We are happy to announce that the publishing house Springer Nature will publish the bestselling book of Dr. Georg Michalik in English in 4th quarter 2022: Co-Creation Mindset and 8 Steps to the Future of Work .
Take a first look here.
What exactly is ´cocreation´? What lies behind it? Is it just a trend? Is it just an old idea in a new package? How can we use it in our organisations?
cocreation is more than a trend, more than a method and more than new packaging for received wisdom. cocreation stands for a change in the way people think, feel and act.
It grows out of a feeling of increasing helplessness in the face of problems.
Even knowledge and innovation are not always helpful. It often seems that problem-solving is becoming more complicated by the day, not in spite of technological progress, but because of it. Innovation begets innovation, so that the number of options available to us grows exponentially. Technological progress can help us when the appropriate solutions can be found and applied but keeping track of these and choosing the right ones is becoming increasingly challenging (Harari, 2015). On their own, individuals find this task overwhelming. It takes people who know how to communicate in an appropriate way to find the right paths forward.
How do we manage to figure out what these paths are in our organisations? The external environment is changing faster than ever, and companies must react just as quickly.
What if we were to succeed in developing corporate cultures in which it was possible to foresee future developments? This would require an understanding of how openness, transparency and permeability can represent a competitive advantage. Companies need to understand that they are harming themselves if they promote a culture in which people work against each other instead of with each other.
This happens, for example, when successes are achieved in one division at the expense of other divisions within the company. It also happens when particularly talented employees are kept in their own division instead of being shown opportunities for development throughout the whole company, or when developers advance their own solutions without coordinating with product development in other divisions. A special term has become established to refer to these phenomena, which mostly emerge at interfaces within companies. In these cases, we speak of “silo thinking”. If you are affected by this, you might be asking yourself: “How can this be? We’re all in the same boat! If only everyone else thought and acted for the sake of the whole company, then everything would be better.”
This point is obvious and has often occurred to people. But if it is so obvious, why don’t we do it? The answer seems quite simple in principle, because on the cognitive level we know what to do. On the emotional level, however, we find social behaviour outside the framework of our existing personal relationships incomparably more difficult. With our friends, families, neighbours and colleagues, as well as at sports clubs and everywhere where we are already connected to people, we willingly engage in social behaviour. With strangers, however, we do not feel connected in the same way, especially if there are many of them, if they are from somewhere else or even if they just look different.
Being Connected with Each Other
Perhaps some readers will object that this picture is exaggerated and simplistic. Human beings are much more diverse. Of course, this is true. However, a very specific aspect should be emphasised: we tend to view people who have less in common with us with more distance than people with whom we have more in common. The better we know our fellow human beings, the greater our emotional closeness.
Take the following example:
“Malaysia Airlines has recently been in the global media spotlight, due to the loss of contact with Flight MH370 and the search for the missing aircraft. The scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared from air traffic control surveillance at Subang Airport at 01:21 local time on 8 March 2014. Since then, the Boeing 777 with 227 passengers and twelve crew members [sic] on board has been missing. Despite the most extensive search operation in the history of aviation, neither the flight recorder nor debris have been found so far.” (www.welt.de).
I can still remember how I felt, when I first heard the news in 2014: “Hopefully the plane will turn up. Maybe it’s just a mistake.” Days later, when still no trace of it had been found, it was clear that a major accident had occurred. My thoughts at the time were: “That’s terrible. Those poor people and their relatives.” However, I must admit that I went back to business as usual after that.
Can you remember what your thoughts and feelings were? How do you feel today about the fact that MH370 is still missing?
Now imagine how you would have been affected by the disaster if some of the basic conditions had been different. How would you have felt, for example, if you had spent your last holiday in Malaysia? How would you have grieved if your best friend or partner had been Malay? Or if there had been a tour group with 20 people from your country on board? Or if it had been a plane belonging to your country’s national airline that had disappeared over the Atlantic?
