“Cooperate”: a word from Late Latin cum and operari. In other words, “with” and “work”. The concept of “with” – in the form of “co-”, “con”, “com” and “cum” – is to be found in many highly contemporary words. Words with an eye to the future. “Co-”, a prefix that points to a common course, connoting a communion of strategies, indicating collaboration. It gives character even to words that have come to mean the opposite in common usage. Words like “competition”. Conveying an idea of contest, conflict and confrontation. But which originally meant “going forward” “with” others, towards a common goal: cum-petere. To go back to the origins, in a language that takes into account the needs of a “more just and sustainable” economy (much sought-after in a number of different environments, both secular and Christian since the upheavals of the great Crisis caused by financial greed and social imbalances) there is talk of “collaborative competition”. And this is indeed the title of a book by Fabrizio Pezzani, Competizione collaborativa, published by Università Bocconi Editore, which comes with a future-oriented subtitle: “Rebuilding social and economic capital”.
Italian industry can offer some fine examples of this. Economic analysis and empirical observation of the best manufacturing areas have long shown that the most successful strategies are those of business networks, with extended, high-quality supply chains. This is an interesting evolution of the ‘“district economies” which, during the long course of 1980s and 1990s, enabled companies, including small and medium-sized enterprises, to restructure, become stronger and stand up to the onslaught of new international forms of competition. They were able to find new niches in increasingly selective and fierce markets in both European and non-European countries. A successful strategy indeed, as can also be seen in the analysis by the McKinsey Quarterly journal (no. 1 of 2014) of the “next shoring” of manufacturing (about which we had much to say in last week’s blog). Industrial enterprises grow when they are in close contact with ever-changing markets and top-quality suppliers.
The fact that this is the right way to go is confirmed by Chi vince e chi perde: l’industria italiana oltre la crisi (Winners and Losers: Italian Industry Beyond the Crisis), an ISTAT survey recently carried out by MIP, the Politecnico University of Milan. The underlying indication is clear: those who get ahead are those who focus on “education and synergies”. In other words, on good human capital. And on positive social capital. Which basically means on cooperation. Italian industry has lost a quarter of its production capacity since 2008, but the survey shows that, even in times of crisis, those companies that have focused on foreign markets have managed to increase their turnover. And, what is more, they have been consistently inspired to innovate their products, production processes, high value-added services linked to production, marketing, and so on. Gianluca Spina, dean of MIP, draws an interesting conclusion from this: “The winners are those companies that, precisely during the period of crisis and recession, have invested in training and human capital, but also in creating links between companies through joint ventures, structural alliances and business networks.” In other words, it is necessary to create synergies of products and services, and to integrate different skills. And, in order to enter new markets, to cum petere is the way to do it. Many “monad” companies – which is to say, inward-looking businesses devoid of a spirit of cooperation – have been in decline. The worst in a form of capitalism that turns inwards, with a family-oriented view obsessively dominated by the dogma of owner control, is one that is unable to cope with the new challenges of interaction, of combining the entrepreneurship of the original family with new management skills. This means it is unable to innovate and thus clings to domestic markets that are increasingly stifled, impoverished and in decline.
Another survey has also come up with similar results. Carried out by Studio Giaccardi & Associati, it was recently presented at the Web Economy Festival in Cesena. Basically it says: “Innovation as an antidote to the crisis: companies active online grow up to five times more than traditional ones”, was the Il Sole 24 Ore headline on March 18. The high-tech of Web 2.0. And the local roots of a Romagna with a rich tradition of collaboration and cooperation. SMEs that are online with open, interactive sites see their turnover, productivity and internationalisation all growing. And for start-ups too, interaction and online cooperation are ways to success. Positive corporate culture. And good competitiveness.