By necessity, this is a long article covering a lot of ground, and it’s not an easy read. The material could easily fill an entire book. If you really want to explore the principles and practices of Rich Co-creation you’ll need to set aside an hour and ensure that you won’t be interrupted.
What is Rich Co-creation?
Originated by Jack Martin Leith,
Rich Co‑creation is a purpose-led, egalitarian way of getting things done in which all necessary ecosystem members (stakeholders and beyond) work together from the outset and on an equal footing to bring forth a mutually-beneficial result and generate maximum value for customers or users, other stakeholders, wider society, and, as a natural consequence, the enterprise itself.
The mutually-beneficial result could be a new product, service, facility, establishment or event; a renewed sense of purpose; a new vision, business model or strategy; a new organizational design; a new way of working; a solution to a complex or persistent problem; or just about anything.
In a generative enterprise—one that seeks to enrich the world—every team uses the Rich Co-creation principles and practices to plan, launch and expedite projects that contribute to the accomplishment of the enterprise’s mission, thereby manifesting its intent.
Intent is an animating principle finding expression as a heartfelt desire to enrich the world in a particular way.
Intent is a fusion of purpose and generative vision;
Purpose: Why the enterprise exists, beyond profit.
Vision: In the Rich Co-creation scheme of things, vision is a physical artifact serving as a surrogate for realised potential. It takes the form of a depiction (an actual picture accompanied by vivid explanatory text) of how the world will be when the value generation potential of the enterprise is being realised and the enterprise is animating its purpose to the full.
I consider purpose to be a commitment to achieve some kind of significant impact in the world around you.
Source: John Hagel, co-chairman for Deloitte LLP’s Center for the Edge, in his article The Connection Between Narrative and Purpose, on the website of The Marketing Journal.
Rich Co-creation exponents consider mission to be an enterprise-wide programme of work aimed at manifesting intent within a given timeframe.
Economic value, conceptual value, and experienced value
Economic value means money, which comes in the form of revenue and profit for a business, and in the shape of donations for a charity. But we need to be aware of this:
Prosperity in human societies can’t be properly understood by looking just at monetary measures, such as income or wealth. Prosperity in a society is the accumulation of solutions to human problems. These solutions run from the prosaic (crunchier potato chips) to the profound (cures for deadly diseases).
Source: Redefining capitalism, by Eric Beinhocker and Nick Hanauer, in McKinsey Quarterly, September 2014.
Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter has revised his ideas about the nature of value:
No financial man will ever understand business because financial people think a company makes money. A company makes shoes, and no financial man understands that. They think money is real. Shoes are real. Money is an end result.
Source: Peter Drucker, quoted in Mission Statement Definition: Linking Customer Mission and Social Mission, by Gideon Rosenblatt, The Vital Edge.
Conceptual value is typically seen in value propositions and purpose statements, or scribbled on Post-it Notes during a workshop session. Examples include refreshment, comfort, safety, convenience, and ease of use. Linguists call this kind of a word a nominalisation: the verb ‘to feel comfortable’ has been converted into an abstract noun, ‘comfort’. Conceptual value is an abstraction — the menu, not the meal.
Companies must take the lead in bringing business and society back together. The recognition is there among sophisticated business and thought leaders, and promising elements of a new model are emerging. Yet we still lack an overall framework for guiding these efforts, and most companies remain stuck in a ‘social responsibility’ mind-set in which societal issues are at the periphery, not the core.
The solution lies in the principle of shared value, which involves creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges. Businesses must reconnect company success with social progress. Shared value is not social responsibility, philanthropy, or even sustainability, but a new way to achieve economic success. It is not on the margin of what companies do but at the center. We believe that it can give rise to the next major transformation of business thinking.
Source: Creating Shared Value, by Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer, in Harvard Business Review, January-February 2011.
Experienced value is not something you can handle, like a dollar bill, nor is it a vague concept such as refreshment. Imagine this: It’s a hot day. You are thirsty. You buy a can of beer. You remove the ring-pull and take a swig. Whatever happens next in your sensory system (if it’s a positive experience, otherwise you’re experiencing anti-value) is what I’m calling experienced value. It’s utterly subjective, and cannot be expressed in words.
