementary strategy and resources with your partner.
Complementary strategies mean that collaboration continues to help both companies achieve their own long-term goals, but it should not make either firm a powerful competitor in the other firm’s markets in the long run.  
Some specific questions to evaluate the extent of your strategic complementarities are:
• What are the current objectives of this alliance from the standpoint of each partner?
• What are the key performance indicators for this alliance from the standpoint of both partners?
• What are each partner’s long-term objectives?
• Are the partners current competitors or are they likely to compete in the same product or geographic markets in the future?
• How might each partner cheat the other? What would each partner gain from each form of cheating?
Partners should also bring different resources to the table: human, financial, technological, market access, knowledge, intellectual property or brand. If your firm and its partners bring exactly the same resources, this begs the question, why did you decide to collaborate in the first place? Unless both firms want to pool their similar resources to achieve economies of scale in some markets, it’s best when partners contribute complementary resources to the relationship. This way both partners can gain from the alliance by creating synergies.
You can evaluate resource complementarities between your firm and its partner by asking these questions:
•  What resources does each partner contribute to the relationship?  Are they similar or different?
•  How do the resources contributed by each partner increase the value of the resources provided by the other partner?
•  What return on the contributed resources does each partner plan to obtain? How will each partner evaluate this return?
•   How will each partner’s resource contributions change over time?
Thus, a good old dictum “trust but verify” is a very important lesson that diamond merchants, and members of other industries, ought not to forget. Even after you have worked together with a partner for a long time, it is still important to periodically evaluate the extent to which there are complementarities in the relationship.
Andrew Shipilov is a co-author of “Network Advantage: How toUnlock Value from Your Alliances and Partnerships” with Henrich Greve and Tim Rowley. The book’s website is networkadvantage.org. #unlockvalue




[1] “Scrutiny Pries Open Insular Gem Trade” International New York Times November 26, 2013
[2] Coleman, J. (1988). “Social capital in the creation of human capital.” American Journal of Sociology Supplement 94: S95-S120.