In none of the cases would anything have changed for you personally. Nevertheless, most people would be more deeply affected under these circumstances. That would be true for me, at least. People feel more or less connected to each other depending on how much they have in common. A personal connection is a prerequisite for taking the interests of others seriously.
Of course, there are many individuals who have realised for themselves that it is important to connect with others, without reservation or discrimination. They engage in volunteer work, pursue a socially oriented profession or simply reach out to others, whether they know them or not. Acting in this way is mostly the result of a personal learning experience. Our socialisation in our family and environment also contributes to this learning experience. People need to experience for themselves why it is worthwhile to act socially. Without this experience, we primarily perceive the differences between us, rather than what unites us. Perhaps we were lucky and have been treated well by strangers or perceive others positively ourselves. In this way, we can learn what happens when we respect what unites people. If you feel this way, then you have probably had positive experiences of connection yourself. In doing so, you have been able to recognise the benefits of thinking and acting together with others and made it part of your attitude towards other people.
What does this mean for working together in companies or even beyond? How well do we know all our colleagues and what positive experiences have we had with them? According to the view presented above, alienation ought to be greater in large organisations. Employees no longer know each other personally. They see strangers in their own company. If this is the case, then the obvious solution could be to create situationally based emotional closeness, and thus to make cross-departmental thinking, feeling and acting possible.
This is exactly where co-creation comes in. It seeks to enable people to have this positive experience of connecting with others.
When people connect with each other to create something new together, when they use their collective potential to confront complex problems, when they overcome their fears and realise that their fellow human beings are not a threat, then co-creation can take place. For it is together with our fellow human beings – whether we know them or not – that we must overcome the great challenges that face us. Only then can the new, the necessary, come into being in our companies and in the world more generally.
Finding Solutions Together
Aren’t these thoughts also at the foundation of cooperation? You may be asking yourself what distinguishes co-creation from cooperation.
As the neuroscientist Gerald Hüther says: “When people connect, when they develop their potentials together, then something emerges that is more than cooperation. Then we can speak of co-creation.” (Hüther, 2016).
The term cooperation is defined in very different ways depending on the context. In cooperation, the focus is thus on the congruence of goals and the balancing of interests. In this process, the actors keep to themselves. In co-creation, the actors come together as a unit and create something in common. This makes co-creation very different from cooperation. Co-creation can be defined as follows: “Co-creation is connecting people and their goals to jointly create solutions.”
Let us return to the phenomenon of silo thinking. You may now be wondering whether overcoming silo thinking is not, in essence, simply about working better together within organisations. If we pursue this line of thinking, then co-creation would help to overcome silo thinking in companies.
Imagine a silo: in most cases, it is a long storage container. It is intentionally designed such that there is no interaction with the environment. Silos are sealed, only being opened for filling and emptying. Wikipedia describes this situation in unintentionally metaphorical terms: “Silos are basically filled from the top and emptied from the bottom” (Wikipedia). We are also familiar with this arrangement from corporate silos.
Decision-making processes in corporate silos also run from the top to the bottom, while the execution message runs from the bottom to the top. Thus, in the silo, we have a strong vertical orientation when it comes to communication. One might say that people do not look to the left or right, but rather up and down. However, companies do not get very far by orienting themselves on this vertical axis. They can increase vertical integration and can learn to work more efficiently, but they can only effectively enter exchange with other divisions, customers, stakeholders, etc., along the horizontal axis.
Effectiveness requires horizontal perception, thinking and action. Some companies have recognised this and developed horizontal processes. They call these “end-to-end business processes”. Here, the process is considered to extend all the way from the customer enquiry through to the company’s performance. The divisions involved can include marketing, order processing, production, shipping, service and many more. On the horizontal axis, interfaces arise that require different control and escalation mechanisms than on the vertical axis. In a standardised linear process, like end-to-end processes, these interfaces are known and can be managed. There are either specific people responsible for this or cross-departmental control and coordination groups.
