09 June 2016

Co-Creating Cultures of Innovation

Last week I delivered the keynote at CONTECH 2016, the Australian Industry Group event that brings together leaders of the Confectionary industry, spanning brands, manufacturers, food scientists and governing bodies. 

With a focus on innovation and safeguarding our future practitioners from a wide range of disciplines gathered to discuss the changing face of Confectionary. Insights and strategies to protect intellectual assets in the face of rapid change were just a few of the key topics on the agenda. I was invited to present a sneak-peek of the Catalyst Blueprint™ – the enterprise co-creation system profiled in my forthcoming book, Emergent–The Future of Culture, which empowers organisations to transform their culture, innovation and impact.

There isn’t an industry on the planet that isn’t experiencing some form of disruption. For Confectionary the elephant in the room is sugar and obesity–a highly volatile debate that calls for radical transparency and intervention, and which simultaneously presents an extraordinary opportunity to innovate and transform the company-manufactures-consumer-buys paradigm. 

Who will co-create and lead a revolution in Confectionary? 

Right now, it’s anybody’s game. My observation is that whilst everyone is talking innovation few companies in Australia possess the critical acumen and capacity for co-creation. The stakes are high and will determine either long-term sustainability, or failure to escape the gravity of a dying institutional model–a model that can no longer sustain innovation because it is void of the vital tenets of conscious leadership and co-ownership. 

There is a clear imperative to transform and yet the paradox of protecting intellectual assets and bottom line for fear of letting go of control (of product et al), result in paralysing levels of inertia. Notwithstanding, logistical and operational challenges that arise when involving stakeholders in the creation process also inhibit innovation and growth.

Institutional constructs for innovation can no longer sustain the fast, fluid and synergist nature of co-creation that consumers now expect. 

The problem is far reaching and not restricted to Confectionary. Hence, well-meaning attempts to create value across an ever-increasing spectrum of stakeholders, for example by investing into the livelihoods and communities where companies operate, often fall short of the positive impact they set out to create. It shines a spotlight on the long-term inefficacy of traditional corporate responsibility and shared value models and implies that lean operations, collaboration and good intent are not enough. 

Not surprisingly, finding effective ways to turn the institutional ship around whilst maintaining focus on day-to-day service delivery has become the conversation of our time. And whilst companies scramble on the back-foot of a consumer narrative they once owned–the future of culture, innovation and stakeholder value hang in the balance. 

Co-creation has emerged as the new leadership imperative–a frontier that presents us with questions and opportunity. For example, in an ecosystem where everybody participates, everybody contributes and everyone belongs, how can organisations orchestrate the right set of people and circumstances for innovation to flourish? What is its design? Is it static or continuum? What technological and human skills are required to co-create and sustain a continuous cycle of engagement, innovation and growth?

Long-term sustainability will depend on companies evolving from the current command-and-control reactive mode of operation to an interdependent and co-created model.

Here’s a few of the reasons why co-creation is important to your business:

  • Co-creation fuels fresh thinking and helps to inform and extend core product expertise from an external perspective (outside-in innovation)
  • Co-creation ignites purpose and possibility and a level of community intelligence, cohesion, participation and contribution, that would otherwise not be possible in traditional workplace engagement models
  • Co-creation mitigates the risk of falling into the innovation focus group rut and other old-school customer research models
  • Co-creation is fun and empowers continuous learning whilst accomplishing aspirations and goals

The invitation for heavily regulated and conformist industries—and all industries for that matter—is to learn how to innovate with and not merely for stakeholders. I’m not talking about a knee-jerk reactive quick-fix, but rather a holistic worldview and progressive evolution towards a co-created and interdependent future that generates every form of value that matters: emotional, social and financial.

Organisations that authentically embrace co-creation will be the true heroes of industry. Will yours be one of them?



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