Rich Co-creation is mostly concerned with maximising the generation of experienced value.
How value is generated
Value is co-created through the interaction between the value beneficiary (e.g. consumer) and the value generator—something tangible or intangible that produces experienced value when the user interacts with it.
The main types of value generator are:
A meta generator 1 is a producer of value generators. Example: an enterprise.
A meta generator 2 is a producer of meta generators. Example: the founders of an enterprise.
If you would like to know more about value co-creation, I recommend Evolving to a New Dominant Logic for Marketing (pdf), a groundbreaking paper written by Stephen Vargo and Robert Lusch, and published in Journal of Marketing, Vol. 68 (January 2004).
The converse of value is anti-value.
Visualize this scenario:
It’s a hot day. You are thirsty. You buy a can of beer. You remove the ring-pull and take a swig. It tastes vile. You are now experiencing what I call ‘anti-value’.
Anti-value is more than dissatisfaction. It manifests as an experience of physical pain or emotional upset arising from a poorly designed or malfunctioning value generator (the can of beer, in our example), or from the denial of previously received and possibly taken-for-granted value.
Anti-value often spawns further anti-value. For example, a woman cuts herself when opening a packaged product. She feels physical pain, irritation and regret, and the emotions escalate into anger.
The inadequate packaging has now generated considerable anti-value and evoked a negative brand experience.
Fast forward to the next purchase occasion. The woman chooses a different brand, not because it promises greater value, but because she wants to avoid the anti-value she received from the first brand.
Increasingly, collective anti-value is being returned to the perpetrator in the form of badwill.
The enterprise ecosystem is the constellation of entities — customers, suppliers, investors, regulatory bodies and so on—that affect, and are affected by directly or indirectly, the actions of the enterprise. An enterprise ecosystem differs from a stakeholder system in that it includes entities not generally viewed as stakeholder groups (such as competitors, anti-clients and activist organizations).
The mutually-beneficial result could be a new product, service, facility or experience, a new vision, business model or strategy, a new way of working, a solution to a complex problem involving diverse stakeholders, or just about anything.
An idea is conceived in the mind of a single individual, even when people are working in pairs. Others will help develop it throughout the gestation period — see Lifestages model below — but, in the realm of ideas, conception is a solo activity.
The origins of Rich Co‑creation
In 1988 I took part in the Sixth Annual Symposium on Organization Transformation (OT6) held in Djurö, an island forming part of the Stockholm archipelago.
This was what some people now call an unconference: an event at which the participants create their own agenda of self-managed sessions in relation to a topic of mutual interest or concern. Open Space Technology was the method employed for the event, and on returning to the United Kingdom I began to establish myself as a professional organiser and facilitator of Open Space gatherings.
Open Space Technology is one of several methods available to organisers of large-scale, multi-stakeholder meetings convened for the purpose of complex problem-solving, breakthrough innovation or whole system change. Other methods include Future Search, Real Time Strategic Change, and its close relative, Whole-Scale™ Change.
In 1995 I moved to Amsterdam and established The Centre for Large Group Interventions, an enterprise that helped clients such as Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways) and Royal Dutch Shell learn about these methods and use them to address strategic and operational issues.
A year earlier I had read The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies for Building a Learning Organization, by Peter Senge, Art Kleiner, Charlotte Roberts, Rick Ross and Bryan J. Smith.
Creating collaborative gatherings using large group interventions
by Jack Martin Leith
Gower Handbook of Training and Development, Chapter 28. Includes an overview of Real Time Strategic Change and Open Space Technology. Although published in 1999, much of the content remains relevant.
In this book, the follow-up to The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, Senge and his co‑authors provide guidance for developing and deploying the five disciplines of the learning organisation: personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, team learning, and systems thinking.
