What is co-creation and why should you think about it?

Why co-creation supports the companies of the future and you should think about the innovation process

In this article, you will learn more about the concept of co-creation as a form of collaboration and co-creation. It shows how co-creation helps companies develop innovative solutions and adapt to the challenges of the changing marketplace. Leadership plays a critical role in guiding the innovation process and moving ideas forward.

What is co-creation? A definition

Co-creation is “The joint development in a group and within a structure”.
Co-creation is a process.
Co-creation aims to solve a (common) problem or task.

The term “co-creation” is composed of the words “cooperation” and “creation”. Here, “cooperation” stands for the collaboration and joint action of different parties, while “creation” means the creation of something new or the generation of new ideas.

Co-creation, then, is a concept based on the idea of collaboration and co-creation. It refers to the process in which different actors, whether within a company or between companies and external partners, combine their individual ideas, experiences and resources to jointly develop innovative solutions or design products.

What are some well-known examples of successful co-creation?

The successes of Japanese keiretsu companies in the 1980s focused managers’ attention on networks. In view of the increasing complexity of customer requirements and market changes, flexible production in networks was seen as a promising solution. The term “keiretsu” (jap. 系列) literally means “row” or “line” and describes a form of business in which companies act as “interpreneurs” or “network entrepreneurs.” By networking with others, they seek shared advantages and opportunities for profit.

It was not until the widespread use of the Internet that it became increasingly possible to network processes across organizations while opening them up to customers and other groups. This led to a new understanding of innovation that includes both social and technical innovations. This was particularly evident in the many practices of brand communities:

Communities formed around specific brands and helped create or extend brand equity-often with direct impact on product and brand design itself.

Take the Starbucks brand, for example, which lets people design cups with its “white cup contest.” Or IKEA lets children draw stuffed animals, which are then produced and sold. This form of customer involvement supports Save-the-Children and UNICEF projects through donations from the proceeds.

What are the goals and expected outcomes of a co-creation process?

Co-creation can be applied in various areas, including product development, marketing, corporate strategy, organizational development and customer relationship management.

It is about breaking down the boundaries between companies, customers and partners and creating an ecosystem of collaboration in which all stakeholders are actively involved in brainstorming and designing solutions.

  • Promoting innovation: Co-creation enables access to a broader range of ideas, approaches and possible solutions. This can result in innovative products and services that better meet customer needs and stand out from the competition.
  • Customer focus: Involving customers or end users in the co-creation process ensures that products and services are focused on their real needs and wants. This leads to higher customer satisfaction and stronger customer loyalty.
  • Increased efficiency: co-creation allows companies and organizations to access the resources, knowledge and experience of external partners. This enables more efficient product development and solution finding.
  • Knowledge transfer: co-creation promotes the exchange of knowledge and know-how between the parties involved. This allows best practices to be shared, learning processes to be stimulated, and the competencies of all parties to be expanded.
  • Stakeholder involvement: Co-creation enables companies to involve their customers, employees, partners and other stakeholders in decision-making processes. This strengthens trust and commitment with stakeholders….
  • Creating Shared Value: Through collaboration and co-creation, all stakeholders can benefit from the results created. A “win-win” situation is created in which each partner derives added value from the collaboration.
  • Flexibility and adaptability: In a constantly changing business world, co-creation enables companies to respond flexibly to new challenges and adapt to changing conditions.

Sounds promising, doesn’t it? A process that serves to reduce complexity and at the same time promotes ideas? – If it were that simple.

Thinking errors, hurdles and principles

Hardly any company can afford not to innovate. Co-creation is a process that generates ideas and promotes innovation.

Yet a widespread misconception is that innovation can be produced purposefully, because innovation is closely linked to creativity. New ideas, concepts or solutions often emerge through creative thought processes that are not always predictable or controllable. Creativity cannot simply be forced by command or default.

If one wants to generate creativity, one can ask oneself what the systemic framework conditions are in which creativity and co-creation are fostered.

In the long run, it makes little sense to promote creativity and co-creation only selectively (e.g. in workshops or brainstorming sessions). It is crucial to establish a space of opportunity on a permanent basis. After all, no one is creative at the push of a button.

The permanent promotion of co-creation requires a conscious and active approach to create a collaborative environment that enables cooperation between different actors.

Promote collaboration within your own corporate culture using principles

Co-creation is based on the principles of openness, collaboration, and inclusion of the customer perspective to achieve co-creation of value. It is an agile and customer-centric method that helps companies adapt to the challenges of the changing market and succeed.

