A new book by Innovation Management contributor Gaurav Bhalla tackles the growing importance of the customer in the innovation process. Paul Hobcraft looks at what it means to collaborate and co-create with customers.

“Who are you?”- is a question heard echoing in corporate hallways. There has been a dawning reality that the customer they thought they had figured out and nicely packaged up into neat profile groups is not really like that after all. Customers have become aliens from another planet. There has become a giant disconnect. Today organizations are learning how to reconnect through collaboration and co-creation platforms to regain value creation that is meaningful to the customer, not just to the producer. There is a movement answering the “who are you?”

Gaurav Bhalla leads you through a book that is more like a dialogue that will be going on in your brain as you read through it. It connects, it explains, it explores, it provides and is a thoroughly thoughtful book about a very exciting and emerging area of totally engaging with the customer to collaborate and co-create that is going on in many places.


Gaurav offers a framework “Listen-Engage- Respond” for implementation that in Paul Polman’s view (CEO of Unilever) in his foreword as “intuitive and rational”. I’d suggest it is elegant in its simplicity, powerful in its logic.

Gaurav offers a framework “Listen-Engage- Respond” for implementation that Paul Polman’s CEO of Unilever calls “intuitive and rational”. I’d suggest it is elegant in its simplicity, powerful in its logic.

At the end of the book, if you were not already, you will be convinced that collaboration and co-creation is a game-changer business practice. Empowered customers’ really can move organizations increasingly away from their arms-length transaction approach to achieving ongoing and sustainable relationships with customers.

Taking you through the three stages “Listen- Engage- Respond” it is the commitment in the response and sustaining efforts put behind this that yields the potential huge return of value creation that is meaningful to the customer as they were fully involved in the conversations.

The Structure of the Book

The opening two chapters take you through different aspects and avenues to explore within collaboration and co-creation (C&C) and lays out a framework for implementation. It does this through a growing set of examples. What is critically important to understand is this C&C needs a significant shift in the mindset of organizations. Gaurav takes you through this debate so you can relate it to your own situation quickly. He talks of authenticity, flexibility and conviction as three prerequisites to facilitate migration from your current transaction model to customers being activie participants in the value-creation process.

The next three chapters are exploring separately and  in depth the “Listen-Engage-Respond” framework .To embed this firmly these chapters have a significant range of case studies, discussion notes and guidelines to help you understand each stage and help you to see how you can evolve through each of these stages to grow and build this into a ‘transformational process’. Each chapter has helpful framing explanations to build your capability and knowledge.

The last three chapters, “Respond(ing) internally :Organizational Alignment, Rethinking Marketing and innovation and Beyond the Business World really were nicely laid out in making Collaboration & Co-creation such a compelling business case as well as take this into the world of non-business to offer some truly exciting ways to involve people, communities and tackle many of our social ills.

The case studies used

There are so many within the book but selected carefully to illustrate a given point or to provide excellent examples of that part of the framework. Each person will have their favourites, mine were Hallmark, International Flavours & Fragrances (IFF), Crayola, IBM and its Jam , Sun and Java, Pitney Bowles  and  Marico for business and Denmarks program for “user-driven innovation”, Nesta’s project for “Age Unlimited Scotland” and Norways “Clinic of Innovation” with a special mention for IFF’s Visionaire 42 & 47 for unique sensory experiences. In total Gaurav provides 220 organization references and they are intelligently weaved into the book to give this such diversity and clarity to this compelling case.

In total Gaurav provides 220 organization references and they are intelligently weaved into the book to give this such diversity and clarity to this compelling case.

The entire spectrum of value-creation

He covers the entire spectrum of value-creation, from how to go about and think this through, to raising the multiple issues to implementing this correctly, pointing out where it has failed or only been partly successful for numerous reasons. He reflects on the different ways organizations can commit resources (that are often scarce) and which business models they could consider, good governance and structures to think through for each stage of L-E-R. He provides really helpful introductions into platforms and ecosystems to help the reader who may not be entirely in tune with these, a good introduction to their source, power and ability to advance value-creation in expected and unexpected ways. He rightly points out it is “questions of degree”.

Any new journey has caveats

To quote the Group President of IFF, Nicolas Marzayantz, “You can’t collaborate on the outside (with customers) without first collaborating on the inside”. Any change of this level needs the CEO’s office to inspire and facilitate transformation to a more collaborative and open way, that personal commitment and identification. The CEO must see its value and want it. This book can help sell him if he is not clear.

As Paul Polman states, again in the book’s foreword : this book offers a timely reminder that collaboration does not happen automatically and spontaneously; it requires an investment in effort and resources. Collaborating across the entire value chain is complex and time-consuming. It challenges everyone. But it can be very rewarding…in faster and more relevant innovations”

Praise needs to be offered to Gaurav Bhalla

This was not an easy book to write, the research, the structure, the examples needed I would feel a lot of thinking through. Gaurav has written an excellent book to not just introduce you to collaboration and co-creation but to get you deeply immersed. He had two seemingly great collaborators in this and I quote- Deanna, the quintessential generator, a popcorn machine and Gabriela, the accomplished alchemist, harnessing the pull and energy. It was a collaborative venture at a distance, the same as it is with your clients. Their identification and passion for the subject  runs throughout the book.

Buy a copy and simply rethink your customer engagement. I finish by again quoting Paul Polman “Marketing and Innovation have and will continue to be two of the strongest drivers of margin and revenue growth. The concept of customer value is central to both of them”. Embrace what is laid out in this book for new models of value co-creation and you can equally begin the transition to listening, engaging and responding to the customer in ways that open up many new, undiscovered ways to create value you will miss by not fully applying this business practice to your business.

By Paul Hobcraft

About the author:

Paul HobcraftPaul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation Specialists; an advisory business that focuses on stimulating sound innovation practice. He helps build innovation capability and capacity for organisations, teams and individuals. Agility Innovation research topics that relate to innovation for the future, applying the learning to further develop organizations core innovation activity, offer appropriate advice on tools, techniques and frameworks.

Paul´s personal journey has been varied, challenging but fun. This has taken him to live and work in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Malaysia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, USA, Australia, and recently eleven years in Singapore. Paul is based in Switzerland and presently focuses his time between Asia and Europe. Welcome to read more at: