LISTEN TO THE COIQ PODCAST:
There’s no doubt about it: co-creating value with consumers and providers is the future of healthcare — because it's too costly for innovators (and patients) to “hope” they guessed right.
For decades, other industries have reaped the benefits of co-creating solutions with customers. Now it’s time for healthcare to apply proven co-creation strategies to solve health problems, improve quality of life, and enhance patient experiences.
Traditionally, healthcare is done “to” or “for” patients. With co-creation, healthcare is moving toward solving health problems collaboratively “with” consumers and other stakeholders, from beginning to end (and over again).
Patients are starting to reap the benefits of co-creation, like other industries have for decades. And, health innovators that deploy co-creation strategies will reduce the cost and risk linked to new product development, leapfrog the competition, and increase brand loyalty.
If you’re not co-creating, it’s time to start. And this guide helps you cover the basics.
Click on any section to scroll directly to it.
On the surface, co-creation is bringing external stakeholders into the product development and launch process. But it’s a lot more than that.
It’s the evolution and transformation of the patient’s role. Co-creation stretches beyond just the design phase. It’s true customer collaboration that weaves throughout the entire product development and launch process, starting with your initial idea and ending when you close the company.
While well-known concepts like design thinking and human-centered design have helped countless brands rethink the patient’s role in the innovation process, these methods fall short on engaging stakeholders after solutions are developed.
They also miss opportunities to create sustainable innovation cultures built on continuous feedback loops with patients, providers, and other stakeholders.
Health innovators — and any innovator, for that matter — can use co-creation to:1
More than 95% of healthcare innovations never see the light of day.2
Instead, they’re cast to a zombie graveyard — along with the millions of other products that innovators swore were a great idea. Co-creation helps ensure this doesn’t happen to you.
The process of innovating is riddled with inherent biases that can secretly sabotage us. There’s only one way to uncover and destroy them, and that’s making sure that the end-users are involved all along the way. Check out the bonus section on the last page for the six most common biases.
Co-creation uncovers hidden insights and inspires new ideas that you simply wouldn’t have found with your own perspective and internal team. Your customers know best what their experiences, needs, and desires are. Listen to them — and keep listening to them.
Just because something is innovative doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. I know, this is a tough pill to swallow. But with every new feature and iteration, you can’t afford to move forward without the validation that your idea is truly useful to your customers.
It helps you to better use your organizational resources. Discover what features and functionally patients actually want instead of wasting thousands — if not millions — of dollars on over-developing. This will help you get to market faster and free up resources for bringing your product to market.
Through my doctoral research and applications, I’ve uncovered the critical importance of co-creation in the commercialization process and the role co-creation plays in transforming healthcare organizations into agile innovation machines.
I created the “5 Co’s of Co-creation” framework to guide innovation leaders through the 5 types of co-creation, which can also be referred to as the 5 stages of co-creation:
Co-ideation, Co-valuation, Co-design, Co-test,
The framework also helps build a continuous communication stream with external stakeholders when designing, developing, and launching new products, services, and experiences.
Here are the 5 types of co-creation and a scenario that shows how an organization might use them to co-create with customers.
Instead of finding customers for your innovation, build an innovation with your customers. This phase ensures that you’re meeting a real market need — not just building on your team’s assumptions and biases.
Which of your product ideas will have the greatest impact, are most viable, or are more difficult for competitors to copy? To figure this out, you might choose to work with the same group as the first phase, or decide to invite more people to the party.
It’s crucial that you don’t waste time and resources on fully developing a product that doesn’t have market feedback. In this phase, hone in on the most important features so you can build, test, and iterate incrementally.
Where the rubber meets the road. After you’ve built your MVP, let your customers give it a spin and give you their unfiltered feedback. Be sure to figure out which specific features you’ll collect feedback on and how you’ll collect it.
Build a strong network in your target market. Not just end-users and buyers, but also key influencers who can help spread the word and build positive word-of-mouth among your market’s tech-savvy, innovative early adopters.
You may be familiar with other models for types of co-creation, like Matthew S. O’Hern and Aric Rindfleisch’s model from their work Customer Co-Creation: A Typology and Research Agenda.3 In the model, types of co-creation can be categorized as:
Submitting: Fixed contribution and firm-led selection
Tinkering: Open contribution and firm-led selection
Co-designing: Fixed contribution and customer-led selection
Collaborating: Open contribution and customer-led selection
Through the lens of my framework, this model can help to identify where your company is on the “matrix” of co-creation. For example, if you’re “submitting” in a fixed and firm-led environment, there’s not much co-creation going on here!
But if you’re “collaborating” in an open and customer-led environment, you’re full-speed co-creating.
So ask yourself: where on the matrix does your organization fall?
The LEGO co-creation project LEGO Ideas has a dedicated website where users can submit their ideas for new LEGO toys. Other users can then vote, comment, and review those ideas, creating a co-creation community that helps leadership get a temperature check on which ideas may be the most successful to implement.
Founded in 2008, LEGO Ideas started as an experiment. But it quickly grew into a global sensation with more than 1 million fans constantly submitting ideas. Since then, users have submitted more than 26,000 ideas, and more than 23 sets have been launched from those ideas.
The head of LEGO Ideas, Daiva Staneikaite Naldal, says:
Over the years we’ve realized that our fan communities are extremely eager and energized to share their creations and try to make them become reality... LEGO Ideas carries a strong testimony that the collective opinion of this creative crowd can not only identify great products, but also yield authentic and engaging stories about people and their passions.
