Interviewer: María J. Quero
Prof. Dr. Cristina Mele
Cristina Mele (PhD) is Full Professor of Service Innovation and the PhD coordinator in Management at the Department of Economics, Management and Institutions, University of Naples Federico II. She is the rector’s delegate for Innovation and Third Mission. Her main research interests are innovation and smart technologies, value creation, markets and service ecosystems. She has about 250 publications. Her articles have appeared in leading international journals, including Journal of The Academy of Marketing Science, Marketing Theory, Industrial Marketing Management, Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing Management, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Service Management and Journal of Service Theory and Practice. Cristina is one of the co-chairs of The Naples Forum on Service. She was the recipient of the Service-Dominant Logic Award in 2019.
Cristina, among your most cited and interesting contributions is an in-depth analysis of the market conceptualisation. Very recently you have a new publication following this perspective. Can you tell us about the evolution in the concept of the market? Where are we going?
Market conceptualisation needs to consider market complexity. Jaquie Pels, Kaj Storbacka and I contend that it is necessary to move beyond mainstream marketing’s view, defined in terms of product categories and buyer–seller exchange processes. Based on a pluralist approach, we presented a holistic conceptualisation that embraces market multiplicity. Grounded on the etymology of the word market, we identify two market dimensions: market-as-noun and market-as-verb; and four distinct themes: market entities (referring to which actors are involved), market representation (regarding how markets are signified), market performing (referring to what actions are carried out), and market sense-making (concerning how markets emerge and evolve).
Moving further, Jaquie Pels and I argue that language matters and there are rival views on how the market is conceptualised. Mapping current themes into two groups (i.e., main and emerging), we develop a language system and a narrative for each group. It also helps us show that changes go beyond the market ‘as a given’ or ‘as socially constructed’ dichotomy; and that to understand the market, it is necessary to adopt a richer set of terms. In short, there is a language shifting toward a more comprehensive conversation on how the market is conceptualised. We synthesise this shift under the expression “from market driving to market shaping.”
As I can see, your wide trajectory of research is linked to “Service + Innovating”, and a unique perspective of innovation as a result of the connection among actors and the resulting “texture of practices”. Can you explain your perspective on this?
Tiziana Russo Spena and I propose to shift the attention from innovation (i.e., the noun) as a new outcome to innovating (i.e., the verb) as something that people do to co-create value. The active verbal form better reflects the emergent character of innovation in service ecosystems. Innovating emerges in a nonlinear pathway through interacting actors who participate in ongoing, accidental, deliberate, and negotiated sets of practice.
The metaphor of texture is used to move away from traditional models based on multiple phases of innovation within absolute dichotomies (such as open–closed or market–technology) towards complex patterns composed of interwoven elements. The emphasis is on the social and technological connections that occur among a group of actors – individuals, collectives and organisations – and integrates different kinds of material and social resources (e.g. tools, knowledge, images, material objects, rules, value, schemas etc.) to solve problems and co-create mutual benefits.
The narrative of the texture of practices holds an alternative conceptual vocabulary for innovation that makes sense of the complex and dynamic reality of business and societal phenomena. This vocabulary is designed to escape the positivistic, paradigmatic view of science by drawing on the ontological assumption that innovation is a matter of value co-creation in a multiple, constructed and socially embedded reality.
A texture is made up of a weft and a warp; the warp concerns the vertical threads that run along the length of the yardage and the weft refers to the horizontal threads that run from side to side. In innovating as a texture, the weft represents the practice of co-creating and the warp represents the practice of weaving (i.e. networking and knowing.). The networking practices are modes that connect actors and allow the different types of resources to be integrated. The knowing practices refer to the ways in which data and information are gathered such that knowledge emerges collectively and is shared by multiple actors through actions and relations.
In sum, innovating is the overall picture that emerges from the intertwining of these practices. By zooming out from the cross points of warp and weft, we see the texture, that is, the weaving together of interconnections in action; by zooming in, we see single practices and their minutiae (e.g., actors and resources)
Cristina, please, tell us more about your recent research?
