“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.”

Source: Co-creating Development, by Venkat Ramaswamy, Ph.D., Hallman Fellow of Electronic Business and Professor of Marketing at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan | Download pdf

Rich Co-creation is a set of principles and practices employed in projects where diverse beneficiaries work together on an equal footing, from start to finish, in order to bring forth a mutually beneficial result.

The project might be aimed at solving a pressing problem, surmounting a tough challenge, bringing about a change for the better, creating something new, expanding value generation capability, or utilising value generation capability more fully.

Rich Co-creation incorporates principles, concepts and methods drawn from many fields, including innovation, creative problem solving, design, organisation development, change management, group dynamics, teamwork, decision making, project management, and event management.

The ‘rich’ prefix indicates that this approach to co-creation is full-bodied and directed towards the generation of abundant downstream value.

Rich Co-creation is the principal means by which a generative enterprise gets things done, accomplishes its mission, animates its strategy and manifests its purpose.

Please be aware that creating together is one of the three now-to-new work modes, the others being creating alone and helping others create in an enabling role such as facilitator, coach, thinking partner, project leader, boss or teacher. Now-to-new work is most effective when the three modes are properly integrated.

Read more about the three now-to-new work modes

Read more about now-to-new

Two types of work

In any enterprise, two types of work are carried out:

Continuous work This type of work has no start or end point. It just keeps rolling along – day in, day out.

Examples: Processing invoices, greeting visitors, driving a truck, 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. In some cases, the team will include external beneficiaries such as customers or suppliers.

Examples: Conceiving and launching a new product, improving a business process, solving an intractable problem, creating an advertising campaign, carrying out a reorganisation.

Rich Co-creation is a way of designing and conducting project work.

What’s special about Rich Co-creation?

Limited range of applications — mostly product and service innovation.Wide range of applications including product and service innovation, whole system change, complex problem solving, and expanding value generation capability or utilising it more fully.
Limited set of beneficiaries — mostly customers and service users.Rich Co-creation is generative, informed by the principle of seeking to generate the maximum amount of value for the greatest number of beneficiaries.
Co-creation capability resides in an organisational function such as innovation.Co-creation is an enterprise-wide capability.
Co-creation is a technique employed for ad-hoc projects.Co-creation is an enterprise-wide practice; it is the way project-based work gets done throughout the enterprise.
Co-creation meetings, workshops and large-scale gatherings employ a ‘one size fits all’ process.Co-creation meetings, workshops and large-scale gatherings are custom-designed using explicit principles.

View the Rich Co-creation principles
The linkage from the co-creation project to the enterprise’s purpose, vision and strategy is tenuous or absent.In a generative enterprise, these is a clear line of sight from even the smallest co-creation project to the overall strategy and mission, and every project team member is able to see how his or her efforts contribute to the manifestation of purpose.
Pseudo co-creation abounds, employing the Test or Consult modes summarised in the graphic below.Pseudo co-creation is not tolerated.

Rich Co-creation principles

Where did the Rich Co-creation principles and practices come from?

These are some of the people whose thinking inspired the principles and practices summarised below:

The principles are arranged in three groups:
Rich co-creation principles at three levels: enterprise, projects, and meetings
Principles relating to the enterprise as a whole. These principles also apply to projects and meetings.

Principles relating to the now-to-new projects the enterprise undertakes as it seeks to accomplish its mission. These principles also apply to meetings.

Principles relating to small and large scale meetings concerned with planning, designing and expediting now-to-new projects.

Please note that in the following text, co-creation always means Rich Co-creation.

Rich Co‑creation principles relating to the enterprise as a whole
The purpose of an enterprise is to enrich the world in a particular way, infusing it with value, meaning and joy.

“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.”

Woodrow Wilson

Source: Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States | View a full transcript of the address containing this passage
Every employee is focused on generating maximum value for all beneficiaries.
All work contributes to the accomplishment of an enterprise-wide mission aimed at manifesting a significant aspect of its purpose within a given timeframe. Now-to-new projects, both collaborative and solo (such as this website), always serve purpose and mission.
Rich Co‑creation is an enterprise-wide capability and practice, not just a technique employed for ad-hoc projects.
Rich Co-creation practice extends beyond workshops and ‘whole system in the room’ events.
Rich Co-creation calls for a genuine appreciation of the value requirements of each member of the beneficiary set. 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 (products, services, facilities, theatre productions etc.) and meta generators (producers of value generators, such as enterprises).

Read more about value and how it is generated

Value is co-created through the interaction between the beneficiary (e.g. consumer, service user) and the value generator.
Halting the generation of anti-value is just as important as – and sometimes more important than – the generation of new value.

