How to Co-Create on Innovation: Focus Executives, Employees, and Partners on Learning

 In my recent post on agile co-creation, I said, “Co-creation requires a shift in mindset, contracting, and operating model.”

The shift can be paradoxical for business leaders who view partnering as a tool for throwing problems over the fence and managing a project or service at arm’s length. I’ll tackle how to partner with solutions and service providers in the future, and in this post, I advise on co-creating with partners on innovation programs.

Co-create innovations in emerging technologies like AI and digital twins

Digital Trailblazers must change outdated mindsets before partnering on innovation programs and emerging technology poofs of concepts or risk program derailments. Successful innovation programs require a co-creation model – collaboration and partnership between employees and partners, to connect new capabilities with targeted business outcomes.

If you want to change people’s mindsets, start by discussing motivations and goals before focusing on a specific opportunity. I believe answering these why questions are critical when realigning business leaders and asking employees to collaborate with partners.

Why partner on innovation and proof of concepts

One reason Digital Trailblazers look to partner on innovation is recognizing that there’s a learning curve when testing new technologies and data capabilities. Instead of asking employees to learn from basics to best practices from scratch, partnerships offer a way to accelerate learning and dual-path multiple approaches.

“Co-creating with new partners unlocks innovations by delivering net new outcomes without having to start at zero,” says Fred Schonenberg, founder of VentureFuel. “You can leverage existing superpowers and align on a desired outcome to more efficiently and uniquely achieve new and improved results.”

When realigning business leaders’ and employees’ mindsets, answer why you’re looking to partner by focusing on the learning opportunities. One reason is that innovations are experiments, and you’re learning whether and how to apply new capabilities.

More importantly, learning requires pairing up partners with employees, including subject matter experts, product leaders, technology specialists, and data experts. This partnership is the heart of a co-creation model, which requires pairing employees with partners on agile planning and experimenting. Without a co-creation model, your partners learn, and the organization doesn’t.

Vision and charter the initiative while seeking partners

When you’re seeking a solution or service provider, you often have a reasonable idea of what problem or opportunity you’re trying to address. In the best scenario, you can write a request for proposal (RFP) and attempt to create an apples-to-apples comparison between competing partners’ capabilities. I use the word attempt because too many organizations fall into analysis paralysis by creating an overly complex multi-dimensional bakeoff between solution providers that yields inconclusive results. But I’ll cover this problem in a future post.

Seeking innovation partners is different and requires an evolutionary discovery process. You’re learning partner capabilities and technologies while discussing and debating what problems and opportunities to prioritize. You want partners to explain how emerging capabilities will extend the existing IT infrastructure, processing, and data capabilities.

“Finding partners to openly communicate how a specific project’s focus will impact management, IT teams, and everyday users can make all businesses smarter,” says Daniel Fallmann, founder and CEO of Mindbreeze. “Ultimately, finding the right partner relies on figuring out how your resources can help each other.“

Co-creation starts with co-writing a vision statement and charter for the program. The vision statement sets expectations with business stakeholders, partners, and employees on the objectives and success criteria. The charter outlines roles and responsibilities. Both tools help reshape the internal mindset – you’re not outsourcing; you’re partnering and co-creating. And As Fallmann notes, an innovation partner also needs this alignment to assign the optimal team and advise on experiments.

Ultimately, there should be learning objectives and a target of bringing innovations to production. Fallmann continues, “As CIOs discuss the business value of new and exciting tech, their production path relies on the agility of their IT infrastructure and the ability of their IT department.”

StarCIO Vision Statement Template

If your organization doesn’t have one, review and download StarCIO’s one-page vision statement template and apply it to your next innovation program.

Where partnering can be a digital transformation force multiplier 

When an emerging technology’s velocity exceeds the organization’s ability to develop skills internally, partners offer an opportunity to accelerate learning, experimenting, and delivering competitive capabilities. A digital transformation force multiplier is when a transformation initiative targets multiple business outcomes, and co-creation often addresses learning, innovation, and competitive capability objectives.    

Where are some emerging tech opportunities to partner? Marko Anastasov, co-founder of Semaphore CI/CD, answers, “There is currently an AI gold rush. CIOs can partner with AI companies to offer new products that seem to work like magic.”

Arjun Chandar, CEO at IndustrialML, says selecting incremental advancements is one way to validate emerging technologies, especially when introducing digital twins that can impact several operational areas. “Offering emerging tech as an evolution rather than a revolution helps such tech get past the PoC stage more quickly,” he says. “For example, using digital twins or AI to enhance the capabilities of people to perform their existing work - rather than replacing existing work with new expectations - is a way to make production-level adoption of emerging tech easier.”

A partner can help an emerging tech work like magic, but their insights on transitioning from learning to PoCs and production capabilities are important to consider. Delivering innovations that yield business learning and outcomes requires a commitment to partnership, and co-creation innovation models help align people across program phases.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments on this blog are moderated and we do not accept comments that have links to other websites.


About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld,, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.