What is co-creation?

It is sensible to be sceptical of buzzwords because so often they are a rebadging of old ideas or meagre variations on a theme. So, when Amy suggested an edition of Compelling Stuff be devoted to collaboration, it seemed opportune to investigate the world of ‘co-creation’. Sounds so good, but what is it?

Co-creation is a buzz word. But it refers to a movement that is gathering pace, a practice that is being adopted by consulting firms large and small, and a rethink on how to leverage ideas as intellectual property.

Consider this scenario. Carefully select 10 smart people, with enough wisdom and humility to listen as well as contribute, and place them in a room. Add a challenging problem, a reasonable amount of time and a good facilitator. What is the chance an answer, or a pathway to one, will be found. When it works it is like watching magic happen!

If it is that easy, why haven’t we seen more of it?

Here are 3 possible reasons:

  • Commercial ideas are created within a company or university and secured via laws, protocols and training employs to think the idea has perpetual, ownable value.
  • Finding 10 smart, wise people with complementary expertise and enough available time to come together in one place is very difficult.
  • Traditional models of facilitation are costly, resource and time intensive, and were designed for a different age.

Ideas are created, implemented, developed and re-hatched at a rate unfathomable just 10 years ago. We build on the textbooks we are given at university, following blogs, attending conferences, sharing findings with peer networks via social media. We do this via phone, PC, iPad throughout each and every day of our lives.

My sister-in-law works on econometric problems with a global network of researchers to solve the most complex economic problems using mindboggling maths. There is a cash prize but that’s not what drives her. She is extremely bright and this is the kind of challenge a PhD graduate like her lives for. However, perhaps more importantly, via a competition platform she has developed a social network of people globally who share her condition: an irrepressible urge to solve problems.

Surely the hardest, most insecure dollar to make these days is in software sales. We worked on a project in Morwell last year and there is a firm out there that has developed an online marketplace to rival the best Silicon Valley has produced. But, even as it races to ascendancy, how long will the platform and, indeed, the business last? The company must continue to track all the evolutions in its space. Problem is, if it doesn’t share its IP, will any other software developers not on its payroll? The next leap forward could be about to launch from a flat in downtown Jakarta. Although the context is acute, this issue is faced by all companies, not just those in software development.

What these two stories tell us is that, while some advances in technology and thinking can be giant, most are iterative. A result of good minds continually working on a problem, stimulated by their environment, shared learning and the anticipation of achievement.

The internet and social networks enable this to happen organically, while structure is provided via communication infrastructure and media. Plugged-in via Twitter, enews, or LinkedIn, we can ride this rapid surge of knowledge creation, contributing where we are best placed to do so. Twitter is still an enigma to many people but it is quite possibly its ability to aggregate, sort and, linking to bookmarking sites, save useful information that makes it so powerful. At least to our agency.

The rise of developer communities working on open source code is a great example of how software engineering can still be commercially viable, but only if developers stay plugged-in.

At EJ HQ, the challenge of the last couple of years has been to keep investing in the brains, time and resources necessary to develop of ideas while ensuring quality control and implementation systems are functioning effectively. Thinking global and acting local.

We do not protect IP unnecessarily. Only when it is in formation and not yet articulated well thus presenting risk to reputation and the trust we hold with our networks. We have formed think tanks like the Shared Value Project to gather good minds around a nascent concept and take it forward, building our own interpretations. We proactively share our knowledge with client staff, acknowledging that an idea is only as good as its realisation in practice.

But if we give the ideas, articulated in processes and systems, away how will be stay in business??!!

The context for implementation is always different. Although embodied in the process, the magic is mainly in its creative adaptation to different environments. Our in-house training, experience, learned behaviour (including how to manage the political context of our work) and network of experts worldwide means we have a high probability of getting results. If we can’t, we won’t take on the job. Our approach is collaboration – co-creation? – to get the most we can from client intelligence and experience while augmenting it with our own.

Sharing the IP creates a field on which we can collaboratively play with our clients and their customers or stakeholders.

On this soul searching journey we’ve learned a few things:

  1. Get used to the infinite – development of ideas and processes is without end. Even when technology is completely superseded the ideas behind its original development continue to course forward, unabated.
  2. To give is to receive – once you take that step to give out information others would not, you immediately attract smart people with similar values and the shared energy takes the ideas forward much, much faster than if you had relied on recruiting expensive staff in the hope they can be transformative.
  3. Grow thick skin – those who live the old paradigm hate to see competitors giving ideas away, and will find opportunities to undermine your mission. Ignore them, they will go away.
  4. Good people were hard to find, not anymore – if you have something valuable to offer, people with the expertise you need to take yours and their ideas forward will engage. We’ve developed a Research as Engagement model based on this approach.
  5. Go online – if you work as hard and consistently as we do, conferences, business lunches and other physical platforms for collaboration can only be used sparingly. Understand how social networks, blogs and good old email can work better for you.

Channel the energy – it is easy to get side-tracked while enjoying the euphoria immersion in communities of practice can bring – the sense of belonging! Set up mental frameworks to guide your team towards the best relationships and outcomes.