The Building Shared Vision section of the Fieldbook, contributed by Bryan J. Smith, includes this graphic:
Here is my elaborated version of Bryan Smith’s model:
The Fieldbook was my first encounter with the term ‘co‑creation’, and it was the perfect label for the work I would do with companies, government agencies and third sector organisations throughout the next 20 years.
However, in the early 2000s the term started to become more closely associated with customer co-creation — the practice of involving customers or users in the early stages of the product innovation process.
The text quoted below, which I found on the website of The World Bank with the title Co‑creating Development, makes reference to this narrow field of application.
The source article is no longer online, but the passage remains here as it is one of the most concise descriptions of full-blooded co‑creation I have seen.
Co‑creation is not about “build it and they will come.” Rather, it is about “bring them together and build it with them.”
Co‑creation harnesses human potential to mutually expand value. It not only views individuals as having creative capacities to forge mutually valuable outcomes together, but also that they attach meaning to their experiences of these outcomes and their very acts of creative interactions with the environments around them.
Thinking of co‑creation in this way takes us well beyond crowdsourcing and open innovation. It can include any of the value chain activities of any business, civic, or social enterprise—activities that can be opened up to more inclusive, creative, and meaningful engagement with stakeholders.
While the crowdsourcing firms and open innovation consultants were making a lot of noise about their customer-centric version of co‑creation, my approach was becoming increasingly distinct from every other co‑creation approach.
And so, in the summer of 2015, I named it Rich Co‑creation, to signal that the approach is potent and to suggest the generation of abundant value.
The Rich Co-creation principles and practices are grounded in research, analysis, discussion, experimentation and casework conducted over the course of three decades.
Co‑creation vs. collaboration
Mostly I talk about co‑creation rather than collaboration, for the following reasons:
When used as a short form of Rich Co‑creation, co-creation indicates that people work together on the project from inception to completion. They are not invited or co‑opted to help implement someone else’s plan, which is often the case with a collaborative project.
Co-creation is a coherent set of principles, methods and tools, whereas collaboration is a nebulous concept consisting mostly of motherhood and apple pie statements (“We must work together with stakeholders” etc.), sensible team working practices that date back to the 1980s, and technology that may hinder as much as it helps.
For example, see How Structured Project Management Software Blocks Collaboration, by Scott R. Schreiman, on Medium, and this:
Co-creation indicates that people are doing creative work — they are bringing into being something that did not exist previously.
Many years ago I made the following statement — “The individual is the new group” — and the tools that we see arising today start there, focusing on what Cal Newport, the author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, calls ‘deep work’:
“Deep Work: Cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve.”
He contrasts that with ‘shallow work’:
“Shallow Work: Tasks that almost anyone, with a minimum of training, could accomplish (e-mail replies, logistical planning, tinkering with social media, and so on).”
I maintain that much of what social collaboration tools are designed to support is shallow work, and the stuff of managerial oversight.
Source: Understanding the failed promise of ‘social collaboration’, by Stowe Boyd, on Gigaom website.
We can say something was co‑created, but we cannot say it was collaborated.
For those Europeans who were alive during the Second World War, collaboration continues to mean “the act of cooperating traitorously with an enemy that is occupying your country”. This is why the word was taboo in the United Kingdom until quite recently. We must thank the people of the USA for its rehabilitation.
The business case for Rich Co-creation
Mission focused, enterprise-wide co-creation is a new proposition and hard evidence of its virtues is not yet available. However, I predict the benefits listed below.
Rich Co-creation is an enterprise-wide methodology for planning, designing and expediting projects in the areas of problem solving, innovation, change, development, and potential realisation. Everyone is employing the same principles and practices to achieve the same ends.
Understanding the difference between development and potential realisation: Imagine a company that operates bus services. The company’s value generation capability could be expanded by buying more buses, or by replacing single decker buses with double deckers. In both cases, the company would be a undertaking a development project. Getting more people to use the buses would be a potential realisation project.
Credit: Robert C. JonesRich Co-creation harnesses the knowledge, wisdom and creativity of a large number of people.
Ideas are conceived that have the potential to generate significant value for customers and the wider ecosystem.
