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5 Secrets to Creating Breakthrough Products, Services and Solutions


Organizations today need breakthrough products, services, and solutions to compete effectively. Too often they rely on their R&D units supported by market research. Nailing what customers want has become more challenging, since today’s customers are more complex, their needs ever-changing, and their expectations constantly climbing. Forward thinking enterprises are going inside the customer’s imagination to discover innovative and valued offerings.

Deep inside every customer is a treasure trove of half-baked ideas, creative capacity, and ingenuity-in-the-raw. Need proof? Who came up with the Egg McMuffin, Starbucks cake pops and splash sticks, or the Frisbee? Here’s a clue. These products and solutions didn’t come from corporate.

The key to unlocking this vessel of innovative goodies starts with recognizing that the door to the customer’s treasures is only opened from the inside. That means providers must foster a safe, welcoming co-creation partnership that will enable customers to discover and disclose their imagination and meld it with the provider’s imagination to create an offering that exactly matches the customer’s hopes and aspirations. It means meeting at the crossroads where the organization’s mission and customers’ dreams intersect.

A co-creation partnership takes 1) curiosity that uncovers insight, 2) grounding that promotes a clear focus, 3) discovery that fosters risk-taking and learning, 4) trust that safeguards partnership wholesomeness, and 5) passion that inspires energized generosity and tenacity. This journey leads to ingenious outcomes as well as a customer who emerges a strong advocate for the organization.

Secret #1 - Curiosity: Be the Customer

“Be the customer” borrows from the “be the ball” advice coaches give young athletes to encourage them to retain focused attention. The curiosity secret zeroes in on developing a deep connection with a customer that affirms and supports, thus inviting and encouraging the customer to both source and share his or her treasure chest of imagination. Curiosity is the demonstration of an eager desire to learn something. As such, it is the extractor of insight about your co-creation partner:

  • Seek first to empathize, then to understand.
  • Listen to your partner like you are listening to a creative child tell a story.
  • Ask your partner questions that yield insight (aha), not just understanding (uh-huh).
  • Become a customer whisperer through unprejudiced interpretation of your customer being your customer.
  • Secret #2 - Grounding: Partner on Purpose

The grounding secret enables high-performance collaboration centered on the juncture between the customer’s needs/hopes and the provider’s mission/values. Note the double meaning of “on purpose”—deliberate as well as anchored. It is made more purpose-full through laser attention, helpful guardrails, and collective accountability. Think of it as enabling rabbit-hole proof, tangent-resistant cooperation. Grounding disciplines the co-creation partnership to maintain a clear target toward which to direct inventive energy.

  • Be the shepherd of your co-creation partnership, safeguarding its well-being while nurturing its vitality.
  • Create partnership guardrails--value-based expectations that ensure borders with principles and protocols with joint commitment.
  • Agree on the values that guide your work, not just the rules and procedures.
  • Take great care of your customer; take even grander care of your relationship by being an ardent advocate for its mission.

Secret 3 - Discovery: Spark Daredevil Learning

The discovery secret is about accelerating the collective search for breakthroughs by turning tryouts into bold, risk-taking learning adventures. Recall that Thomas Edison did not lament his failures on his route to discovering the incandescent lightbulb; he avowed his many learnings along the way. Attractions to experimentation and risk-taking provide a welcoming portal for the customer’s imagination to emerge from the inside out. It scaffolds the seeds of ideas from incubation to implementation.

  • Avoid thinking it is “picture day;” where everything must be perfect; perfection is the enemy of excellence and progress.
  • Discovery is not like hunting for Easter eggs with a colorful basket; it is more like Indiana Jones’s Ark of the Covenant hunting…with snakes! Anticipate risks.
  • Create a co-creation partnership of absolute, unconditional acceptance.
  • If you want something to grow, pour champagne on it.

Secret 4 - Trust: Pursue Truth, Justice, and the Imagination Way

The Trust secret centers on being an active custodian of the partnership so that it always honors candor, respects clear work agreements, and has planned for the inevitable hiccups likely to be a part of a vibrant, high energy partnership. Trust fuels creativity, enabling it to guide the transformation of rough ideas into polished execution. It safeguards the co-creation partnership in order to preserve its purity and sincerity.

  • Tell your co-creation partner the truth, the whole truth, with complete transparency.
  • Truth-telling takes enough compassion to deliver the very best; enough humility to receive the very worst.
  • Clear partnership agreements shape the etiquette of collaboration. Craft work agreements in a fashion that partners will feel compelled to respect, bound to apply, and committed to defend.
  • Explore the likely “what ifs” that could potentially plague the co-creation partnership along with strategies for early warning, restoration, and renewal.

Secret 5 - Passion: Never Stop Courting

The passion secret fires up the co-creation partnership with sounds of admiration and actions of consideration that keep the alliance fresh and spirited. Think of passion as an action verb, not a noun. As the catalyst for focused delight, generosity, and gratitude, it makes a co-creation partnership contagious, motivating others to support it, and inspiring them to emulate it. Passion starts the engine of collective inventiveness.

  • Always treat your partnership with the care and attentiveness you did when it was brand new.
  • Most partnerships do not end with a storm of sound and fury. Most “vanilla” to death. Make your co-creation partnership “Neapolitan!”
  • Be a hands-on steward of your customers’ dignity.
  • Co-creation partnerships are free-idea zones because they are neighborhoods of goodness and gratefulness. Be a good neighbor.

This passage was excerpted from Inside Your Customer's Imagination: 5 Secrets for Creating Breakthrough Products, Services, and Solutions.