The power of co-creation: the Communities of Practice revolution


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The power of co-creation

New technologies, web 2.o and the unprecedented access of information from consumers are encouraging and enabling a new approach of participation and collaboration. Co-creation is the new mode of innovation to create value, a form of collaborative creativity which enables innovation together with all the stakeholders. The aim is to help organizations to involve their key players (consumers, suppliers …) in the creation of value and meaning. In making the customer or stakeholder a co-creator aims to generate more value than would be possible through the traditional transactions (R&D, Marketing, etc.).

This approach allows more frequent and intense “conversations” between collaborators from diverse backgrounds. However, one of the biggest problems for co-creation is seeing it only as a tool for the creation of ideas rather than viewing it as an iterative process that involves customers and stakeholders through various cycles of value development. It’s a method that enables cross-fertilization and idea generation through shared knowledge and experiences. Unfortunately, the use of this collaborative approach is not particularly widespread in the new product development process and especially not in the stages of idea generation and selection, design, testing and refining, marketing and commercialization. In fact, there are currently very few forms of customer involvement that are covering all the ranges of stages beyond the collaborative ideation tools and platforms.

The challenge for a company is to decide who will be involved during the different stages of the innovation process -depending on the specific co-creation contexts and purposes-  in order to build strong involvement for meaningful co-innovation. In my opinion the key answer is to build, develop and cultivate strategic Communities of Practice created ad-hoc.

The Communities of Practice revolution

Innovation capacity in businesses in today’s economy is not embedded in the organizations. Instead innovative ideas are generated in mindful, mind-opening and productive conversation across different communities of people. For this reason, these communities are a key asset to achieve a competitive advantage and a key resource of talent to support innovation. Specifically, Communities of Practice are key assets because they turn their tacit knowledge into knowledge necessary for radical innovation, beyond the explicit and articulated knowledge.

For Etienne Wenger, who coined the concept “Communities of Practice” these “Communities of Practice are groups of people who share a passion for something that they know how to do and to interact regularly to learn how to do it better.” The potential of Communities of Practice lies in their value creation and exchange to catalyst new creative and collective capabilities, and in their tacit knowledge for fostering unexpected ideas and innovation. These collaborative sources bring value to all phases of innovation from idea generation and evaluation to implementation and commercialization.

Because Communities of Practice are known for the value they create by nurturing innovation, I think the future is for the companies ready to foster the creativity of this type of communities and knowledge networks based on the strategic association of people, who are passionate in a specific domain or experience.

Ready for the new challenges of co-creation value…?

Nowadays business challenges and market complexities require partnerships and collaboration, instead of domination and competition. But collaboration implies a cultural change and mindset shift for companies, managers and employees. Roles and responsibilities in the collaboration space are not under the hierarchic logic (my apologies to senior executives…!) but rather often fluid and carrying a certain amount of ambiguity. Information is shared and combined because that’s the way to find unexpected ways to reframe the problems and, in addition, it’s normal to frequently deal with conflict because the friction of ideas and the new ways of working

Unfortunately, the power of co-creation is not right for all organizations because it means that a cultural and management change needs to take place also in the way of understanding and doing business. Leaders of organizations should continually reform the way their organization is managed, creating a climate that fosters innovation, and adjusting organizational structures to reward creativity and collaboration. The big question is, are they ready to make this commitment? Furthermore, are business schools doing something to help companies and managers to approach and manage the new challenges of co-creation value…?

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