The situation is different, however, when it comes to the non-linear, complex processes described at the beginning. If we were to chart them, we might assume that they are chaotic: they skip process steps and move freely within hierarchies. They are iterative, sometimes incredibly fast and occasionally bring everything to a standstill. If a company does not learn to deal with them, they can turn into a serious challenge. However, if a company learns to skilfully manage them, then it creates the opportunity for major leaps forward in development. In this case, the company learns not only to create waves itself, but also to surf on them.
The basic prerequisite for dealing with complex problems is “relational thinking” (Franzen, 2018). This form of thinking is contrasted with feature-oriented thinking, which suffices for solving linear complicated problems. Feature-oriented thinking compares the features inherent in different things and chooses those that seem more useful. By contrast, relational thinking sets things in relation to each other, establishing relationships and attempting to recognise their shape within the whole of things.
Relational thinking is demanding, because it requires calmness, patience, presence and space. Under pressure to meet deadlines and to succeed, we tend to prefer simple, repeatable formulas. Once when discussing coffee capsules with an expert, I stated that if you were to find the right type of capsule, you would get excellent coffee, but that I myself preferred the hand-ground coffee from my portafilter because it tastes a little different every day. He replied that he could understand where I was coming from. They had done research, and there were indeed customers like me. However, they only made up 5% of coffee drinkers, while the other 95% preferred to have exactly the same taste every time.
Co-creation not only seeks to generate solutions through relational thinking, but to do so by cultivating relationships to and collaboration with others. What would we be able to achieve, if co-creation were to apply relational thinking to collaborative work in organisations?
That is the claim advanced in this book. It aims to show how shared relational perception, thinking, feeling and decision-making can make co-creation possible in companies. Co-creation should fulfil one central condition: it should suit the tastes of 100% of the employees, not merely 5%. We believe that this is possible, as long as we have the right mindset and methods.
The following chapters will describe how to create spaces of shared relational thinking, how to produce waves in these spaces and ride them together, how companies can use this approach to address non-linear complex challenges and how a culture of fearlessness and mutual respect can emerge in the process.
“If people enjoy working together, they will work together.”
To arrive at really good solutions, it helps when people find a way to connect fully with each other, such that they are able to draw on their shared potential. This is possible with just two people, but such a process can also involve several people who join together as a team. In joining together in a process of co-creation, the individuals should still retain their individuality, so that their personalities and experiences can enrich the team. It would be great to be 100% a team, while recognising oneself and feeling recognised as an individual within it.
Cooperation and collaboration have become important buzzwords in companies in recent years. Yet it is not always quite clear what the difference between them is supposed to be. Do we really need another term to describe a particular way of working together?
As you read this book, you will learn that co-creation builds on a fundamentally different premise than previous approaches to working together. It is therefore advisable to introduce a new term to describe this particular approach: co-creation.
In the chapter 3, we will look at the Potentialum organisational model. There, we distinguish cooperation from co-creation, in that cooperation is a team’s knowledge of the rules of cooperation, while co-creation is the application of this knowledge to value creation.
People in organisations need to know how they want to and should work together. These rules define how responsibilities, roles, tasks, communication, interfaces, etc., are handled. However, on its own, this knowledge does not make a company really efficient. For this, it needs to connect people who have complete mastery of their specialisation to form a “performance community” that makes it possible to create something new.
New things come into being from connection; they “emerge”. Aristotle described this emergence as follows: “That which is composed of components in such a way that it forms a unified whole – not in the manner of a heap, but like a syllable – is obviously more than the mere sum of its parts” (Aristotle). One might say that when masters of various subjects unite come together in pursuit of a single goal, when they have a shared understanding of an object, they have the power to change things. Such a result can only come from a conscious connection between experts. This too is co-creation.
Moments like this are often not planned, but somehow simply happen. A situation of this type arose when I was taking the train to the airport with two business partners after days of intensive work. The journey took an hour. For two days, we had been working on a concrete project and, at the same time, had kept talking about an idea that we only sensed on some level. Exhausted, we drifted off, started philosophising. All of a sudden, a new idea emerged from the unity and diversity of our thoughts. The three of us still talk about what happened that day, laughing about how one of us took a nap and suddenly everything was as clear as day.
