Collaborative Innovation: Let’s Freshen a Stale Construct

Collaborative Innovation has been around the block.  It’s an age-old construct that over time has taken on multiple personalities. 

Many times it’s described as the co-mingling of consumers and design, such as when sketch artists sit in focus groups and draw what they hear.  Or when designers fulfill consumers’ expressed desires in sessions via ideation and real-time prototyping.  But sometimes it refers to functional integration either within a project team, or when consultants work hand in hand with clients to generate and capture creative input.

As may be obvious, we think that “collaborative innovation”, however it’s defined, has been more sizzle than steak for a decade or more.  Let’s see if we can change that. 

The New Collaborative Innovation is much more about better decision-making and deliverables throughout a project and less about the task of simply generating design output, as it has in the past.  Here are three principles for reinventing how you may practice collaborative innovation:

  1. Meld insight, strategy and design.  Think of them as disciplines, not functions.  That means they can help form one continuous endeavor rather than play roles in discrete stages.  For example, when designers take the lead in ethno visits, early concepts can emerge day one.  Insights can’t fall through the cracks or be mistranslated in design strategy.  While process is important, it should specify a role for each discipline throughout, rather than passing the baton from function to function. 
  2. Rethink consumer / designer interaction.  The two are Venus and Mars, but they can travel in the same orbit.  But make sure to leverage what they each do best.  Consumers are great at demonstrating and reacting viscerally.  Designers are great at observing and visualizing.  The stars are aligned when creative activities focus on inspiring rather than inventing.  So don’t ask your designers to mimic what consumers say they want.  Ask them to translate what they see and hear.  And don’t confine this interaction to the “front end”.  There’s a role for these activities throughout a project.   
  3. Use better tools for better decisions.  Strong analytical tools focus the team on what matters most and brings options to life in vivid fashion.  What do consumers really care about?  Where are the gaps in how products deliver on those?  What are the parameters for actionability across disciplines?  The best communication tools help designers to go a mile deep rather than a mile wide.  And galvanize the team around what the project is solving for and an optimized course of action. 

At Verv, we think this approach is much more inclusive and less myopic.  It’s empathetic to the changing needs of organizations and how they really work.  And it leverages stakeholders for what they’re good at…and when. 

We’ve coined the term “Co-Magination” for the type of collaboration we believe in.  I’d be glad to share it with you in greater detail.