Thinking about co-creation

20. Apr 2010

Not so long ago I was making a journey from Copenhagen to Bangalore, in India. I boarded a fully booked flight which I promised myself never to take again. No sooner I had landed in Delhi, and preceded to immigration control I noticed that I had started up a conversation while in line with a gentleman who was an electric technician from Europe. He told me that he was here in India to work with some software engineers on a product that they were developing for internet subscription via the power grid for Europe. I was fascinated on two accounts, first, I wondered what on earth is an electrical engineer working with software developers; the second reason was more bizarre as far as I was concerned. He indicated that the project he was working on was being designed aimed at delivering medical services through electrical power grid to rural communities. He indicated that it was an experimental project. He further launched into a detailed explanation, which I pretended to listen, for the fear of being branded rude, but after a ten hour journey I was in no position to exercise my faculties in comprehending his chatter…

One Year later… 

No, I am from Brazil and I am in India for a project said a Mr, Zulcar after introducing himself during a flight from Delhi to Bangalore, a year after the first encounter. He told me that he was a doctor and was going to meet a software developer engaged in logistics. I was puzzled and recalled my experience from a year ago and asked myself to what was going on? There is something interesting taking place which I am yet to understand, I figured. During this period I was deeply engaged in a EU funded project of which I was a project manager and lead scientist.

When I started looking at the data I had collected over two and a half years in India,  it soon donned on me to why I did not see what was obvious to the business men I met during my travels. They were all here to work with Indian companies who did not work in the domain they had special knowledge, why should they travel half the world across to work with firms that are in different domains? Why can’t they work across domains in the country of their origin? An answer to this question I am yet to discover. But I am rather confident of the answer to the first question, What was different in what they were doing now as opposed to earlier?

In my opinion the representatives are front runners of what I call the co-creation of innovation, which has not yet caught on in Northern Europe. I call this the fourth wave of interactive globalization, The first phase was the Y2K, where the interaction was specific and problems narrowly defined. The second, the body shopping phase, where the Indian companies sent out software engineers at a very low cost. The third phase was the outsourcing, instead of the bodies travelling, the contracts travelled to India instead. And now we are in the fourth phase, This phase is the co-creation phase, characterized as a process of interaction between ideas, opportunities and aspirations of market actors in an interactive re-invention mode, where the technology is reshaped, applications re-contextualised, services re-formulated and business model redesigned to ensure local uptake of the enterprise, leading to sustainable business venture.

The most interesting outcome of co-creation is that there appears to be a gain for all players because they end up creating either a new product or a new market.  The new market or product consists of parts of all partners’ domains but is not dominated by one single domain knowledge.  This is what the two people i met in my flights in India were up to, they were engaging in the process of co-creation with a host of Indian and western partners to develop something different that would create a new market place.

While this reflection is interesting, it brings into focus many more question than answers, for instance how is co-creation different from collaboration and outsourcing? What are the dynamics that enables co-creation and what are the best practices that firms can identify for working with co-creation, on the research angle what specific features and business models can co-creation bring to the table that has not yet been identified before during interactive globalisation. Currently these are the questions i am puzzling over and am trying to answer. If any of you have any ideas that could aid a better understanding of what you think co-creation is in practical terms and in research terms you all are welcome to join me in a research scholarship designed to discover, expand and explore the dynamics of co-creation of innovation. Particularly we need to be explaining why co-creation brings benefits to all firms that take part in it. Conceptually in a co-creation there should not be total winners and total losers. The results are more equitable and the drive more engaging. These ideas continue to consume me these days, In my next blog i will share with you one reflection I have been having on one aspect of co-creation which I call the notion of “generation”. 


About the author

Dr Sudhanshu Rai was born in India in 1966. He has two Masters Degrees’, one in International Economics, Banking and Finance from The University of Wales and the other in Economics from the University of Copenhagen. He received his PhD from The Copenhagen Business School. During his PhD Sudhanshu was a visiting research fellow at the London School of Economics. Sudhanshu recently was the project manager and principle scientific investigator of the Euro-India team that successfully completed the Knowledge Mapping project, a first of its kind aimed at scientifically and systematically mapping ICT Innovation in India. Prior to initiating his academic career, He held responsible positions in large Indian firms, He was the director of system design at trust4health a health insurance company from 1999 to 2002, prior to which he was employed by Tata Economic Consultancy Services in New Delhi as Senior Economist with responsibility for IT valuation and IT infrastructural investments from 1997 to 1999. Earlier he served the government of Sikkim, Department of Tourism, in India as their economic advisor and was responsible for IT diffusion and strategy across the state. Sudhanshu works with New Institution theory, IT, culture and development. He has also worked in the past with knowledge sharing and transfer at an organizational level. He is currently engaged in research that explores virtual and networked teams from an institutional perspective, in addition to his long standing fascination with Indian logic and its potential for informing Information system design. Currently he holds a Post Doc position at the Department of Informatics and engaged in a funded research project on cultural usability involving India and China