We hadn’t been actively looking for this situation; it simply happened. It was not entirely by chance, since we had had deep conversations with each other again and again, but it emerged coincidentally at that moment and under those circumstances.
Are these “aha” moments between people that create great things, that bring about real innovation and change, merely the product of random chance? Or can they also be brought about consciously? Can we create spaces of time, experience and connection in which co-creation can occur again and again in very different constellations? We have been working on this problem and believe that this question can be answered in the affirmative. These moments can be deliberately brought about. It is always very specific things that we do, moments that we create, spaces that we need in order for this to become possible.
Imagine what it would be like if you could consciously create great moments like the one on the train? If they were no longer left to chance, and thus rather rare? If we could do this, then it would be a big step forward for our organisations. We would be able to connect our brains ever more comprehensively into goal-oriented, and yet inspirationally open thinking spaces – creating a shared consciousness that is more than mere computing power. For humans possess what computers do not: wisdom, deliberation, experience and values. They can incorporate purposeful action, and thus make use of what makes us human at our core: uniqueness, creativity, unpredictability and sometimes surprising irrationality from which something new can emerge.
We call these moments “co-creation” – that is, a human connection aimed at creating continuous value. Co-creation is not left to chance, but is consciously brought about, in order to be exploited and learned from. Through it, we learn about ourselves and what we want to achieve.
Through co-creation, we create a “collective consciousness” from those involved in the process. In this collective consciousness, people connect with each other, as well as with the matter at hand, understanding together what their role is in the process and experiencing themselves as no longer separate from each other. In this moment, the individuals are connected to each other in what is happening. They see themselves and the others as an essential part of the perception, evaluation and shaping of the whole. This is where co-creation takes a distinctive path from other problem-solving or workshop methods. If we reach this high level of connection with others and with a goal, then we can synchronise our thinking going forward. In synchronisation, cognitive abilities and sensations are joined together in a network, opening new mental capacities for coping with complexity.
The second chapter will start with the “logic of co-creation”, that is, with the emergence of the concept of co-creation. Co-creation is about shaping the future and changing the present. Co-creation and dealing with change are closely linked. In management theory, the Kübler-Ross change curve (Kübler-Ross, 1972) is often used to explain how people react to change.
Collective intelligence approaches take a different path. One of the masterminds of this field is Otto Scharmer of the Sloan School at MIT in Boston.
The co-creation methodology presented later in the book strives to integrate these approaches, thus proposing a simple, less dogmatic approach to working together. It allows organisations to open themselves to the transformation ushering in the new world of work. Co-creation thus takes a different approach, in that it claims to connect people at the core, in order to then arrive at solutions together. In this way, it differs from many other approaches that first seek a solution and only then establish a deeper connection through the result.
The different levels of connection in co-creation are presented: person-to-person connection, connection through a common goal and connection through the shared experience of a process.
During this process, participants experience different emotional states. By illustrating the emotional journey of the participants in a co-creation workshop, it is possible to capture what people experience in co-creation and how cohesion and commitment emerge from it.
This approach to working together makes certain demands on those involved. It is necessary for them to share a mindset, values and principles. These are described in the section “Basic Assumptions of Co-Creation”.
The explanation of these basic assumptions then leads us to an understanding of how the mechanisms of co-creation work and what psychological processes it is built on.
The third chapter looks at the new world of work: what is changing around us, how the economy is reshaping itself and what consequences this has for how we work together. What does this mean for the individual? We are at the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution, and these questions are on everyone’s mind. People want to understand what is changing.
This chapter presents the development of the Potentialum organisational model. It was designed to meet the requirements of our business environment. The Potentialum organisational model makes it possible to see quickly and comprehensibly how the different areas of a company are interconnected. The model identifies domains where there is a need for development and describes how it can be used to find a distinctive path into the future.
The Potentialum organisational model also serves as a tool for organisational diagnosis. If this diagnosis is carried out before co-creation, the results can show us what actions the organisation as a whole needs to take.
