So how do we do innovation today? Alone in the office or in the lab? Or as an ultra-motivated project team? Yes and no. Innovation is being increasingly driven by co-creation. This means engaging in a dialog from the design stage onwards with all stakeholders, whether customers, partners or employees. That’s all well and good, but how? And more importantly, why?
The fact that more and more manufacturers are turning to this more collaborative model which involves the full range of stakeholders in the creative process is because it changes everything! “Co-creation lets us be more agile, work faster and be more efficient,” emphasizes Sylvie Perez, Head of Research, Innovation and Sustainability at Saint-Gobain PAM. “It results in a more creative process that delivers progress at every link in the value chain”. It has to be said that co-creation now looks like second nature in this Saint-Gobain R&D center. Here, around 200 researchers are envisioning the glass solutions of tomorrow for the automotive and construction industries, and for industrial applications (glass for ovens, refrigerators, etc.).
But how does an idea become a finished product? That’s precisely where the various co-creation mechanisms come in.
The experience economy
In the past, R&D thinking revolved around problems and solutions; today it includes other parameters. “Today’s reality is the experience economy, which puts the customer at the heart of the creative process,” emphasizes Sylvie Perez. R&D now uses collaborative workshops and brainstorming sessions to focus on making the right product, which means the product that is expected by customers, is technically feasible and makes a profit. The three cornerstones of market, feasibility and profitability mean that this filter is now the starting point of the creative process, but what’s ‘new’ here is the ‘user-centric’ perspective that informs the creative journey at every stage of the process.
This process has been embraced by many retailers, including Décathlon (with Décathlon Création) and IKEA, where co-creative innovation is almost a religion. The Swedish giant is intensive in its worship of this faith: hosting bootcamps with startups and entrepreneurs, working with students and maintaining constant contact with a large number of innovation laboratories worldwide. At the same time as giving its end customers the opportunity to suggest new products. The courier, parcel and express mail service DHL has involved customers in its creativity workshop sessions in Germany and Singapore, with the aim of envisioning new solutions that will deliver a better customer experience. The creation of DHL Innovation Centers has locked in this approach for the long term.
And it’s also a reality at Saint-Gobain, following the launch of its brand new Application Laboratory. In the enormous testing hall, Sekurit prototypes are fitted to the vehicles of its automotive manufacturer customers. From rain to noise and wind... these windows are severely tested to ensure that they offer a unique level of thermal and/or acoustic performance. So where’s the benefit for the customer? Prototyping is inspired by a ‘handmade’ philosophy; a tailored approach that allows us to adjust our parameters very precisely to customer expectations. “Everything is tested, set up and modified to align with customer preferences,” continues Sylvie Pérez. “It's a new approach to creativity that accelerates time to market, at the same time as reducing risk.” User-centric, as we said.
Co-creation is also an in-house process!
So is co-innovation a new mindset? Yes, because it involves a great deal of interaction with customers, but also within the company, by involving sales and marketing teams and/or production facilities. “At Saint-Gobain, we interact not only with employees, but also with academics, to gain a better understanding of particular physical and chemical mechanisms that govern the process of bonding to certain polymers,” explains Sylvie Pérez. “We also work collaboratively with startups, which contribute their innate agility and enormous creativity.”
What are the tangible benefits of co-creation?
This atmosphere of healthy competition is a source of inspiration, because the many testing and prototyping phases involved makes it easy to validate a truly creative project, or alternatively to reject an idea that looked good, but doesn’t actually work. And where does profitability come in? That’s the ultimate goal, but it’s not necessarily an immediate payback. “Co-creation is a proven route to gaining market share, because the product meets a specific need. Having said that, we should be careful about confusing speed with haste. My advice? Dare to take your time, and most importantly, give yourself permission to make mistakes, which are an essential part of the creative process.”
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