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Innovate together

Unlike the linear model of innovation, co-creation invites insights from all the stakeholders on an ongoing basis

STR Team 

In many innovation processes the typical model is linear. Ideas are developed, filtered, developed and implemented. There may be some toing and froing but there is a progression from early stage development of a number of concepts to the filtering out of ideas that fail to meet the requirements of the brand, resources, finance or likely customer acceptance. In the latter stages a selected idea will be refined and adapted so that it is viable and do­able. At the front end of the process there may be some more open-ended research undertaken to gain a better understanding of customer lifestyles. In between the various stages there will be some testing among consumers to check that what is designed actually meets customer expectation. In this process it tends to be the case that different consumers are engaged at different points, so that the people who talk about their lifestyles at the beginning are not the same people who validate the developed product or the marketing campaign.

The linear model has some clear virtues in that it is structured, rational and controllable. Managers inside the organization can still act as experts as they develop an idea and test it at different stages. Yet, as with many models, it has flaws. Since it is a discontinuous process, things can get lost in the gaps: an idea is developed and tested among consumers; information is fed back and then engineers, designers and marketers absorb and refine the idea over a period of time. Meetings are held, some features are discarded and some forgotten, compromises are made and new assumptions emerge.

The decisions in the process may be entirely rational or more likely a result of political compromise or messy choices where, as Lindblom observed (1959) everyone has just muddled through and no one can quite remember how they have ended up where they have. At some point of course, it makes sense to go back and research the idea with a new set of potential consumers but a lot of things have now been decided along the way without any consumer input. Also, a linear process is designed around closing down options. If we refer back to Weick’s comments about Frank Gehry and the need to stay open — to act our way into deeper understanding — we should be concerned about a process which is often based on thinking one’s way into reducing choices to a viable number.

In contrast, the co-creative model can be iterative, continuous and more organic, inviting input throughout as everyone participates in a co-learning process. The value of this is that individual and collective insight grows. This helps to inspire participants to higher levels of creativity and to provide ongoing input into the development of ideas and prototypes. Rick Jenner, Head of Proposition Development (Home-Mobile) at Virgin Media, observes of its long-running community that it provides a resource for immediate feedback on both strategic and tactical issues; new product decision making as well as competitive insight. It facilitates customer input on detailed concerns where it would be too time consuming to set up a specific piece of research but where some guidance is valuable. This fluidity in cocreation both allows adaption as circumstances change and the possibility to revisit earlier decisions. Rather than sitting ensconced in a meeting room discussing possibilities, users can judge ideas and prototypes.

This willingness to learn can also be extended into the market. This approach has long been practised within the Open Source Movement, where brands such as Apache, Firefox, Thunderbird and Linux have invited users to be participants in a bazaar of co-development. Similarly, the Dutch financial services company, Rabobank has started to experiment with an open source approach to banking products. Using a social network, known as Hyves, the company first set up an open innovation challenge. One of the product concepts that was generated was an account share idea aimed primarily at young people that would enable them to pool money for events. Rabobank then decided to launch a beta version and let customers mould the idea. Innovation Manager, Maarten Korz, says, ‘this was a new way of working for us. We put out a product and asked people to help us develop and co-create it. The result was we got a lot of new ideas and the community of customers were very involved and very proud to help us.’ Korz argues that if a company is willing to trust people and to share its ideas customers will reciprocate, enabling both sides to learn together.

AUTHOR: Nicholas Ind, Clare Fuller & Charles Trevail

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ISBN: 9780749463250

Excerpted with permission from the publisher. Copyright Kogan Page. All rights reserved.

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First Published: Mon, October 22 2012. 00:34 IST