In the second and third chapters, co-creation is derived from and justified in relation to the individual’s perspective, social interactions, organisation and economic environment. This lays the foundation for a detailed presentation of the co-creation process in the fourth and fifth chapters. The fourth chapter illustrates the co-creation process itself, while the fifth chapter shows how the organisational transformation towards co-creation can happen.
The fourth chapter describes the seven steps of the co-creation process. The first step is also repeated at the end of the process, which is why we can also speak of eight steps. Each of the seven steps has a distinctive name.
Figure 4: The co-creation process
Connection is the alpha and the omega of co-creation. In the first step, “Connect”, it is a question of connection. This connection is the basis for everything that follows. The first issue is the goal and the “why” question. Does the shared idea answer the question of meaningfulness or “purpose”? What benefit or incentive do people see in this goal? What binds them collectively to this idea? Finally, what connects them, as a group of people who want to work together, on the level of their existence, their basic motivations and their values? Differences are okay, as long as they can be presented openly and transparently. However, unresolved issues must not be ignored. “Connecting” requires a lot of attention and determines the subsequent success of the co-creation process. Therefore, there should be a broad consensus at the end of the first step that it has been handled correctly. If doubts remain, it is advisable not to proceed until they have been resolved.
“Discover”: Discovering the facts
After the connection necessary for the common project has been established in the first step, the second step is to understand more precisely how the “current situation” is perceived. This involves a pure exercise in taking stock. It is not a matter of evaluating the past or present situation, but only of collecting data. The term “Discover” covers two different approaches:
Taking stock during the workshop: If the actual situation is described in the co-creation workshop itself, it is initially a question of one’s own perception. This is followed by a joint analysis and the identification of those factors that are considered essential by everyone.
Taking stock in preparation for the co-creation workshop: Especially at the beginning of a co-creation journey, it can be useful to get a holistic picture, in the sense of a view of the whole company or organisation. This is what Potentialum is for. With Potentialum you get an overall picture of the organisation, as well as of its self-image. After an online survey of all the organisation’s members and the presentation of the results, the latter are jointly evaluated and analysed during “Discover”. The third chapter describes the Potentialum model and this procedure in detail.
“Explore”: Understanding the background
The third step of the co-creation process “Explore” involves understanding the current situation in more detail. In “Discover”, we looked at the situation of the organisation or company. The next step is to give meaning to the current situation. This section identifies how the situation captured in the analysis might have come about. To do this, a joint investigation into the causes is undertaken. Different methods are described that enable this to be done with different numbers of participants. By diving into the causes, a common awareness of past patterns emerges. The third step also avoids judgements. The team abides fully in a collective openness towards their shared history. The evaluation of the causes takes place only in the next step.
“Share”: Sharing the conclusions
The fourth step is the midpoint of the process and concludes the analysis phase. In this part, the book describes how the assessment is conducted by means of a root-cause analysis. Even if the whole process has been carried out jointly up to this point, a variety of conclusions usually result. The sharing (“Share”) of each participant’s personal conclusions leads to the formation of a shared opinion about what is really essential for achieving the common goals. It is crucial to set the evaluation of the root-cause analysis in relation to the goal. If this is not done, there is the danger of acting in a purely problem-centred way. This section describes how it is possible to keep the big picture in focus, while engaging in detailed analysis. The measures that result from the assessment in the following step are thus oriented towards the shared vision instead of getting lost in the details.
The fifth step in the co-creation process shows how to approach decisive forks in the road. Once the participants have drawn their individual conclusions from the analysis in the “Share” step and then put them together in relation to the goal, it is now a matter of plotting the basic course for the next steps. The participants decide on the necessary fields of action that need to be worked on so that the goal can be achieved.
This section describes what is meant by fields of action and how they differ from concrete actions or measures. Concrete measures are only defined in the following step based on these fields of action. During “Agree”, the participants take direct responsibility for further action. If the process so far was more perceptive and analytical, the participants now feel that everything they decide will have consequences. On the one hand, this feels good, because they are finally allowed to act; on the other hand, they now realise that it is a question of shaping the future and that this will have consequences for them and others.