  • Open communication: Create an open communication culture where ideas and suggestions are welcome from all levels and areas of the company. Encourage employees, customers and partners to contribute their perspectives and insights.
  • Ideas need leadership: Do your employees know where to go with their idea? Is it welcomed? And: Never separate the idea from the idea generator. An idea is tied to a vision, and the vision is tied to the fleshing out. An idea is so half-baked at the beginning that it cannot be described at all. So if the idea giver is to hand over his idea, he will not be able to provide a construction manual along with it.
  • Encourage cooperation: Create diverse and cross-functional teams. This combines different perspectives and skills to develop innovative solutions.
    Customer and user involvement: Actively involve customers, end users and other stakeholders in the innovation process. Gather feedback, listen to their needs, and let them participate in product development.
  • Leverage technologies: Use technology and digital platforms to facilitate collaboration and idea sharing. Virtual co-creation tools and platforms can streamline and facilitate the process.
  • Foster a culture of error: be open to mistakes and learning. A positive error culture enables learning from failures and improving the innovation process.
  • Form partnerships: Look for strategic partners who can support your innovation goals and bring complementary expertise. External partnerships expand the pool of ideas and solutions.
  • Celebrate successes: recognize and celebrate successful co-creation outcomes. This motivates everyone involved to continue to innovate and contribute to the collaboration.

Between wildness and control: co-creation as a shelter

Of course, it’s great if co-creation can be institutionalized. But individual workshops can also make an important contribution in the short term: namely, a protective space for ideas and creativity.

It is allowed to go wild, it is allowed to be spun, it is allowed to guess and brainstorm. Of course, an idea is not born at the end of a technique, a method or a process. It is a mistake to attribute a power to processes and techniques that they do not have.

Processes and techniques are, however, an important protective space in which people dare to express an idea. But it is important to understand that ideas are not created there.

And yet, process and techniques have another important function: communication. For it is only when an idea resonates in a system, in a group, that it comes to life and is pursued.

Now the control begins: an idea needs leadership.

It is obvious that most companies fail not because of a lack of creativity, but because they fail to control the many voices that destroy good ideas before they even have a chance to be implemented. Without appropriate leadership, any process of renewal will fail.

This is because innovations or innovative behavior cause irritations within the organization. An irritation is behavior outside the norm, outside the usual channels. So a contradiction arises, because organizations are based on stability, that is their task.

So now leadership is needed.

First of all, management should tolerate the process bypassing that results from irritation.

If the organization is already largely self-organized, a clever way of dealing with the “irritation” arises quasi automatically. After all, a lot of things are already handled in short official channels anyway.

There are now several possibilities for incubating the ideas:

  • “On the go”: this “process bypass” should not only be tolerated, but also legitimized with praise if it proves to be effective. The question is, “How did you do it?”
  • Working with startups: this can work, but it too must be managed. Either way, there will be “leadership pain” and the ability to connect with the line is questionable.
  • Protective space within your own organization: change of any kind is a foreign body to any system and needs a nest egg to protect against the environment reaching for immune defense.

Today, work contexts are more versatile, short-term and functional than ever. Line activities are juxtaposed with long-term projects and short, intensive (project) sprints. Projects often span several departments, levels, and locations; presence, remote, and hybrid work must be combined, and clear hierarchies are often lacking. Employees occupy different functions and have work assignments that they must advance together with others. Some people now talk about agility, others emphasize the increasing importance of self-organization in such situations.

This requires the ability to organize cooperation efficiently and to move things forward even where solutions cannot be ordered.

In other words: it is about the design of lateral leadership work, cross-leadership cooperation between managers and their teams beyond the 1:1 leadership tools such as performance management systems, feedback systems, onboarding, employee appraisals, critique meetings, development meetings, sick return meetings.

In a world of constant change, co-creation is proving to be an essential approach for companies to develop innovative solutions, meet customer needs and remain competitive. By fostering a culture of openness, collaboration, and acceptance of error, companies can spark the creative process and maximize the success of their co-creation initiatives.

Angelika Ballosch ist Marketing-, und systemische Organisationsberaterin. Ihre Expertise erstreckt sich von der Entwicklung strategischer Marketing- und Kampagnenkonzepte bis hin zum kollaborativen Aufbau von Organisationsstrukturen, dem Abbau von Silos, der Gestaltung eines optimalen Funnels, Veränderungsinitiativen und der Umsetzung von Marketingmaßnahmen. Mit einer systemtheoretischen Herangehensweise werden Werte und Strukturen in der Kultur identifiziert und Symptome von echten Problemen unterschieden, um die Herausforderungen in der Wertschöpfung anzugehen.”

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