A cardinal mistake companies make is to assume that customer passion and goodwill alone can fuel collaborative innovation programs. Customer passion notwithstanding, collaboration and co-creation is a formal business process that requires contracts and incentives if it is to function effectively.
In his very interesting book, We-Think, Charles Leadbeater reminds us that collaboration is not some outpouring of sixties-type hippie love. Collaborators need incentives and promises to part with their effort and time. Even Clay Shirky makes the same point in Here Comes Everybody when he declares that the promise of some reward or recognition is the essential piece that convinces a passive customer to become an active collaborator.
Everyone already has enough to do, every day, and no matter what you may think of those choices (“I would never watch that much TV,” “Why are they at work at ten p.m.?”) those choices are theirs to make. Any new claim on someone’s time must offer some value, but more important, it must offer some value higher than something she already does, or she won’t free up the time.
Consequently, the naïve belief that collaborators are driven by altruistic motives needs serious refinement. Incentives are important and they do matter. Which incentives? Trying to nominate a few, given the diversity of human motivations, is always risky business. However, three types of incentives have been extremely instrumental in motivating customers to part with their time, energy and creativity.
So, next time your company plans a collaborative innovation program, don’t discount the power of incentives in mobilizing the time, effort, and creativity of potential collaborators. Collaborators are after all regular people, living busy lives. Don’t assume they will queue up to participate in your collaborative innovation program. Ask yourself why they should participate? What’s in it for them? Then design the appropriate incentive structure to invite and reward their participation.
Gaurav Bhalla is a strategy, innovation, and marketing professional with global experience, having worked on three continents and with companies in over 20 countries. He is also owner and CEO of Knowledge Kinetics. The company focuses on the practice of customer-driven innovation and value co-creation.Gaurav previously was the Global Innovation Director, at Kantar-TNS, one of the world’s largest market information and insight companies. Additionally, he held positions in corporate strategy, brand management, sales management, and market research at companies such as Nestle, Richardson Vicks, and Burke.
Dr. Bhalla holds a BA (Hons.) degree in Economics and Mathematics from Delhi University, an MBA with a concentration in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and a PhD in Business from the University of Kansas. He has published research papers in leading technical journals dedicated to marketing, marketing research and statistics, and has presented before professional and academic societies in the USA and abroad. Dr. Bhalla has also served as an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. He is currently associated with the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business as a member of the Department of Marketing’s Corporate Advisory Board.