“Create”: Creating solutions
The sixth step of co-creation, “Create”, involves the development of solutions based on the analysis and the fields of action identified in the earlier steps. The aim here is to use our entire creative potential and to fill the fields of action with possible solutions. During the process so far, many ideas have already matured, which now only need to be compiled. Later, it will have to be decided together which of these ideas should be implemented. At this point, the group has already matured to the point that the phenomenon described earlier is now seen to be true: “When people unite with each other in view of a single goal, when they understand one thing together, then they have the power to change things.” This is exactly the effect we have experienced again and again in the workshops. At this stage, the actual solution is no longer a problem and is obvious to everyone involved. The solutions “only” must be collected, and their implementation prioritised.
“Do”: Implementing solutions
After deciding in the sixth process step which solutions are to be pursued further, it is now a matter of organising their implementation. This section describes this step, in which responsibilities are clarified, potential milestones with time horizons are set and team members are named. This is often the first phase of the implementation project.
The co-creation session concludes, as it began, with “Connect”, as an eighth step. At this point, the book describes how the co-creation workshop can be evaluated. Looking back on the collaboration and drawing conclusions together about what went well or what could be done better provides the basis for further collaboration in the project and should not be neglected.
After explicating the co-creation process in terms of the eight steps listed above, in chapter 5 the book deals with the transformation of the organisation. At the beginning of the chapter, the different models of transformation are examined. This refers to the application-oriented aspects of co-creation, which mainly revolve around the space, the available time and the possible forms of co-creation.
In the space of co-creation, a place is created where something new can come into the world. What is new, an idea, always needs a place where it can emerge. It consists neither of the people themselves nor of the place nor of the process. Rather, it is the combination of these elements that makes it possible to materialise the space between people and their ideas and conceptions, to make this space part of the emergence of something new. Otto Scharmer speaks in Theory U of “presencing”, which is a composite of “presence” and “sensing” (Scharmer, C. O., 2009). This is where situations arise that do not involve the pursuit of individual special interests. We create situations in which we realise that we come from a common origin and that we are basically pursuing the same interests. This realisation enables us to free ourselves from our individual limitations and to see ourselves as part of a greater whole. When we occupy a shared space, are in synch with each other through our engagement in the process and are transparent in our feeling and thinking, amazing things can happen.
The management level is responsible for introducing the process of co-creation in the company and ensuring that it is applied in a sustainable way. First, there is the manager, with his or her personal commitments, values and skills. However, for the transformation to succeed, “co-creation” should go beyond this to become a joint initiative of the management.
The management is supported by the human resources department. The corresponding section describes the role human resources should take in the transformation. Leadership development, as part of what HR offers, is examined in the following section. How can it itself become an ambassador of change through the way in which it is delivered?
The penultimate section of chapter five explains the actual process of organisational development in the direction of a co-creation culture. It begins with some observations on the relationship between the developmental stage of the organisation and co-creation. The conclusion is reached that all forms of organisation relevant today still function according to the hierarchical organisational principle and that a top-down organisational development process is therefore needed.
One of the best-known models for a gradual approach to organisational change is John P. Kotter’s eight-step model described in Leading Change (Kotter, 2011). Our experience in organisational development has shown that we follow a similar process. This section therefore describes organisational development through co-creation in line with Kotter’s model.
The final section of the chapter explores the role and key challenges of the coach in process facilitation. The co-creation coach is the professional facilitator of the co-creation process. He or she either works as an external service provider or is a member of the organisation itself.
Co-creation coaches accompany both micro- and macro-level processes: at the micro level, they lead co-creation workshops; at the macro level, they help guide the organisation towards a co-creation culture.
The concluding sixth chapter summarises the potential “aha moments” found in the book, and thus provides an overview. Furthermore, I venture to give my own personal perspective.
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