Co-creation is a process in which several parties come together to produce goods or outcomes that serve a common goal. In our new book, “The Third Paradigm: A Radical Shift to Greater Success”, Dr. Heidi Scott Giusto, Dawa Tarchin Phillips and I outline five types of co-creation that can result in success for businesses. But before you begin collaborating with outside companies and individuals, we stress that it is vitally important that you have a solid understanding of your own operation. We call these pillars “The Four Knows” and in this excerpt from the book, we explain why each is so critical to success.
The Four Knows
No matter which of the five types of co-creation you use, you will need to have all four of the following in place to succeed:
Know the Right Focus
Know the Right Process
Know the Right Communication
Know the Right Execution
The Right Focus: Establish Mutually Desired Outcomes
Everyone involved in co-creation needs to be rowing in unison and in the same direction. This means everyone must be focused on a mutually desired outcome. Disaster strikes when people fail to work together. We conducted a survey of 4,200 business professionals, and one respondent shared how ineffective teamwork derailed their leaders’ attempt to market an event: “We had not been able to communicate the WHY to them or get their views to make the event a part of the entire team.”
Focusing on the mutually desired outcome requires that all team members have a shared “why.” Co-creation leaders can guide their teams through a series of questions that will help them work together efficiently, effectively, and creatively, even if they are composed of diverse stakeholders.
This process will help identify their right focus. The outcome cannot be vaguely defined—it must be clear. When it is, the co-creation stakeholders will have the necessary shared purpose and intention. Once the mutually desired outcome is established, teams can accomplish the unthinkable. One survey respondent shared this sentiment: “If the right people, with the same goals, lifting, encouraging, and working together with the same commitment to achieve TOGETHER are in place, wonders can happen.”
The Right Process: Implement a Framework
Identifying the right process for a co-creation project ensures stakeholders can work efficiently and effectively. It is not enough to have a team that is committed to a mutually desired outcome. Without an underlying process guiding the mission, frustrations will mount, and the project will become mired in problems.
The process of choosing a framework begins by selecting from the five types of co-creation we previously introduced (think tank/brainstorm, crowdsource, open source, mass customization, and user-generated content).
Once the co-creation leaders determine the right type, additional pragmatic considerations will provide the overarching framework and process. These include determining clear roles and responsibilities for team members, developing an accountability system, defining the situational context of the co-creation project, and mitigating unconscious bias.
Some survey respondents attested to the importance of having the right process: “All persons working on a project should be specifically responsible and accountable to some extent. All persons should be required to provide input.” Others remarked on the importance of having “a good framework for growth in place” and the “need to be clear on the set tasks, with deadlines and people being responsible to either follow up with them or track the process.” Defining the process can be at a granular level, such as one respondent who shared, “We used to have daily review meetings on the product development, so it helped us to have a close watch on the development process.” Another recommended to “hold each member accountable for their piece of the process. Make sure the pieces fit moving into the next phase. Avoid backstepping.”
The Right Communication: Ensure Open Communication
Open communication is crucial to successful co-creation. This must span employees, customers, vendors, and all of a company’s other stakeholders. Without clear communication, co-creation will fail, even if everyone involved is passionate and fully engaged in the project. Many survey respondents underscored the importance of having the right communication:
“Communication is vital.”
“I cannot say this enough: The better the communication you have with the people who work for you, the more successful your company will be.”
“In companies where ideas are freely shared, a tremendous amount of growth happens. I have been at companies where the people in charge did not want to hear any ideas that weren’t their own, so no growth happens there.”
“[Co-creation] needs a lot of clear communication at every stage for the idea to develop properly.”
“The larger the organization, the more there is a lack of communication about strategy and goals, which results in having no direction.”
One of our more memorable respondents wrote, “EVERYONE MUST BE SINGING OFF THE SAME SHEET OF MUSIC!!!!!” Indeed, a chorus full of enthusiastic singers each giving it their all will have a miserable time if everyone isn’t performing the same song.
The Right Execution: Ensure Knowledgeable Leadership
Even with everything else in place—the right focus, the right process, and the right communication—all will be for naught if an organization lacks the right execution. Leaders of co-creation must lay the groundwork for successful empowerment and execution. With this final Know, leaders must have a clear plan and capably execute it while empowering stakeholders.
The entire process is at stake if the co-creative initiative falls short on execution. One survey respondent quipped, “Just a joke from my university days: When I die, I’d like the people I did group projects with to lower me into my grave, so they can let me down one last time.” With the right execution, stakeholder morale soars; without it, disappointment abounds.
Anyone who wants to implement co-creation in their organization must understand each of the four Knows and its interdependency with the other three Knows. Co-creation will only succeed if all four of these key things are in place and functioning effectively. Once you master the Four Knows, you will be well on your way to successful co-creating.