Sometimes it's difficult and even painful to level with people when it really counts.
Co-creation is more than just reviewing projects in the final stages of completion. It means open-minded work on equal terms - consistently and right from the beginning.
Our Managing Director, Dirk Jehmlich, had a comprehensive interview with the fine people at Heitger Consulting.
One aspect is that every time we work for our clients, we also work with them. The client is the foremost expert in his business, and we don't try to take that away from him. In any case, we need to work with the customers. Otherwise real implementation becomes a bit of a problem! A concrete example of our approach to co-creation can be found in our Opportunity Labs. These are collaborations with customers where we take an in-depth look at a current trend, for example, Big Data. We ask questions about it: What here is hype, and what is substance? What are the limitations and where are real opportunities? It's often the case that trends are overestimated in the short term and underestimated in the long term. Clients can get disappointed and turn away when a new project doesn't deliver on its promises, only to realise five years later that they were missing the true core of the issue. Over the past year, we've invited eight corporate labs from large German companies to our Opportunity Labs. We had people working together who had never met and would never meet again. This type of cooperation is worth its weight in gold, both in content and setting. We don't hold these discussions in a vacuum, of course, so each session comes with its everyday problems and strategic challenges.
Our second type of co-creation is quite simple and yet effective. We bring people together: "You fit together well, let's all meet for dinner!" See? It doesn't have to be complicated!
There’s a third type of co-creation: involving the customer early and often. We hardly ever create general strategy concepts. Even before the first idea presentation, we've tested the concepts with "real people." We do this for two reasons. Firstly, because customer opinion always comes up at the beginning, with someone saying something like, "Personally, I find this idea excellent, but do our customers see it like this?" It helps to have an answer ready—why bother suggesting ideas you haven't tested? The second reason is speed. Once something is being developed, it takes longer to make changes and implement suggestions. But customers always come up with suggestions. That's why, from the beginning, we work on our strategy projects with small groups of eight to 80 customers. These people are carefully chosen from our network of contacts. They are not experts on specific topics, but nevertheless are professionally involved in the industry or are otherwise archetypal of certain target groups.
Architects, for example, are well suited to our network because they always think about the larger context. Strategic planners, developers and designers often appear in our groups as well. Of course, these groups are tailored to the client—for a car manufacturer, we might get taxi drivers, architects and service designers, while a drugstore chain might get product testers, hairdressers and beauty bloggers. Often, one or two people in the first group end up being quite interested in the project. We try to incorporate these people into the later development stages as well, sometimes even including them on the project team as advisors. What we caution against is simply asking the average consumer. In the early development phase, the average consumer is simply unable to judge whether or not a product is for him, and can often be too vague in his feedback—clarity is a must.
In different settings. Often in meetings that aren't focus groups so much as dinners. We tell the participants what we're thinking. On the table, we've got beer coasters—with a blank side—and pens, or even just a paper tablecloth. We want everyone to be able to take notes if they want to. The relaxed atmosphere makes it easy to exchange opinions. Drinks get people talking. Then we come by in twos, one casually leading the conversation, the other taking notes—recording devices can make some people clam up. We bring a small agenda in the form of a menu, with a couple of topics and questions to be considered.
In the fields of marketing, sales, and business development, collaboration between customers and suppliers is relatively new. Companies such as Walmart have used it to outmanoeuvre their competition. Walmart shares their insights with suppliers quite proactively—after all, everyone has the same interest. Suppliers face the same challenges as the retailer, only from a different perspective. It's clear that the potential for innovation is there. We work with our clients to try to integrate their strategic suppliers into a common, open, and innovative process. This isn't easy, since suppliers usually don’t cooperate with marketing departments, but rather with product developers or buyers. For example, it's inappropriate to share information with only one or two suppliers—you have to communicate with everybody. There's a lot of hidden potential here.
This interview originally appeared in "Issue 14", published by Heitger Consulting. The Austrian firm is an expert in the field of innovation and inspiration in systematic consulting. We are convinced that new solutions do not always mean reinventing the wheel. You can download the complete article "Co-created Solutions" in the original German version here.