The principles of Rich Co-creation

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This article is part of the Rich Co-creation collection

The fundamentals of effective co‑creation

by Robert W. ‘Jake’ Jacobs, Richard H. Axelrod, Emily H. Axelrod, and Julie H. Beedon.

The fundamentals of effective co-creation: Voice, Cohesion, Action
The VCA model claims that all change processes, no matter what approach they are based on, must concentrate first and foremost on three things: Voice, Cohesion, and Action.


Aim: Build a rich mix of diverse information.

The most basic power in any democratic process is the power of the individual to influence larger outcomes. Voice answers the question, Who is involved and how do they meaningfully participate so as to influence outcomes?


Aim: Create a community for action with multiple connections.

Once people have had the opportunity to voice their views as individuals, they need to come together in self-organising groups or communities that have the power to make a difference. Cohesion thus has to do with the question, How do people connect up with one another to form groups that can get things done?


Aim: Achieve extraordinary results.

Talk and community formation are of little use if action doesn’t flow out of these. Action, then, focuses on the question: How do we effectively implement an agreed-upon set of changes?

Voice, Cohesion, and Action are not to be treated as independent entities, but rather form an interactive system. Each principle is in active interplay with the others. Achieving effective action-based outcomes, for example, crucially depends on (and is also in a sense constrained by) the process of connectivity, group formation, and collaboration inherent in Cohesion, and correspondingly, by the practice of listening to many points of view implied by Voice.

The principles of Rich Co-creation

by Jack Martin Leith.

I have arranged the principles into three nested groups, as shown in this graphic:

Rich Co-creation principles at three levels: enterprise, projects, and meetings

Group 1: Principles relating to the enterprise as a whole. These principles also apply to projects and gatherings.

Group 2: Principles relating to the projects the enterprise undertakes as it seeks to accomplish its mission. These principles also apply to gatherings.

Group 3: Principles relating to small-scale and large-scale gatherings convened for the purpose of planning, designing and expediting co-creation projects.

Please note that, in the following text, co-creation always means Rich Co‑creation.
Rich Co-creation principles: Level 1 — The enterprise

An enterprise exists to enrich the world in a particular way. This is the enterprise’s intent — a fusion of purpose and vision of realised potential.

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with great vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.

Woodrow Wilson
28th President of the United States
Read the full transcript of the speech that includes these words

Read more about intent

Every employee is focused on generating maximum value for all constituents of the enterprise ecosystem.

Read about the enterprise ecosystem

All work contributes to the accomplishment of mission, an enterprise-wide programme of work aimed at manifesting its intent within a given timeframe. Rich Co-creation work always serves intent and mission.

Read more about mission

Rich Co-creation is an enterprise-wide capability and practice, not a technique employed for ad-hoc projects.

Rich Co-creation practice extends beyond workshops and events.

Rich Co-creation calls for a genuine appreciation of the value requirements of each constituent of the enterprise ecosystem. If you disapprove of the value sought by one or more parties, you are inviting failure.

Ecosystem Value Specification, by Jack Martin Leith

Read about the Ecosystem Value Specification

As an individual, group or organisation, you cannot create value. You can only create value generators — notably products, services, facilities, establishments and events.

Read about value and anti-value

Value is co-created through the interaction between the value beneficiary (e.g. consumer, service user) and the value generator.

How value is generated

Arresting the generation of anti-value is just as important as — and sometimes more important than — the generation of new value.

Asking customers or other stakeholders for their ideas and then cutting them loose is not co-creation — it’s research.

Whenever possible, replace one-way messages with generative conversations.

Employees are not instruments of management. They are autonomous creators.

Each person is a coach, fully committed to helping colleagues unlock their creative potential.

Rich Co-creation principles: Level 2 — Projects

A co-creation project can be framed in one of five ways: innovation, change, problem solving, development, or potential realisation.

Five categories of co-creation project: innovation, change, problem solving, development, and potential realisation

Regardless of how the project is framed, seek to bring the new into being — as an act of creation — rather than aiming to reinstate the status quo (‘problem solving’ frame) or embarking on an imaginary a journey from here to there (‘change’ frame).

Robert Fritz [author of The Path of Least Resistance etc.] argues for a distinction between problem-solving and creating. Problem-solving is taking actions to have something go away: the problem. While problem-solving has its place, as a persistent approach, it limits accomplishment. The elimination of a problem does not mean that the desired result can be created. As distinguished, solving a problem does not by design lead to a creation. Creating is taking action to bring into being that which does not yet exist: the desired outcome.

