We’re sure you’d agree when we say the best ideas and innovations come from those who are in the business. Those who interact with the customer daily and understand their needs, challenges and desires.
Though rarely is it one, single employee who dreams up the ‘next big thing’ or a solution to a business challenge. Typically, it requires a collaboration between consumers, employees and suppliers to develop new innovations which genuinely solve the issues of the end-user.
This is co-creation.
Not just asking consumers or employees what they think or new products and services, but genuinely getting them involved in the idea generating, developing and delivering of the solution.
For companies who want to embrace co-creation, we have identified three principles to help build a culture and structure for co-creation:
- Access to deep and meaningful insight
- Obtaining knowledge and ideas from everywhere
- Connectivity drives creativity
Principle one - access to deep and meaningful insight
While focus groups and surveys help to understand the end-user, they are not true co-creation because the knowledge generated is taken away and acted upon by others. You need to be in the customer's shoes from insight gathering to idea generating, which requires building the right culture and structure to enable this.
We’ve seen some amazing examples of co-creation, where end-users and consumers themselves work together to understand the challenges they face and develop solutions.
British financial institution, Lloyds Banking Group, has over 75,000 employees and, recognising the importance of co-creation, brought together more than 200 of them in a one day hackathon – a mass idea generation session – to crack the important challenge of how they can work together in a more agile way.
Colleagues were invited to share their experiences in the business with cross-functional teams, who then collaborated to find innovative solutions and opportunities for new ways of working.
In addition to building structures that encourage collaboration with the end-user, companies that excel at co-creation also build cultures that enable their customer’s voice to permeate their organisation. Innocent, the iconic smoothie company, has built a culture focused on the customer by hosting AGM’s which customers are invited to participate in.
They have also installed ‘The Banana Phone’, the customer helpline. Instead of routing to a call centre, this number patches through to any available line in their office. So, at any moment, an Innocent employee could find themselves on the phone to a customer.
Key tip: Don’t forget about the end-user – always seek out their perspective and turn that information into insights which will inform your idea generating. Something as simple as asking your team to use your service or product before you have an idea generating session can help because you then turn your whole team into customers!
Principle two - knowledge and ideas come from everywhere
Some people believe that there are individuals who are naturally more gifted at coming up with ideas than the rest of us, and that great innovators are the lucky few who get these, whilst the rest of us look on in awe.
The truth is, however, that great ideas are formed through experience and knowledge.
Since everybody in your organisation has different experiences, there may be amazing ideas lying dormant, simply waiting to be unlocked. Co-creation is key to unlocking these ideas because it empowers people to have the courage to speak up.
To release the ideas of your people and enable co-creation, you need to inspire them to share their ideas, equip them to articulate them, and give them a mechanism to voice them.
The Perfume Shop, a perfume retailer and stalwart of the UK high street, celebrated its year of innovation across 2016-17. After embedding some innovation practices and behaviours into its culture, they launched a company-wide ‘Dragon’s Den’ competition to find the next big ideas for the business. Everyone, at all levels, was invited to submit their suggestions.
Shortlisted ideas were invited to pitch to the ‘Dragons’ (members of the leadership team) and each winning idea was given seed funding. To further ensure success, the leader who sponsored it committed to co-creating the next stage of it with the employee.
Multinational computer software organisation, Adobe, recognises ideas need support so created it’s Kickbox. This was a box of tools for ideation that anyone with an idea could request. The box took employees with ideas through a journey of idea generating and also included a $1,000 pre-paid credit card for expenses.
This sounds expensive, however Adobe saw a huge increase in the number of ideas that were taken to testing with consumers, moving from 25 per year before the project to 300 a year after Kickbox was launched. Not only that, but this was realised at a lower absolute cost.
Key tip: Remember that ideas can come from anywhere so encourage creativity in your business. Iconic actions can help with this – at your next AGM you could hold a session on idea generating, with the key message that you want more of this sort of thing!
Principle three - connectivity drives creativity
The other myth which has developed over time is that of the eureka moment. People often tell their story as though the idea just popped into their heads. The truth is that if there was a eureka moment at all, it was far more likely to be a moment of clarity, when a million little pieces of knowledge and insight came together into an idea.
Co-creation is essential to creating connectivity. Connecting people means connecting insights and knowledge. Connecting these leads to innovation.
IBM is a global technological juggernaut, with operations in 170 countries and employing 375,000 people around the world. Yet they are able to connect people from across their business to co-create solutions for clients. They use technology to host global innovation jams where people from across the business co-create new solutions virtually.
Participants contribute their expertise and opinion on challenge areas, debating virtually on the topics under discussion. IBM then applies analytics tools to help move the conversations on and draw out the key points of interest.
This is a powerful marriage of technological and human brain power to create connectivity and generate co-created innovations. IBM have seen such success in their internal innovation jams that they have launched this as a product for its customers to use.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to IBM’s analytical innovation jams, bringing together small groups of cross-functional individuals is equally powerful. When global glass manufacturer, NSG Group, wanted to better align procurement to the business strategy, they ran a visioning workshop to which, crucially, they invited a cross section of their internal customers.
Having these end-users in the room ensured the procurement team created a future vision and strategic direction which met the needs of the business and could connect the knowledge from across the business with their knowledge of procurement.
Key tip: Ideas are born from connections so encourage them whenever you can – hold cross-function idea generating sessions, call your stakeholders before you hold an idea generating session to ask for their input (or invite them along!) or harness the power of technology to enable more people to contribute
Co-creation doesn’t have to be complex, or carried out on a large scale. If the principles are respected and the right structures in place then any organisation can enhance their approach to idea generation.
About Mok O'Keeffe
After a career in senior people roles and consulting in the UK, USA and Australia, MOK founded The Innovation Beehive, to help organisations release the creative energy of their people. Through consulting projects and training programmes, The Innovation Beehive helps people and organisations create the habits, which make innovation inevitable and sustainable.