LEGO learned, when they bring their customers into the process, the end result is far better than anything they could ever achieve on their own.
Here are a few other examples of companies that are tapping into the brains of external stakeholders early and often:
P&G Connect + Develop. P&G’s co-design program invites innovation partners to come on board and build something great together. Their site says: “It’s a fact: collaboration accelerates innovation.” Yup!
Starbucks Ideas. This program harnesses co-ideation and co-valuation on everything from new food and drinks to tech products to social responsibility projects. You may be surprised to learn that more than 70% of Starbucks ’ new ideas brought to market in recent years came from outside the company.
Nokia Beta Labs. Nokia’s co-test program invites techies and early adopters to be the first in line to test new phones and software upgrades. This lets them gather feedback and iron out the details before release to the general public.
Here are some of the biggest myths I hear surrounding co-creation — and some of the biggest mental barriers that keep innovators from co-creating and co-creating well.
Multi-stakeholder collaboration that includes all end-users is a “nice-to-have.”
This myth often stems from the belief that you already know what your customers need right now, or you’ll work on co-creation later when you have more time or resources.
But here’s the cold, hard truth: You can’t possibly know your customers’ needs unless you ask them. You need to involve your stakeholders in every step of your product development process, and you need to do it now.
In my experience: if right now isn’t a good time, there will never be a good time! Do whatever it takes to make co-creation a priority.
Finding customers who understand our business is really hard.
This shows up especially in regards to highly “niche” solutions, like a rare type of cancer, or a specific medical device that innovators are bringing to market.
It may seem that it’s difficult to find people who understand the business and to contribute truly valuable insights. But don’t fall victim to this mindset.
If we want to be agile, we should rely on our internal teams.
Innovators think, “We have this window of opportunity, and we need to move fast. Co-creation will slow us down!”
This turns into feeling the need to leverage those internal teams so we can be quick and nimble. But the truth is: it doesn’t matter how fast you get to a dead end — it’s still a dead end!
Co-creation is about certainty that your product is needed and wanted by the market, and no amount of speed can fix a problem there.
We did the market research already...
so we’re good!
Don’t get me wrong. Market research is a critical early step for creating innovations that truly fill a need and generate the big bucks. But remember that market research took place for that specific subset of target customers at that specific moment in time.
But consumer and end user needs continuously evolve. So it’s something that you absolutely need to do on an ongoing basis.
Co-creation can be a boon for healthcare companies of all sizes and types, in any region around the globe, that want to achieve the same goal:
To build a continuous communication stream with consumers, providers, and other stakeholders and put them at the center of these innovation and experience programs, from beginning to end.
But is your organization really ready to co-create, or are you up against big implementation challenges? Let’s look at a few things that can be your keys to success — or your ultimate downfall.
Co-creation can’t be optimally effective without being built into a company’s culture. And, new cultures can’t be developed without buy-in from the company’s key leaders and decision-makers.
This consumer-centric way of thinking might require a deep paradigm shift among innovation leaders. Before starting the co-creation journey, it’s critical to understand how receptive the current culture is to open vs. closed innovation.
Managers need to shift from a closed innovation paradigm with control, planning and forecasting to being more flexible, adaptive, and maintaining a sincere dialogue with stakeholders.
You’ll need externally-oriented employees who can swiftly and efficiently respond to stakeholders’ true wants and needs. Co-creation leaders need to cultivate trust and encourage honest feedback.
Innovation leaders are used to funding internal R&D, product, marketing, and customer experience teams. Adding co-creation to your plate means new budget requirements for things like co-creation tools and compensation or incentives for participants.
Unlike traditional market research programs where funds come from a single department’s budget often once or twice a year, co-creation will require more resources.
It’s an overarching business strategy with continuous implementation — so co-creation expenses won’t (or shouldn’t) be a one-and-done affair.
As innovation leaders collect feedback throughout the co-creation process, they’ll face inherent biases that could lead the co-creation process in the wrong direction. As humans, we're wired to “like what we like” and could steer the outcome toward our preconceived notions.
When it comes to validating the next big idea, it’s important to remove your bias as much as possible so the truth can come to the surface. This ain’t easy, but it’s critical if you want your co-creation strategy to succeed.
There are thousands of examples of companies that have successfully woven co-creation into their core business model and company culture.
Observe how companies co-create across various industries and sectors, then narrow down this research into healthcare-specific examples. Try to distinguish the nuances of each case study and consider how these insights might be applied to your own co-creation efforts.
Consider the next product, service, or experience your organization plans to develop. How can you create a dialogue with consumers around this project?
Even if it’s too demanding to build out a full co-creation strategy and plan, even small steps toward opening a dialogue will help to work toward the broader co-creation goal.
A co-creation strategist offers expertise and guidance to help streamline the learning curve. These individuals and organizations can advise on unique opportunities, considerations, tools, and action items that each healthcare business needs to look at before being able to co-create successfully.
At the end of the day, they can save you major resources and time in finding your path to profit.
1. Hohmann, L. (2015). Innovation games: Creating breakthrough products through collaborative play. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Addison-Wesley.
2. Nobel, C. (2011, February 14). Clay Christensen's milkshake marketing. Retrieved April 13, 2021, from https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/clay-christensens-milkshake-marketing
3. O’Hern, M. S., & Rindfleisch, A. (2010). Customer co-creation: A typology and research agenda. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235306810_Customer_Co-Creation_A_Typology_and_Research_Agenda