Insights are revealed that might otherwise remain undiscovered.
As joint authors of the project plan, people are fully committed to bringing it to fruition.
People give of their best, because their work has purpose, it is fulfilling, and their creative potential is liberated.
Productive relationships with colleagues, customers and other ecosystem constituents are fostered.
Innovation and change endeavours produce the desired results quickly, without so-called ‘resistance’. If the proposed project meets the value requirements of all constituents of the enterprise ecosystem, the relevant people within these constituent organisations will support the project, or — at the very least — will not hinder its progress.
Resistance is what happens when you have messed up the design process. Not only do we need to we need to stop talking about resistance—we need to stop seeing resistance.
Source: Resistance to change, The Bureau of Management Theory and Practice.
The desired state of affairs is accomplished quickly, smoothly and without any unwanted consequences.
Ecosystem value is maximised and anti-value is minimised.
The elusive objective of alignment is achieved. The work of every enterprise member, from the CEO to the most junior employee, contributes directly or indirectly to the manifestation of intent (i.e. the animation of purpose and the realisation of the enterprise’s vision of realised potential).
The pursuit of greatness is encouraged. Mediocrity is not tolerated.
Download the article Creating Greatness in the Realm Beyond Systems Thinking, by Jack Martin Leith (pdf)
Rich Co-creation principles
There are three groups of principles, nested as shown in this graphic:
Group 1: Principles relating to the enterprise as a whole. These principles also apply to projects and gatherings.
Group 2: Principles relating to the projects the enterprise undertakes as it seeks to accomplish its mission. These principles also apply to gatherings.
Group 3: Principles relating to small-scale and large-scale gatherings convened for the purpose of planning, designing and expediting co-creation projects.
Please note that, in the following text, co-creation always means Rich Co-creation.
An enterprise exists to enrich the world in a particular way. This is the enterprise’s intent — a fusion of generative purpose and generative vision.
You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with great vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.
28th President of the United States
Every employee is focused on generating maximum value for all constituents of the enterprise ecosystem.
All work contributes to the accomplishment of an enterprise-wide mission aimed at manifesting its intent within a given timeframe. Rich Co-creation work always serves intent and mission.
Rich Co-creation is an enterprise-wide capability and practice, not a technique employed for ad-hoc projects.
Rich Co-creation practice extends beyond workshops and events.
Rich Co-creation calls for a genuine appreciation of the value requirements of each constituent of the enterprise ecosystem. If you disapprove of the value sought by one or more parties, you are inviting failure.
As an individual, group or organisation, you cannot create value. You can only create value generators — notably products, services, facilities, establishments and events.
Value is co-created through the interaction between the value beneficiary (e.g. consumer, service user) and the value generator.
Arresting the generation of anti-value is just as important as — and sometimes more important than — the generation of new value.
Asking customers or other stakeholders for their ideas and then cutting them loose is not co-creation — it’s research.
Whenever possible, replace one-way messages with generative conversations.
Employees are not instruments of management. They are autonomous creators.
Each person is a coach, fully committed to helping colleagues unlock their creative potential.
A co-creation project can be framed in one of five ways: innovation, change, problem solving, development, or potential realisation.
Regardless of how the project is framed, seek to bring the new into being — as an act of creation — rather than aiming to reinstate the status quo (‘problem solving’ frame) or embarking on an imaginary a journey from here to there (‘change’ frame).
Robert Fritz [author of The Path of Least Resistance etc.] argues for a distinction between problem-solving and creating. Problem-solving is taking actions to have something go away: the problem. While problem-solving has its place, as a persistent approach, it limits accomplishment. The elimination of a problem does not mean that the desired result can be created. As distinguished, solving a problem does not by design lead to a creation. Creating is taking action to bring into being that which does not yet exist: the desired outcome.
Source: Wikipedia—Robert Fritz
When a co-creation meeting or event is held to initiate an innovation project, start the proceedings with the Readiness process.
The Readiness process enables project team members to prime themselves for the moment of conception (the showing up of a concept that has world enrichment potential) by becoming immersed in the requirements and dynamics of the co‑creation project, and having a felt sense of the new reality implied by the creative brief.
