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Negative side-effects of co-creation

January 21, 2012

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

  • So.. just keep the door shut?

    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
Sensible measures, but the active role of the co-creation process itself is overlooked here. To begin with, a clear briefing and good community management can tackle many of the risks at an early stage. By ensuring all rules of engagement are well understood, expectations will be realistic and manageable. Good community management will ensure a collaborative and interactive way of co-creating, where the outcome becomes the result of this joint effort. Nor consumers, neither the company can take full credit for that, or claim intellectual property rights for that matter. I would say this is a non-issue in today’s interconnected world where we are constantly learning from and sharing with each other.

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!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 23, 2012 9:02 am

    The dependance on customers is not really a good reason, because this implies the initiator limits itself only to this segment.
    Yes, consumers that buy from the org have personal interest that products might change in a direction that is beneficial for their own situation and not neccesarily for the overaching and organizational direction.

    A holistic co-creation approach is more suitable, be sure to involve customers and consumers in general to have a better understanding where gaps are etc.

  2. January 24, 2012 11:19 am

    I thank you for the post. It is not quite often that we come across research findings or articles that try to provide the other side (if not side effects) of co-creation. As you had rightly said, the co in co-creation implies that there are two: producer and consumer. However, as the authors of the study point out, there is a need to define, redefine who the consumer is. The authors had taken a considerable amount of pain to explain that the power of co-creation can be fully utilized, if companies involve not just consumers but “a broad mix of integrated customers with different personalities”.

    Mr Eric Von Hipples of MIT uses the phrase “lead users”. So, the emphasis is to have a broad-based dialogue with a wider cross section of people, and not just consumers.

    I have recently authored a book on co-creation (titled, The Co-creation Roadmap: Six Steps to Tap the Wisdom of Crowds), in which I tried to come up with my own way of defining the two parties – producer and consumer. I simply call the “consumer” as the “common man”. He may or may not be your consumer, he may or may not be rich or poor, literate or illiterate – simply an unidentified profile – a person without title or vested interest in the success or failure of your product.

    The reason is that as several studies of Dr Read Montagues show even customers views of products are very much biased. They certainly help companies provide good product features, functionalities or new variants. But it takes a common man to come up with truly innovative business ideas, product ideas. And thats the reason Mr Tex Gunning (former chief executive at Unilever’s Best Foods) attributed to when he took his top managers on learning journeys to villages, monastries. The conversations that managers had with common man reportedly offered the organization business insights. After all, co-creation means having a wide social presence and coming up with a shared future or common good value.

  3. January 30, 2012 7:21 pm

    Hi Sankar,

    Thank you for your contribution again. I agree that by sourcing the “common man” you will get more diverse ideas than by addressing consumers only. Just like you said, their ideas are often biased due to past experiences. Also I acknowledge that there are many other stakeholders besides consumers with which co-creation is meaningful (but for this post I focused on the role of the consumer).

    I do however think that consumer input (as opposed to input from “common men”) is more effective in furthering the process from the idea phase toward an actual product concept. Consumers are experienced and can provide more valuable insights into needs and product usage. A new product can be very fun and unique, but does it fulfill actual and relevant needs? Will it succeed in the market? I think by involving consumers companies can tackle this issue at an early stage by constantly scrutinizing and validating product ideas together.

    Looking forward to your future comments!

  4. January 31, 2012 12:45 am

    Thank you for the great questions you offer. My interest lies in the following paragraph:
    “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.”

    I think there is a big issue in how you acknowledge your fellow co-creators and protect intellectual property which (without property legal setup) can be easily shared. has accomplished what I think is a nice balance by protecting the original idea generator, recognition and rewards. They actually put the picture of the inventor on the package with how many people also influenced the project. In addition each contributor who “influences” the product also gets paid some % that rewards them for participation. As we must recognize, some co-creators are in the process for psychological type rewards, some for $$ and some for reconigtion in their peer group.


  5. February 1, 2012 12:19 pm

    Yes Joyce, there is no doubt that consumer is a very important for co-creation. I was saying that the real boon of social media for businesses is the opportunity it provides for them to co-create in an borderless environment with unidentified participants – the “crowd”. Looking forward to reading your new posts.

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