In recent years, co-creation is the buzzword of the business world. Companies are launching co-creation or innovation centers focused on everything from health care, to toys, to corporate responsibility.
So, what is co-creation?
As you’d expect with a concept that hinges on collaboration and innovation, the definition is subjective and constantly changing.
Francis Gouillart, president and co-founder of the Experience Co-Creation Partnership, has written that, “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.”
Gouillart’s definition focuses on the mutual benefits for organizations and individuals gets once they are allowed to liberate their creative potential. The benefit for individuals is the experience while, for the organization, the value is in “the economics.”
Piller, Ihl and Vossen, who proposed a typology of co-creation, wrote that, “Customer co-creation is an active, creative and social process, based on collaboration between producers (retailers) and users, that is initiated by the firm to generate value for customers.”
Both of these definitions show some common traits. They are creative, social and goal oriented. They both involve teams that collaborate together and stress engaging and committing participants to liberate their creativity.
But both definitions are focused on the value created, as if that value itself is the end product. I’d like to propose that while better experiences or products or even more economic value for a company may be extremely important, and certainly not to be underestimated, that there are many benefits of co-creation that are less tangible, but nevertheless vital.
A seminal text on co-creation is The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual. The Cluetrain Manifesto was first published on the internet as a series of 95 theses that explored the impacts of the internet and emerging technologies on marketing. The manifesto stressed that in order to progress, organizations would need to converse with their communities. It was no longer enough to produce and market products or services. To survive, businesses would need to enter the collaborative, user-driven conversation being enabled by technology and the internet space.
A statement from the manifesto, which is often repeated, is that “markets are conversation.” Co-creation, the ClueTrain Manifesto suggested, is a conversation, a dialogue rather than a monologue, and an interaction based process.
The value of process over product is a creative tenet. This perspective shifts the focus from end result to benefits reaped from the act itself, and places value on things that are more difficult to measure.
Co-Creation is a Social Process
It involves several actors coming together with a shared goal. The shared goal – whether explicitly or implicitly stated – is often to make meaning, innovate and share values to create mutually beneficial outcomes.
Although value for participants may be differently defined, co-creation reveals and brings to the surface an intersection where users and organizations’ needs can meet.
This engagement is a complete move away from sequential or hierarchical models of business or marketing, where the business was the actor and the consumer, the passive recipient. Co-creation demands of its participants active engagement, and therefore, trust and equity.
Co-creation makes it possible to capitalize on the win-win that allows users to get better experiences, and organizations to improve and innovate effectively and efficiently. It fosters mutual growth as both consumers and organizations develop and grow together.
Co-creation is a creative process changing the nature of business and consumerism. It facilitates a space where ideas are shared and generated using interactive and facilitating approaches to generate new, shared concepts that focus on value and experiences rather than on the product itself. To achieve this, different means and creative methods are adopted, mainly based on negotiation, meaning making and idea sharing.
In the end, co-creation enables mutuality, a shared success designed by all participants. Co-creation should therefore be defined: a social, collaborative and creative process to generate innovation, through the dialogue and participation of all actors to construct new win-win opportunities and experiences.