The state of affairs you seek to create is the desired present, not the desired future. (Credit: James Wilk.)
Co-creation projects and meetings are designed by a team that includes a selection of people who will undertake the downstream work. The design team should include a sceptic.
You know you have a good design when you show it to people and they say, “oh, yeah, of course,” like the solution was obvious.
Source: Chris Pratley, quoted by Julie Zhuo, Product Design Director, Facebook, in Good Design, on Medium.
Make any non‑negotiable design constraints explicit. Identify and eliminate phantom constraints.
The design team takes into account the realities, perspectives and value requirements of all constituents of the enterprise ecosystem.
When undertaking co-creation projects, include upstream all those whose contribution, cooperation and consent will be required downstream. Contribution means active participation, co-operation means providing occasional assistance or, at the very least, not blocking progress, and consent means giving formal or informal approval to the proposed course of action.
Right action flows from intent — the enterprise’s heartfelt desire to enrich the world in a particular way.
Practise rapid prototyping and early experimentation.
Create then adjust.
Maintain acute awareness of the entire ecosystem in which the enterprise is situated.
A microcosm of the enterprise participates in any co-creation project that has consequences for the enterprise as a whole.
Resistance to change is seen for what it really is: a signal that the value requirements of the individual, group or enterprise, or those of entities they care deeply about, are not being met, and an appeal — perhaps a disruptive one — for matters to be put right.
Those involved in a co-creation project serve others without the need for reciprocation.
A shared vision of realised potential offers inspiration and creates cohesion.
Ownership and commitment arise from an egalitarian approach.
Pool knowledge for the sake of the project and its future beneficiaries.
Think not only with your mind, but also with your heart. In the Japanese and Chinese languages, heart and mind are the same word: kokoro and xin respectively. (More info here.)
Invite join-in rather than seeking buy-in or soliciting engage-in.
Breakdown is welcomed as an opportunity for breakthrough.
Co-creation projects serve as learning laboratories for the benefit of the enterprise as a whole.
The ideal group size for a truly interactive conversation is four people. If not four, then five is OK but three is better. The conversation does not work so well when the group consists of more than five people. One or two people are likely to dominate; the conversation will probably break into two, even three; someone may be excluded from the conversation, and group energy will be low. Source: Interactive Dialogue or Serial Monologue: The Influence of Group Size on conversation, by David Gurteen.
The people attending a collaborative gathering are not a passive audience. They are active participants, even if there are 50, 500 or 5,000 of them. The audience concept has no place in the realm of co-creation. Always challenge any use of the term during a collaborative design session.
The entire enterprise, or a microcosm of the enterprise, takes part in any collaborative gathering convened for a purpose that has consequences for the enterprise as a whole.
Cordial invitation, warm-hearted hosting and hospitable conditions are among the prerequisites for a successful collaborative gathering.
Foster a community in which people come together as part of something larger than themselves that they believe in and gain meaning from. Credit: Robert W. Jacobs (Jake Jacobs), the originator of Real Time Strategic Change.
People can be trusted to do the right thing when they have access to effective processes, essential information and necessary resources.
Methods, models and tools
Please note that no rewards are received from any of the enterprises mentioned below or elsewhere on this website.
In any enterprise, two types of work are undertaken:
Continuous work This type of work has no start or end point. It keeps on rolling along — day in, day out.
Examples: Processing invoices, greeting visitors, driving a truck, talking with customers, running an IT helpdesk.
Project work This type of work has a clear start and end point. It is generally undertaken by a team, often with members drawn from different functions and hierarchical levels.
Examples: Conceiving and launching a new product, improving a business process, solving an intractable problem, creating an advertising campaign, carrying out a reorganisation.
As a consequence, co-creation projects often involve large numbers of employees, customers and other ecosystem constituents, and project team members will need expertise in designing, organising and facilitating large-scale, multi-stakeholder gatherings.
In a generative enterprise, this know-how is gained in a parallel structure called the creative learning organisation.
