As a culture we have romantic visions of the lone creative figure, that singular genius standing against all odds to see his or her vision through or die trying. Howard Roark the architect of Ayn Rand’s Fountain Head who chooses to blow up his building rather than see his vision compromised is the creative archetype many of us subscribe to. It’s these notions that make it so hard to loosen our chokehold on the innovation process. But when it comes to creativity and innovation, we can’t let mythology stand in our way.
True Brilliance Comes from Group Think
Although we can all point out innovation in product development and marketing that has sprung from the brilliance of one mind, the truth is that most innovation happens when co-creation is at the center of the process. That usually means involving not only the internal resources of the company and a team charged with innovating but also the external resources of the culture and the customers.
There is no formulaic process. The opportunity is to take a more holistic, co-creative approach to brand innovation without excluding anyone, including customers. When this intimate dialogue is at the center of the creation of products and marketing, powerful things happen.
What is Co-Creation, Anyway?
Co-creation can mean a lot of different things. At its most basic, it means having help in the creative process, as simple as a bunch of kids around a table coming up with ideas for new jeans with Levi designers. Or letting customers pick the image on your label each month. Or tapping into the communities and talent you find through on-demand talent platforms to get great ideas or solve any problem you’re facing. Either way the concept is vital to strong business, and the only way to start is to loosen up on the reins and see where the process takes you. To be a mighty co-creator you have to put fear aside.
Co-creation defines itself by how customers engage with your company. For some, it might be as simple as customer service that goes beyond answering existing concerns and engages them on what could be better. For others, co-creation means allowing customers the opportunity to create their own products or their own media. Whether it is consumer-generated content, crowdsourcing or open innovation, people now have the ability to collaborate real-time with your business.
Lots of companies think about forming—and even say they have formed—a community around their products, but most haven’t put this model at the center of their business.
Find Insights Through Listening
Just like people, some companies are good listeners and some are bad listeners. Too often, companies use bad research as an excuse to minimize risk and minimize innovation that comes with co-creation. Internal agendas and politics and consumer research get in the way of true innovation. Consumer research is a lot different than co-creation. It’s as different as if we asked you to fill out a form about what it’s like to push a car out of a ditch or instead had you help us push the car out of the ditch.
Look around. Would your brand and your products benefit from more ideas and group input? What are you seeing in blogs and in other social media? The first step in the exploration is to get into the conversation. Start answering questions on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media platforms. Make comments on blog posts that seem relevant. Likewise, make your website more interactive. Can visitors leave comments? Who answers them?
The key in this new age of interaction is the ability to engage and be involved in a dialogue. To engage in a process that would welcome more ideas. It’s a hard shift to go from inside-out to outside-in product innovation but it’s one that is inevitable. Once you get the hang of working this way, millions of possibilities will unfold.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Forbes.