„Ideation and stakeholder integration through Co-Creation“

If you want to make the success of your Start-Up sustainable, Ideation should not be a one-time affair and the integration of your stakeholders should become part of your corporate culture.

This will enable you to sustainably transfer your Start-Up into the growth phase. But how can Start-Ups maintain the alertness and openness they need?

Keep the Start-Up Spirit

Take the following example: Sven, Nike and Pete studied physics with a focus on thermodynamics. Based on their joint research-work they developed the idea for a product that might have good market chances. Even before completing their doctorates, they found a Start-Up company. What unites them and motivates them every day is the belief in the brilliant idea and the product that can be developed from it.

You are familiar with such stories and you also know how the story goes on in the best case: The three young entrepreneurs find a committed investor, the product is patented and brought to market, the first customers are found, series production starts, employees are hired and a success story develops…

So far, so good, but what comes next and how can the three avoid a dead end? For the last 20 years I have been working in and for large companies to make them better at what they do. They all started out as Start-Ups at some point. However, for most companies, the motto is: „We are in our comfort zone and do what we can. If we want to grow, we do even more of it.“ Diversification, if it occurs at all, is usually the result of acquisitions or random events.

Learning from the mistakes of established companies

In large companies we work with Co-Creation that leads to more openness, development of potential and use of collective knowledge. This is not always easy, because as Peter Drucker has told us: „Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast“.

In addition, it can often be observed that Start-Ups that have reached a certain size, and by that come to their organizational limits, take over classic organization structures in blind trust. One would like to shout to them: „Stop! Take a deep breath, come together, think! – because otherwise it will be difficult to get rid of the ghosts you were calling.“

What could stop a Start-Up from taking the path of established companies? How can founders manage to set the essential course and not miss the right turn when their company as a closed system is completely focused on its goal and, figuratively speaking, does not look left or right? How can Start-Ups pursue an approach from the very beginning that is focused on their stakeholders and, as an open system, allows them to identify the essential developments? How can they form a breathing, living organism that has its sensors in society, recognizing and taking advantage of opportunities?

Co-Creation as an Attitude and a Process

If Start-Ups live Co-Creation as an attitude and as a process, they overcome inertia and randomness in their development. In order to achieve this, an integrative approach in the company is needed. A culture for which the exchange and connection with the ecosystem is THE way fundamental choices are made. Hence „ideation and stakeholder integration“. We believe that ideation should not be separated from the dialogue with stakeholders, but must happen together with them. If they manage to live such an attitude in the Start-Up phase, the next big challenge is to maintain this attitude as a culture in the mature company on an ongoing basis.

Susan Barth, head of the STARTKLAR Start-Up center at Heilbronn University and lecturer for Entrepreneurial Leadership, observes that Start-Ups in growth phases are confronted with the following topics, among others, and are often left alone with them

  • rapid demand for employees with a simultaneous lack of expertise in dealing with personnel issues and leadership – resulting in interpersonal conflicts and problems that drain attention and energy
  • strategic division of responsibilities and tasks in the founding team due to entrepreneurial complexity – thus often turning away from the original founding motive (e.g. building & inventing) and increasing dissatisfaction
  • Focus on the development of functioning entrepreneurial structures – thereby neglecting important innovation and maturation loops in the development process
  • scaling pressure – thus stronger focus on figures than on sustainable corporate development

The organizational psychologist advises startups to establish professional reflection processes early on for strategic reasons. From her perspective, co-creation can not only establish an effective innovation logic in the corporate culture at an early stage but can also help to identify blind spots in the own development-process in time.

Co-Creation has become a familiar word and is used carelessly to express when something is being worked on together. However, we are talking about the attitude and method of Co-Creation. Co-Creation differs from agile methods, such as design thinking, mainly by its mindset and the implementation of this attitude in the Co-Creation process.

Attitude & Mindset: Connection and Integration

Connection and integration arise from an inner attitude. They are the very essence of Co-Creation as we understand it. At the beginning of our millennium, the greatest challenges and opportunities occur from complex contexts. To understand them and to solve them sustainably, we need unity in the diversity of perceptions, experiences, and thoughts. In traditional companies it helps us to overcome silos, in agile organizations it can help to bridge the barriers between the people inside and outside the organization.

Ideation: The difference between Design Thinking and Co-Creation

Ideation is particularly effective when it happens in a process of learning together and from each other. The Co-Creation methodology includes all relevant stakeholders in the design process. Making assumptions about stakeholders in Design Thinking increases the speed and number of possible iterations. Integrating the stakeholders into the process is a qualitatively demanding process that can lead to surprising insights. However, it is especially important that results are achieved together with the stakeholders. This means that all participants look at the challenge together and have a high commitment to the results from the very beginning.

Designing the overall process

The Co-Creation methodology runs the overall process in 8-step Co-Creation workshops with the involvement of stakeholders. Together they get to know their personalities, they take synergies and similarities, they understand how they work best together as a team on the journey. But they also connect with each other in their goal, they understand what the individual benefit of the goal is and what the jointly perceived benefit of the goal for the stakeholders. Together they get to the bottom of things and bring new ideas to life. Every 3 or 4 months they meet for the next Co-Creation workshop to evaluate the previous process and results and to set the course for the coming iteration.

„Ideation and stakeholder integration through Co-Creation“
Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

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