Today, more than ever, customers of different organisations are able to engage to such a degree in the development and use of the items that companies sell or provide to them that they effectively become co-creators.

We can say that co-creation with customers (collaborative creation) is open innovation with customers, though there is generally not much freedom offered to customers to allow a complete revolution of thoughts, desires, needs or wants. There are limits! There are boundaries! There are directions!

There is almost always a set of constraints and legal, environmental, economic or social barriers. Co-creation is therefore not a clear path for everyone and for everything. Organisations and their leaders establish a strategic line and define the boundaries of performance and possible contours for social interaction.

So whilst we can create value by employing the creativity, knowledge, experience and skills of many people (internal and external to the organisation), for it to work best we should respect certain rules and principles.

Venket Ramaswamy and Francis Gouillart describe “The four principles of co-creation” that are a great starting point to a successful path in co-creation. They say:

  1. Stakeholders will not wholeheartedly participate in customer co-creation unless it also provides value for them.
  2. The best way to co-create value is to focus on the experiences of all stakeholders
  3. Stakeholders must be able to interact directly with one another.
  4. Companies should provide platforms that allow stakeholders to interact and share their experiences.

Although these principles are a good starting point because they are ‘liberators’, there are plenty of other questions in my mind that they don’t resolve.

  • How to motivate stakeholders to participate?
  • If employees feel threatened by customer co-creation, how can we create value and avoid value destruction?
  • On the other hand we know that the sharing of experiences of all stakeholders (including employees and customers) promotes a deeper understanding of the issues, and the interactions developed could enhance the experiences of all concerned. So how can we develop and maintain a desirable dynamic in interactions?

Co-creation is certainly a way that organisations must go to stay ahead, though the platforms available for them to use should allow for agile processes and rapid learning cycles. The interactions that occur in co-creation with customers should also quickly and clearly serve to correct deviations from the objectives and clarify the boundaries of performance.

I like to think that although some people regard them as restrictions that inhibit total creativity, these following considerations for generating ideas for better services or successful products provide some essential discipline to keep a co-creation process manageable and the outcomes relevant:

The technical feasibility of implementing an idea

  • Is there technology available to realise this idea?
  • Is the organisation prepared to carry out this idea?
  • Does the implementation time fit the organisation’s guidelines?

The economic viability

  • Does the result fit the organisation’s budget?
  • Does the result fit the organisation’s goals?
  • Is the return on investment satisfactory or good?

The desirability of the outcomes to users or consumers

  • What would be the impact of the results and outcomes on customers’ lives?
  • Would the outcomes meet the customers’ articulated needs?

It’s also relevant at this stage to recognise the distinction between non-articulated needs and hidden needs.

Non-articulated needs are ones that exist but that users or consumers failed to clearly define, and they represent a message that needs to be drawn out in an understandable language. The interactions made possible by platforms are based on a  duality: organisations with their set structures, rules and resources may be oblivious to them; and customers who are mutually influenced by these corporate values and behaviours often fail to clarify their real needs.

“If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses.” Henry Ford

Hidden needs, on the other hand, are the types of things that people really want, but they are unaware of or do not feel their needs. These needs will manifest themselves only in future plans and are often the result of a change in surroundings or in the evolutionary development of each person.

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of time people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Steve Jobs

In conclusion, although it may be tempting to ignore restrictions in order to be “totally creative”, to be able to regard restrictions as liberators – keeping you focused – is also motivating and a means to reach another level of wisdom. The feasibility of co-created outcomes, their economic viability and their popularity with users or consumers should not be considered steps of a process. These constraints and the disciplined focus they provide are the pillars of execution that simultaneously serve to filter all possible interactions that promote co-creation projects with their users and consumers. It is at the intersection of these constraints that we must seek a solution to a problem.

Have you any co-creation experiences that can add to this article?