Negative side-effects of co-creation
Finally I found an academic paper discussing the negative side-effects of co-creation (Gassmann et al.,Int. J. Technology Management, Vol. 50, No. 1, 2010). However, after reading it I was not really convinced about the actual threat of the proposed negative side-effects. I will give a small summary of the paper, share my additional thoughts on it and let you make up your own mind. You can also download the paper to read the whole study.
Overall identified negative side-effects in the study
Dependence on customers’ views/interests: the risk that consumers limit the direction of the search for innovative ideas.
- Serving a niche market only: the risk that the small group of selected consumers you are co-creating with, are the only ones interested in the product
- Dependence on customers’ experience: the risk that consumers focus on improving familiar products, instead of creating a radically new solutions. Also the result of the difficulty to identify ones own latent needs.
- Dependence on customers’ behaviour/personality: the risk that consumer demand exclusive rights to the co-created concept.
- Loss of know-how: risk of consumers passing on know-how to competitors
Interesting findings and many of them match the risks mentioned by my interviewees. Nevertheless I disagree on some key aspects. First of all the wording ‘negative side effects’ does not seem appropriate. The authors describe these as possible unintended consequences, whereas I consider them challenges to be faced. There is an active role the company can play to prevent these effects from occurring in the first place. Let’s remember the ‘co’ in co-creation stands for the involvement of at least two parties: in this case the consumers and the company. The company plays a big role in providing the ideas, skills, knowledge and expertise that consumers might lack or overlook.
Moreover, when considering the alternative of traditional (closed) innovation methods, you could easily replace the word “customer” with “innovation team” at all the bullet points. In that case, I would say the negative side effects will become far more dangerous. Relying on the additional knowledge and opinions of a diverse group of consumers -who might know more about your brand or product than your company’s employees do- seems more sensible to me.
Measures suggested in the study for reducing negative effects
Overall, Gassmann et al. suggest the following measures:
- Careful customer selection
- Mix of customers
- Big numbers
- Good timing
- Scientific findings of ergonomics
- Intellectual property agreements
- Scrutinising the project’s integration suitability
Showing appreciation and respect for the consumers’ contributions will help to create a sense of connectedness and closeness between the consumers and the company. This feeling of personal engagement will probably reduce the risks of the consumer passing on know-how to competitors or demanding certain property rights.
Lastly, the role of old-fashioned market research and concept testing should not be excluded from the co-creation process. There are many opportunities to validate initial ideas or final concepts within a larger, more representative crowd of consumers.
I am looking forward to any additional comments or opinions on this blogpost, so feel free to comment here or via Twitter and share your views!