Friday, July 22, 2011

The Power Of Co-Innovation

We have been working with several customers to design Career OnDemand. For several months we listened carefully to several people, thought leaders and customers around the world and designed a solution which we think will help people manage their performance, development and career in the idea driven economy, where it is more important to move ideas from one person to another rather than move documents from one desk to another.
Co-Innovation is great way to design products.
But we had a problem. Most customers use people management practices that were designed for the industrial economy where the worker needed the factory and was loyal to the factory or workplace for decades. Times have changed. Now-a-days the factory needs the worker more then the worker needs the factory. There is little loyalty left in the worker-factory relationship.

We wanted to change the minds of our customers without any disrespect for their practices. So we involved them in our design process right from the design stage. Initially customers were very surprised that we went for a 3 hour workshop with nothing to sell to them and skeleton prototypes conveying our hypothesis. They greeted us with statements like "So you have nothing to sell and you will not have anything to sell for the next one year?". We had to explain to them that we are not from sales and we just wanted to design the product together with them. Many of them indulged us because we had crazy ideas and they were mildly amused about the fact that several people were willing to spend more than a year designing a product that they were not sure will ever be accepted by the market.

After a year and half of interaction, with constant updates to all customers who co-innovated with us, we showed the resulting design to them. To our surprise and delight we heard murmurs like "This is good. Why are we not doing things this way in our company" and "Sure. This does not fit what we do today. But may be what we are doing today need re-examination". When I heard such statements from customers who have been doing things in a certain way for decades, I realized the true potential of co-innovating with customers. It takes months, if not years of working with customers before you can earn their trust and the right to change their mind and the way they do things.

It is not easy. But it is worth the time and energy.

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