The world is rapidly changing, in case you haven’t noticed. How we fundamentally interact with businesses, with government, and with each other is moving in directions that we are only starting to comprehend.
Thanks to globalization, advances in information technology, and ubiquitous connectivity, people are no longer passive and docile customers demanding supplies. We share our experiences with products and services with our highly connected network on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
We want to help design these products and services that we use, and to have an ongoing conversation with the companies and organizations to which we give our hard-earned money.
We want our voices heard.
With everything from blogs to videos, wikis, podcasts, and a plethora of rapidly evolving technologies to choose from, the sheer number of ways to get our voices heard is part of this transformation.
Our growing involvement in what companies and organizations actually produce has a democratizing effect that, over time, will usher in a new paradigm of what’s called “co-creation." No longer will we just passively wait for a company to bequeath upon us what it thinks we want next. Rather we will engage directly with the company to produce the next best thing together.
This collaboration to create value hinges on the development of platforms for users and makers to communicate with each other. Whether it’s a meeting, a website, a physical store, an app, a call center, or any physical-digital environment, the key is a design that facilitates purposeful engagement; one that connects with how people want to participate and generates valuable outcomes for everyone involved.
Consider the example of NikePlus Running. It is an engagement platform that connects individuals with their running experiences, producing value for both the runners who use the platform, as well as Nike.
For runners, Nike Plus allows them to track their runs with precision; enhances their productivity; enables them to integrate music and running; and connects them with running partners and events happening locally and globally. It encourages them to take part in a new social network of runners, trainers and coaches specifically focused on the running experience. These are all new types of valuable experiences. The NikePlus platform can also reduce the runner’s risk of injuries by giving them access to professional trainers and experienced runners, and reduces the runner’s time spent finding local partners and events elsewhere on the Web.
For Nike, the platform allows them to learn directly from the behavior of its customers; generate new ideas rapidly; experiment with new offerings quickly; get direct input from customers on their running preferences; build deeper relationships and trust with the running community; and create stronger brand loyalty. Nike also reduces the cost of marketing through the positive word-of-mouth created, and mitigates the risk of investment through enlightened experimentation by running quick, cost-effective experiments through NikePlus.
Co-creation is not about “build it and they will come”, but rather, “build it with them, and they are already there.”
So, what’s the Next Idea?
This trend toward co-creation of value is still in its infancy. Imagine when more enterprises -- not just companies but local governments and non-profits -- begin organizing engagement platforms to co-create value with residents and clients. This could have a profound impact on wealth and well-being, while also positively transforming business, economy, and society in ways we are only beginning to grasp. What will work be like? How will our governments react and respond to our needs? What will that world actually look like?
Getting there requires a huge transformational shift in our collective thinking.
Our prevailing logic about how businesses create products and services with value has been built on two deep assumptions:
- Companies develop and fine-tune their products and services on their own until they become profitable, with customers acting largely as passive recipients who are, at best, seen as feedback.
- We all largely view goods and services as the end product, rather than means to improving human experiences and well-being.
The only way to get to co-creation as a way of practice is through co-creation. In other words, the messy beginning starts by experimenting with new platforms that will connect us in new ways and eventually allow for direct participation in the very change we all seek.
As they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step; in this case, it’s understanding how we can do even better for ourselves by doing well for others.
Venkat Ramaswamy is a global thought leader on the concept of co-creation and Hallman Fellow of Electronic Business and Professor of Marketing at UM's Ross School of Business.