Collaborative meetings and events are always custom-designed by a team that includes a subset of the eventual participant group.
There are three main types of collaborative gathering:
Type 1: Tightly orchestrated (e.g. Real Time Strategic Change, Future Search).
Type 2: Loosely orchestrated (e.g. Open Space Technology, BarCamp).
Type 3: A combination of Type 1 and Type 2 (e.g. OpenSpacePlus — launching September 2017).
I will provide more information later in 2017.
Tools for expediting co-creation projects
Expedite: to complete a project or task quickly and effectively.
From Latin expedīre, literally: to free the feet (as from a snare).
Team communication, collaboration, productivity, workflow and project management
Asana Web and mobile application that helps teams track their work.
Doist | Todoist productivity app | Twist asynchronous team communication app—see My Company Tried Slack For Two Years. This Is Why We Quit. by Amir Salihefenic, founder of Doist, on Fast Company
Mattermost Open source Slack alternative
Microsoft Teams Part of Office 365
Trello A collaboration tool that organizes projects into boards, showing what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process.
Visual collaboration tools
Wall-mounted Graphic Guides® from Grove Tools.
Example: Context Map
Video and web conferencing services
Cultivating an enterprise-wide Rich Co-creation capability
Rich Co‑creation capability (the main component of generative capability) is cultivated in an enterprise-wide network of coaching triads, learning syndicates and clans. This parallel structure is called the creative learning organisation.
Definition of a New Learning Organisation
A living and learning organisational ecosystem that intelligently facilitates the performance and learning of its entire people population, continuously transforming itself.
It is agile and fluid in nature, with the ability to move beyond learning interventions by learning at an organisational level.
It is a dynamic, trusted, people-led organisational model that allows people to ‘grow and glow’ through a common purpose, the respect of knowledge, and the analysis, development and acquisition of knowledge, so that it can innovate fast enough to survive and thrive in a rapidly changing environment.
Source: Driving the New Learning Organisation, by Jane Daly and Laura Overton, Towards Maturity, in conjunction with CIPD. (Some punctuation added by Jack Martin Leith for clarity.)
In a generative enterprise, everyone from the CEO to the most junior employee is a member of an unmoderated, cross-functional coaching triad.
Triads meet monthly to review each person’s contribution to the accomplishment of the enterprise’s mission, address any issues, and experience the giving and receiving of unconditional service.
Through membership of a triad, a syndicate and a clan, people discover and unleash their innate creative power and become adept practitioners of Rich Co-creation — the principal means by which the enterprise accomplishes its mission and manifests its intent.
And by helping to unlock the creative potential of the enterprise, people liberate their own creative potential.
Person A is never coached by Person B (likewise B by C, and C by A), so all three parties gain repeated experience of giving and receiving unconditional service.
A learning syndicate is composed of three triads. The nine members meet bi‑monthly to review their coaching practice, discuss the giving and receiving of unconditional service, and acquire Rich Co-creation know-how.
A clan, formed of 27 triads (81 employees), is a community of practice — the practice being Rich Co‑creation.
Held every six months, a clan meeting is a tribal gathering, professional forum and talent showcase.
It also provides an opportunity for people to sample the Rich Co‑creation approach and gain experience in designing, organising and hosting collaborative meetings and events.
‘Collaboration’ Creates Mediocrity, Not Excellence, According to Science, by Geoffrey James, on Inc.
The collaboration curse, in The Economist
Collaboration Is The New Competitive Advantage, by Greg Satell, on Digital Tonto
Collaborative Overload, by Rob Cross, Reb Rebele, and Adam Grant, on Harvard Business Review
How to Capture Value from Collaboration, Especially If You’re Skeptical About It, by Heidi K. Gardner and Herminia Ibarra, on Harvard Business Review
Moving from “Open Innovation” to True Open Innovation, by Frank Mattes, on InnovationManagement.se
The three Cs [Competition, Cooperation, Collaboration], by Richard Martin
What co-creation looks like: a future-making primer, by Kate Inglis, on Medium