What the heck is co-creation?

A few years back, trying to explain co-creation was like describing an oasis in a desert. You had to get the other party to envision water, palm trees and the restful experience that might come with it. Today, establishing what co-creation is involves hacking at luxuriating vegetation with a machete. The jungle of co-creation has become so dense it’s hard to tell what’s what. So let me attempt to play jungle cartographer.

The word “co-creation” is everywhere:

Sony just announced a co-creation platform.

Michael Dell says that “co-creation is a big opportunity” for his company.

A.G. Lafley, former CEO of Procter & Gamble says “you have to innovate with the customer, (…) and keep her involved, co-creating and co-designing with you throughout”.

The City of London is inviting its citizens to “co-create London.”

Copenhagen just hosted a Copenhagen “co-creation summit” on design.

If you’re into spiritual healing, you’re invited to “co-create your life and be in charge of your own reality.”

So what the heck is co-creation? The glib answer, of course, is “all of the above”, since one should have the right to co-create everything, including the definition of the word co-creation.

But since you insist on a more scholarly definition, co-creation is a theory of interactions. It involves changing the way the organization interacts with individuals, including employees, customers or any stakeholder. More specifically, co-creation involves setting up new modes of engagement for these individuals – platforms, in the jargon – that allow these individuals to insert themselves in the value chain of the organization. These platforms can be physical things such as a meeting or a store, or virtual things such as a web site. The idea of co-creation is to unleash the creative energy of many people, such that it transforms both their individual experience and the economics of the organization that enabled it.

Defined in this fashion, you can co-create anything involving an interaction, and there are all kinds of interactions. You can co-create a process. In that sense, co-creation is making a bid as the new reengineering. For example, Dell started its co-creation journey by redefining its customer service process – admittedly under pressure from Jeff Jarvis and other bloggers – by making it two-way.

Opening up the product development process to co-creation will lead you to co-create products. This is what A.G. Lafley did when he put in place the so-called Connect & Develop co-creation platform at Procter & Gamble, or what Sony is doing by inviting software developers to develop new applications for its Sony platform.

A city administration can co-create with citizens and invite them to imagine how they’d like to experience the city, as London does. And ultimately, you can attempt to co-create the entire world order, and Copenhagen is as good a place to start from, since the Vikings did it once before already.

Now, that’s co-creation from the organization’s standpoint. From the individual’s standpoint, co-creation suggests each of us can engage differently with businesses and organizations, as employee, customer or citizen. If each of us is a co-creator, this may even lead to a redefinition of our interaction with God, but I’ll leave spiritual healing for another blog entry. This organizational co-creation thing is hard enough as it is.

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7 Responses to “What the heck is co-creation?”

  1. Ned Kumar says:

    Nice post. As to your statement, “you can co-create anything involving an interaction…”, I can buy into that — however, whether something is a co-creation or not would depend (imho) on the type of interaction. A firm asking their customers for suggestions in my opinion is not really co-creation. Anyway, some would say it is just semantics but I would say that there is a difference between co-creation, crowd-sourcing, mass customization, etc.

    You can shoot me down :-) -- but I think of co-creation not as a one time engagement (where I gave a suggestion and that is it) but more as a continued interaction till something useful comes out of that engagement.


  2. Danny Wong says:

    Co-creation is amazing. It’s how businesses will thrive in the future -- working with consumers and users to co-create a product or service to fit all the needs of the end-user.

    I run a co-creation company in the Boston area. I’m currently in Waltham.

    I’d love to chat some more about how co-creation is evolving in the states.

    Danny Wong

  3. If I may contribute with my blog post on the subject: ‘Co-Creation is more than just a philosophy!’ http://bit.ly/cVNTDx

  4. Francis Gouillart says:

    Hi Danny:

    Really super-coverage for you guys in the New York Times today. I was at both Babson and Bentley recenly, and you two guys are undoubtedly making your schools proud. Keep up the good work, and we”l write up a case about you guys soon.

  5. wypracowania says:

    It’s hard to find knowledgeable people on this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

  6. Lilian Mcvoy says:

    That is the correct blog for anybody who desires to find out about this topic. You realize so much its nearly hard to argue with you (not that I really would need…HaHa). You positively put a brand new spin on a topic thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just great!

  7. Brian Urwin says:

    Whilst self-coaching I discovered the term co-creation. This raised my interest to better understand. I therefore researched it and found your website. My plan is to better understand the term and the potential benefits to both myself and my young (teenage) clients. My initial reading indicates to me the benefits to individuals, teams, organisations & communities. The difficult task will be helping to raise the understanding of others and I see this as part and parcel of co-creation. Brian Urwin (UK)

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