Read more about anti-value

Whenever possible, replace one-way messages with generative (aimed at generating downstream value) conversations.
Employees are not instruments of senior management. They are autonomous creators.
Each person is a ready, willing and able to be a leader – for example, by helping colleagues surmount obstacles and deploy their full creative potential in service of the manifestation of purpose.
Rich Co‑creation principles relating to now-to-new projects
A Rich Co‑creation project can be framed in one of six ways: problem solving, surmounting, creating, changing, developing, and utilising.
Regardless of how the project is framed, bringing about a shift from Now to New is an act of creation.

“Robert Fritz 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.”

Robert Fritz

Source: Wikipedia – Robert Fritz
If we are here to create the new and generate value, then The Creative Lifecycle, based on human procreation, is likely to provide better guidance than prevailing alternatives.
The Creative Lifecycle
Read more about The Creative Lifecycle
The state of affairs you seek to create is the desired present, not the desired future. Credit: James Wilk.
The team that designs the co‑creation project or meeting is informed by a design assist group composed of a cross-section of those who will take part in the co‑creation meeting and undertake the downstream work. The design assist group should include someone who is sceptical about the upcoming programme of work.

“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, Corporate Vice President, Office Media Group, Microsoft Corporation, cited 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 beneficiary groups.
Specify the value to be generated by the now-to-new project
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. Consent means giving formal or informal approval to the proposed course of action.
Right action flows from purpose – the enterprise’s heartfelt desire to enrich the world in a particular way and utilise its value generation potential to the full.

Read about purpose in the glossary

Practise rapid prototyping and early experimentation.

“Create then adjust.”

Robert Fritz

Source: Robert Fritz
A microcosm of the enterprise participates in any Rich Co‑creation project that has enterprise-wide impact, such as articulating purpose, devising the strategy or planning the mission.
Microcosm of the enterprise, by Jack Martin Leith
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 Rich Co‑creation project serve others without the need for reciprocation.

View the article: Work that enriches the world calls for unconditional service

Purpose depicted as a vision of realised potential provides inspiration and fosters 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.

Invite join-in rather than seeking buy-in or soliciting engage-in.
Breakdown is welcomed as an opportunity for breakthrough.
Rich Co‑creation projects serve as learning laboratories for the benefit of the enterprise as a whole.
Rich Co‑creation principles relating to co-creation meetings (small and large scale)
The people attending a co‑creation meeting are not a passive audience. They are active participants, even if there are 50, 500 or 5,000 of them. The word audience has no place in the realm of co‑creation. Always challenge its use when planning and designing a co‑creation meeting.
A microcosm of the enterprise takes part in any co‑creation meeting concerned with enterprise-wide change.
Ensure that the right voices are in the room and that every voice is able to be heard.
The maximum group size for a proper conversation is four (read more about the max4 principle). When participants are seated eight to a table, treat this as two groups of four, and only have everyone working in the eight-person group when integrating ideas and perspectives in readiness for a whole room report-out.
Make certain that work sessions are suitable for introverts as well as extroverts. When participants are working in groups of four, this can be achieved in the following manner, summarised as 1–2–4: first, people work on their own, then they share and develop their ideas and perspectives in pairs, after which they integrate them in the four-person group. In an eight-person group, the sequence is 1–2–4–8 and not 1–4–8, as introverts will feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts with an individual rather than with a group. Other methods can be devised to suit the particular circumstances.View the article: The three main co-creation meeting formats, and how to incorporate the max4 principle
A co-creation meeting that employs 1–2–4–8 working followed by whole room report-outs, and that has a facilitator, effectively integrates the three now-to-new work modes of create alone (John Heron’s autonomous mode), create together (cooperative), and help others create (hierarchical).

Read more about John Heron’s three intervention design and facilitation modes

Cordial invitation, warmhearted hosting and hospitable conditions are among the prerequisites for a successful co‑creation meeting.
Connection before content.

“We must establish a personal connection with each other. Connection before content. Without relatedness, no work can occur.”

Peter Block

Source: Peter Block
This is about fostering genuine connections between participants and establishing the right conditions for the work that follows. Avoid eye-rolling ‘here we go again’ icebreakers that trigger cynicism. There are some good tips here.

Read more about the ‘connection before content’ principle

Cultivate 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. Jake Jacobs, the originator of Real Time Strategic Change.
People can be trusted to do the right thing when they have access to essential information, effective processes and necessary resources.
Make decisions in real time, not offline, and activate the plan immediately.
Asking customers or other beneficiaries for their ideas and then cutting them loose is not co‑creation – it’s research.

Related articles

The maximum group size for a proper conversation is four

The three main co-creation meeting formats, and how to incorporate the max4 principle