Getting to the Results you Need: Inclusion of Co-Creation?



Heard a lot of talk about customer/member centricity or co-development with customers as the trend in business strategy and innovation?  Don’t confuse it with what is often alluded to as “inclusion” or “engagement.”  The gap between the two became apparent whenever I tried to put together such co-development project teams with universities and associations. 

 My first step in helping an organization address a challenge and come up with new, innovative solutions is to form a small project team of internal and external stakeholders. The idea is to cull the best of the talent for that particular project and achieve the right composition for that specific team.  You then create the framework, environment and processes that enable joint discovery and optimal outcomes.

 Yet the most conventional organizations have no frame of reference for solutions-directed project teams and push to bring them back to the comfort zone of “committees” and task forces.  Suddenly, institutions whose point of view is informed from the inside rather than the customers’ perspective worry about exclusion. “You have to include Mary, the senior VP from marketing. She “owns” this area.”  “We must absolutely include representatives from both our large and small affiliates so they will not feel left out.”   This is because they confuse inclusion of the outside point of view and co-development with customers with political representation. 

A political process of representation is one of appeasement rather than true engagement, participation and co-development.  Participants are “representatives” of various groups rather than 3-dimentional individuals with a specific reason for and purpose for contributing. The results are predictable variations of what is already there and further entrenchment of “the way things are done.

Yesterday, I came across an article by two innovation strategy consultants, Carl Fudge and Joaquin Roca, on how to put together sucessful innovation teams. They offer 10 practices for putting together effective, innovative project teams, based on their interviews of successful “growth leaders” and “management gurus.”  Reversed, their “best practices” read like the manifesto of proper management that countless of bureaucratic, “inside-out” organizations we encountered in our research and consulting apply to relationships with customers and other internal and external stakeholders.  Below are some of my favorites:




Convene a committee or task force to make recommendations

Put together a project team to come up with a fresh solution

The committee’s recommendations remain within existing categories (membership models, benefits structure, etc.)

The team is encouraged to look for new solutions  that might entail new models or categories

Ensure that all departments (or member groups) are fairly represented

Ensure that the right people for the outcome you want are selected

Pick members on the basis of positions, e.g. chapter leaders, board members, department heads

Ensure that you bring people in who can contribute fresh thinking. “We are surprised at how often companies err on the side of caution in this respect, bringing in a group of veterans whose deep experience of the core business can prevent them from seeing new possibilities.”

Committees reinforce and uphold the inside-out perspective—carry out prescribed budget, strategic planning, evaluation or policy processes; reinforce policy rules or procedures and determine compliance; apply policies to determine new priorities, etc.

“Select your team for who they know as well as what they know Every innovation team needs well-connected team members, who, with one glance at their Rolodexes (or iPhones) can find answers and call in favors, fast.”


Committees are not expected to lead to actual results beyond producing reports and recommendations.

“Pick one leader and provide him or her autonomy they need to be successful” in achieving results. True motivation comes from knowing you have a role in shaping results. Besides, sharing leadership—championing, rallying support, forging relationships, innovating etc.—is far more effective than limiting your organization’s potential to what you can achieve with your own resources. 



We are not here to sell or think of anything “commercial.”  Committees should come up with noble goals that represent our mission, sound good to announce and are as abstract as possible. Some other group of implementers and operational managers will be come in at some point, later on, to figure out how to implement these. Whether a customer is likely to pay for them is irrelevant.

“Build a team that can both identify gaps in the market and markets in the gap!” It is not enough to identify unmet needs and new opportunities, but pick the needs and opportunities that customers are willing to pay for.

The dynamics of the group are not our concern. Politics and power dynamics are just part of any committee and cannot be helped.  In the end, everyone has to compromise to get a report that everyone can agree on.    

“Understand the difference between good and bad conflict…One form of constructive conflict is when group members challenge each other’s assumptions and hypotheses in the hope of arriving at a better answer. It is important to note, however, that constructive conflict can be overdone: repetitively challenging another person is unlikely to lead to innovation.”


The goal is to produce a written report

The goal to find solutions and deliver an outcome. Yet outcomes need not be tangible, quantitative products.  “Innovation requires a number of applied experiments aimed at figuring out which new idea will work, and simply getting an answer—either yes this will work, or no, this will not work—is one measure of success.”

These are busy people. We are imposing on their busy schedule so the fact they are willing to give us time is all we can ask of them.--

Ensure that members of your team have a personal stake it its outcome, e.g. create results or resources that their companies will need to succeed; fulfilling a passion; achieving influence, reputation or monetary reward. “Regardless of the potential monetary or other rewards, there is no doubt that for any innovation team to be successful, team members must be fully committed and not “one foot in, one foot out.”

  It is interesting that leaders of bureaucratic organizations seem to adopt two extreme positions that are really two sides of the same coin: an inside-out,--“we vs. them’ perspective.  On the one hand, they develop products, policies, plans etc. by relying on their own resources and perspectives rather than in partnership with clients.  On the other hand, they relinquishing their leadership role when it comes to a range of activities they set aside as meant to be “inclusive” and democratic.  Instead of shepherding innovation, determining the type of outcome and direction they want from project teams, creating strategic frameworks; making sense of and putting together myriads of disparate pieces to point to a larger vision, they turn leadership roles to politically conceived “committees.”

 Leading an organization is not a democratic process determined by vote unless you want to form an institution akin to the US Congress—a loose assembly of often entitled constituencies whose obligations to individual constituencies and political agendas overshadow the benefit of the whole.   Collaborating with customers is not the same and demonstrating that as many of your constituent groups as possible are represented.  Meaningful collaboration involves unique relationships with specific individuals, rather than generic “representatives,” brought together for specific purposes and through roles in shaping results.  Nominal representation is the same as not participation and perpetuates the status quo.


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