10 Tips To Take Your Co-Creation To The Next Level

The future of innovation is co-creative. Complex problems require the insights and validation of all stakeholders and users. We also need as much thinking power as possible if we want to crack the wicked problems that lie before us. But co-creation is neither easy nor cheap.

Dennis Hambeukers
Apr 18 · 7 min read

In my experience, there are a couple of mind-shifts you have to make to pull co-creation off successfully. Here are 10 of the things I learned the hard way in random order:

1. Don’t put too much effort into it

There are a couple of reasons you need to put less effort into cocreation, why you have to become leaner. If you put too much effort into the work you do:

  • You will just make projects more expensive if you involve more people. More people means more hours. If everyone puts in the same amount of hours, the same amount of work, projects will become too expensive.
  • You will get too attached to your own work. Co-creations requires you to be open to input and being able to judge the work everyone does on its merits and not how much time was put into it.
  • You will throw away too many hours if you worked on a proposal that did not make it.

So to make co-creation work, you have to become lean. Do quick sketches, rapid prototypes no elaborate research studies and designs.

2. Always come prepared

The second thing you will want to avoid is to show up empty-handed, unprepared in meetings. Waisting time in meetings is bad for project performance and morale. You can avoid abstract discussions if you make a prototype of your idea. You can get down to the nitty-gritty and create an equal platform for discussions. One of the main sources of time waisting in meetings is people coming unprepared.

“No prototype, no meeting.” — Boyle’s Law

3. Use co-creation tools

There are some great co-creation tools out there. Companies like Invision, Atlassian, and Miro are frontrunners when it comes to creating the tools you need for co-creation. Designing together, creating kanban boards, and working together on an infinite whiteboard are all possible in cloud applications today. Use the power of those tools. What I find is that if you use great tools, they also contribute to the necessary mindset. They not only make co-creation easy and fun, but a well-designed tool also creates the right mindset in the team. The mindset of openness, level playing field, clear communication, making things, etc are all enforced by the great tools we have today.

4. Never say no

I don’t know if you have seen the movie Yes Man with Jim Carrey. It’s about a guy who says no to everything but is transformed after visiting a YES seminar. He learns that if he answers yes to every question that is put in front of him, life takes him an incredible adventure. At first, it is difficult but in time he learns to appreciate the crazy opportunities that saying yes brings him. So if somebody comes up with an idea, start with yes. Say yes, even if you think it is stupid, crazy or impossible. This opens your mind. And don’t go “yes, but …”. Say “Yes, and ….”. This will open your mind to a whole new set of possibilities, to new realms of creativity. Saying yes:

  • will take you out of your comfort zone
  • will open you up to the input of others
  • will take you places you have never been before
  • will create a positive vibe

5. Be prepared to throw stuff away

On the other hand, it’s a good idea to be prepared and willing to say no to your own ideas. If it’s a bad idea or if people don’t agree, throw it away. No matter how much effort you put into it, no matter how great you thought it was, throw it away. Critical to co-creation is engagement. If nobody supports your idea, your idea is crap. Even if it is the best idea ever. You must realize that ideas are worth nothing, execution and support are everything. Go with the idea that the group agrees on. Your ideas might get a second chance if the chose idea doesn’t work after all. Well executed bad ideas can morph into great ideas, but if there is no support, your idea will fail.

6. Own your role as the expert

Everyone has something to contribute. Some have more experience and knowledge in some fields than others. Some even have more talent for some things. But everyone must be able to contribute. Anyone can have a brilliant idea about things. And any idea should be up for discussion. For the expert, this means that not all his ideas will be accepted without discussion and that he should be open to the input of others. Part of the expert’s job is to educate, mentor and facilitate the birth of great ideas. If someone questions your input, you must be able to articulate your vision. A lot of practitioners have tacit knowledge. That means that they can do things, design things, make things but that they have trouble explaining why they do things or what the rationale behind it is. I found that training yourself to explain why you think or know things work or not is an excellent way to raise your level as an expert You are forced to reflect on your own craft and skill. I always found this quote by Jeff Bezos inspiring:

“Have strong beliefs, but hold them weakly.” — Jeff Bezos

For me, this means that you should claim your role as expert and make a strong argument for your vision, but at the same time have the humility and flexibility to pivot if a better idea comes along or people don’t agree.

7. Realize that the team gets what it deserves

The expert role, to me, means that you can suggest solutions based on your expertise but that the group must support, embrace the solution. In the end, the solution must be a group decision. And if the group decides on a solution that you as the expert don’t think is the best, that is still the solution that is chosen. I always start with the belief that the group gets what it deserves. If they cannot follow, understand or see the greatness of your solution, if they are not ready for it, then they get what they deserve. I mean this not in a negative way. I mean that there is a group process, a spiritual force that determines what the solution must be, what solution fits the group. The solution is the outcome of the addition of all the elements in the group. I find comfort in the fact that the solutions that get developed, is the solution that had to be developed.

8. Understand that you are not what you make

For a lot of people, especially designers, criticizing their work means criticizing them as people. People take things personally. They pour their soul into their work and if you criticize it, they are hurt. They see their work as a personal expression of themselves. If you are attached like this to your work, your input in a co-creative process, you are:

  • not objective enough to judge the value,
  • to attached to throw it away,
  • unwilling to change it.

People who are attached to their work like this, often see the work they produce as the goal in itself. It is not a means to an end but an end in itself. If you start thinking that what you make serves a higher purpose than personal expression, if you start seeing it as a part of a whole, you can detach yourself from what you make and start adding more value, becoming more flexible.

9. Be open to the input of others

In the end, co-creation is about openness, about letting other people in, about trusting other people, about trusting the process. I think you have to arrive at this place of trust step by step. It’s about letting go of control. The yes-man of point number 4 is no longer in control if he has to say yes to every question. But this gives him enormous freedom, this enables him to develop trust in the process, in other people. Letting go of control, just going with the flow is one of the greatest things you can do. Don’t try to plan everything, control everything. This is all an illusion. The best things happen when you let go of control, when you step over your fear. Synergy is on the other side.

10. Be agile

Co-creation is about people. So please, put people over process. Co-creation means that anyone can influence the result but also the process. The whole Agile movement for me is all about making things more human again. Not to behave like robots that follow procedure but about being humans that learn and create things together. So co-creation means being aware of how things are going, how people react, how they move and sit. If things aren’t going well, anyone should be able to address the process, to suggest changes. You can use any process or tool to facilitate the co-creation, but following the process should never overrule basic human interaction and limit the basic human capacity to learn and adapt. You should be bold enough to take a step back, evaluate and pivot if necessary.

“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” — First rule of the Agile manifesto


Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, don’t forget to hit the clap button. I will dive deeper into the topics of Design Leadership in upcoming articles. If you follow me here on Medium, you will see them pop up on your Medium homepage. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn or talk to my bot at dennishambeukers.com :)

Design Leadership Notebook

Notes on the imminent leading role of design.

Dennis Hambeukers

Written by

Design Thinker Thinking About Design — Strategic Design Consultant @zuiderlicht. https://www.zuiderlicht.nl/

Design Leadership Notebook

Notes on the imminent leading role of design.

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