Source: Wikipedia—Robert Fritz

When a co-creation meeting or event is held to initiate an innovation project, start the proceedings with the Readiness process.

Lifestages model, by Jack Martin Leith, founder of The Bureau of Management Theory and Practice

Readiness process

The Readiness process enables project team members to prime themselves for the moment of conception (the showing up of a concept that has world enrichment potential) by becoming immersed in the requirements and dynamics of the co‑creation project, and having a felt sense of the new reality implied by the creative brief.

The state of affairs you seek to create is the desired present, not the desired future. (Credit: James Wilk.)

Co-creation projects and meetings are designed by a team that includes a selection of people who will undertake the downstream work. The design team should include a sceptic.

You know you have a good design when you show it to people and they say, “oh, yeah, of course,” like the solution was obvious.

Source: Chris Pratley, quoted by Julie Zhuo, Product Design Director, Facebook, in Good Design, on Medium.

Make any non‑negotiable design constraints explicit. Identify and eliminate phantom constraints.

The design team takes into account the realities, perspectives and value requirements of all constituents of the enterprise ecosystem.

When undertaking co-creation projects, include upstream all those whose contribution, cooperation and consent will be required downstream. Contribution means active participation, co-operation means providing occasional assistance or, at the very least, not blocking progress, and consent means giving formal or informal approval to the proposed course of action.

Read more about contribution, co-operation and consent

Right action flows from intent — the enterprise’s heartfelt desire to enrich the world in a particular way.

Practice rapid prototyping and early experimentation.

Create then adjust.

Robert Fritz

Maintain acute awareness of the entire ecosystem in which the enterprise is situated.

A microcosm of the enterprise participates in any co-creation project that has consequences for the enterprise as a whole.

Microcosm of the enterprise, by Jack Martin Leith

Resistance to change is seen for what it really is: a signal that the value requirements of the individual, group or enterprise, or those of entities they care deeply about, are not being met, and an appeal — perhaps a disruptive one — for matters to be put right.

Read more about resistance to change and why we need to abandon this concept

Those involved in a co-creation project serve others without the need for reciprocation.

A shared vision of realised potential offers inspiration and creates cohesion.

Ownership and commitment arise from an egalitarian approach.

Pool knowledge for the sake of the project and its future beneficiaries.

Think not only with your mind, but also with your heart. In the Japanese and Chinese languages, heart and mind are the same word: kokoro and xin respectively. (More info here.)

Invite join-in rather than seeking buy-in or soliciting engage-in.

Breakdown is welcomed as an opportunity for breakthrough.

Co-creation projects serve as learning laboratories for the benefit of the enterprise as a whole.

Rich Co-creation principles: Group 3 — Gatherings

The ideal group size for a truly interactive conversation is four people. If not four, then five is OK but three is better. The conversation does not work so well when the group consists of more than five people. One or two people are likely to dominate; the conversation will probably break into two, even three; someone may be excluded from the conversation, and group energy will be low. Source: Interactive Dialogue or Serial Monologue: The Influence of Group Size on conversation, by David Gurteen.

Connection before content.

Peter Block has a rule of thumb that is very useful if you want a group to apply its collective knowledge to address a difficult issue, Connection before Content. Before a group attempts to use its collective knowledge to deal with serious issues it has to build the relationships that will allow the group to hold an open conversation.

Source: Connection Before Content: Meetings That Are Knowledge-based, by Nancy Dixon, on her Conversation Matters website.

The people attending a collaborative gathering are not a passive audience. They are active participants, even if there are 50, 500 or 5,000 of them. The audience concept has no place in the realm of co-creation. Always challenge any use of the term during a collaborative design session.

The entire enterprise, or a microcosm of the enterprise, takes part in any collaborative gathering convened for a purpose that has consequences for the enterprise as a whole.

Cordial invitation, warm-hearted hosting and hospitable conditions are among the prerequisites for a successful collaborative gathering.

Foster a community in which people come together as part of something larger than themselves that they believe in and gain meaning from. Credit: Robert W. Jacobs (Jake Jacobs), the originator of Real Time Strategic Change.

People can be trusted to do the right thing when they have access to effective processes, essential information and necessary resources.

Make decisions in real time, not off-line, take immediate action, and adjust the plan as required.

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