I am carrying out a challenging research programme, ‘Digital4Human’ developed around the assumption that the combined use of social robotics, artificial intelligence and other smart technologies contributes to improve the value co-creation processes and actors’ wellbeing. The main lines of research include the applications of service/social robots (and chatbots) in several contexts (i.e., healthcare, retails, etc.).
My co-authors (Tiziana Russo Spena, Maria Luisa Marzullo and Valtteri Karteemo) and I conceptualise smart nudging as uses of cognitive technologies to affect people’s behaviour predictably, without limiting their options or altering their economic incentives. Several choice architectures and nudges affect value co-creation by (1) widening resource accessibility, (2) extending engagement, or (3) augmenting human actors’ agency. Although cognitive technologies are unlikely to engender smart outcomes alone, they enable designs of conditions and contexts that promote smart behaviours by amplifying capacities for self-understanding, control, and action.
A further research line is on blockchain technology. The diffusion of new technologies, such as distributed ledger technologies, is leading to rethinking the way trust is being created in relationships and, more in general, how value is co-created in service ecosystems.
What are the main opportunities of services provision in Business Markets?
We should acknowledge that issues that could previously be assigned to either human or non-human dimensions and handled separately turn out to be closely interrelated in unexpected ways. Technologies alter the nature of practices by reconfiguring the contribution of human participation and how practices are reproduced or changed. This view implies an unprecedented degree of complexity for business and economic development.
A network of entities made up of human and non-human actors arises that represents a new context of doing business and creating new solutions for individual and social challenges.
Business scholars could focus on the constitutive entanglement of the social and the material in everyday organisational life. The position of a constitutive entanglement does not privilege either humans or technology in one-way interactions. It links them through mutual reciprocation and constitution, as in two-way interactions with an equal play of material and social aspects.
As a result, new co-creation practices will arise by understanding how humans can most effectively augment machines, how machines can enhance what humans do best, and how business processes can be redesigned to support partnerships and interconnections. Most activities, involving human–machine interfaces, require people to do new and different things (such as train a chatbot), to do things differently (use that chatbot to provide better customer service) and to develop new skills and capabilities (read and analyse a huge amount of data).
How do you see the future challenges of B2B marketing in services?
The world is moving towards hyper-technological and increasingly connected scenarios, but the real value is still in human experience and people’s ability to imagine the future. Technology evolves and allows us to do things faster and more efficiently, access opportunities worldwide, and have information in real-time, when we need it and where we need it. However, if we look carefully, what happens has little to do with technology.
Multiple challenges arise, especially regarding the cognitive and emotional load that change of this magnitude creates for the individuals involved, and a plethora of legal, ethical and technical questions come from the use of smart technologies. However, the emerging phenomenon is not simply a technological story but a marketing story about imagination; that is, about market actors’ capability to craft images and configure a possible reality. Imagination implies shaping the future, and technology is the enabler, a resource in the marketing challenge to foster system viability within actors’ practices.
You have attended CBIM International Conference several times, why would you recommend participating in CBIM2022?
CBIM is a great conference, one of my favourite events. I attended it in presence and at distance and in both cases, I experienced the community and improved my knowing and networking (J).
I advise all my colleagues to participate. There is so huge commitment by co-chairs. They take care of every detail, from social media presence, to videos, to special issues. There are many opportunities.
What message do you have for young researchers on marketing?
I suggest young researchers engage in compelling research that could contribute to our understanding of how to improve actors’ practices and their wellbeing.
From the perspective of social–material entanglement, humans and AI are seen as actively enhancing each other’s complementary strengths: the leadership, teamwork, creativity and social skills of the former and the speed, scalability and quantitative dynamic capabilities of the latter. To take full advantage of this entanglement – social, economic and technological – young scholars need to reflect on how profoundly technology is transforming markets and actors.