A decade ago, acclaimed Harvard University Professor Michael Porter, a leading authority on corporate strategy, asserted that innovation was the central issue in economic prosperity. Today, innovation is firmly on every CEO's priority list but the capability to bring the right innovation to the market quickly is still lacking. However, business leaders could have been searching in the wrong places. Yochai Benkler, the thought-provoking author of "The Wealth of Networks", argues that the solution may lie within consumers and not within firms. What if companies could tap into the free flow of ideas generated by millions of people online to innovate?
Innovation is the key to sustainable growth. It is the primary - and increasingly vital - source of competitive advantage for businesses in a marketplace that has become exponentially cluttered, complex and dynamic.
But while innovation is steadily climbing up the CEO's corporate agenda, so is the realisation that ideas alone have limited use without the capability to implement the right ones faster than competitors do. Herein lies the problem with innovation as it is practiced today.
When the name of the game is to be the first to bring the right innovation to market, co-creation is the solution that numerous companies are increasingly turning to. The traditional innovation process is sequential: developing concepts and testing them, mostly internally or with a small network of external agents. It takes up a significant amount of time and has a high failure rate. Consumers are merely involved at the tail-end, as validators.
Co-creation flips the traditional innovation model on its head, turning a sequential process into a parallel one. Co-creation engages consumers directly at the onset of the innovation process to gain fresh, fast and creative ideas that are consumer-rooted, streamlining and compressing a complex chain of ideation-validation steps with multiple stakeholders. When it happens online, it enables simultaneous engagements with a large number of individuals across geographies within a short timeframe. Because co-creation starts with input from end-users, there is less chance that the concepts suggested would not get market acceptance, thus reducing risks of failed projects.
Co-creation is being harnessed as a resource by big name brands such as Coca Cola, Kraft and Unilever, who are utilising a reservoir of talented individuals across the world to glean insights into their brand, unlock innovative opportunities and drive consumer engagement at a global level. Instead of building for consumers, companies are building with them.
Worryingly however, for UK businesses at least, Britannia is not ruling the creativity wave...
According to recent research Brits lag behind other major markets, including France and America, when it comes to creative thinking. A global survey has revealed that only 66% of the British public would consider themselves 'creative', compared to nearly 80% of Americans.
Americans also showed a greater enthusiasm for wanting to spend more time on creative activities (43%) compared to Brits (37%) who complained of time pressures, a lack of equipment and stimulation as barriers to creative activity involvement.
The research also looked into respondent's willingness to think creatively about the world around them. Findings revealed more than half of Americans and French respondents said they like to experiment with new ideas around how to use products and services differently, compared to only 38% of Brits. Moreover, only 21% of UK respondents had thoughts on how they could improve products and services currently on the market, compared to a more imaginative 34% of Americans.
The research reveals a gaping chasm between nations when it comes to creativity and willingness to be involved with creative tasks. Creativity, it appears, is an under-utilised resource in the UK and is something that can actually benefit both consumers and brands in the long run. Engaging with consumers' creativity can generate ideas for brands that can lead to breakthrough innovation and ultimately bring better products and services to consumers.
There's a huge opportunity for Brits to catch up with their American and French counterparts in the creativity stakes, and such an untapped resource could prove hugely beneficial to brands when it comes to competing on the world stage.