Reinventing Collaboratively

Reinventing CollaborativelyAfter  co-creating on  Business Model Generation with author Alex Osterwalder, I received an invitation from Steve Denning to review a book he was writing on transforming management (The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management).  Steve asked: “… I am keen to get feedback from people who have the time, energy and interest to read some chapters and give me critical comments.”  So, at Angela Dunn‘s twitter-chat, #ideachat on co-creation, I offered to interview Steve about his perspective on co-creation:

Why did you decide to co-create your book?

I believe in practicing what I preach. I was writing a book about how to proceed in an iterative fashion to gain customer feedback and use that to guide the next iteration.  So, I asked myself why I wasn’t doing that with my own book.  The co-creation process was very helpful to me as an author and people seemed to get a real kick out of doing this.

How did you decide whom to invite and/or include?

I invited my newsletter subscribers, about 4,000 people, to help me review the book, expecting just a couple of responses, since I’d tried on a previous book with little response.  Instead, I received over 250 responses!  I also invited an Agile discussion group I’m on and about 50 people responded.  In total, about 300 people who were interested in commenting

How did you manage the ideas and comments?

Since I couldn’t personally handle 300 individual emails, I set up a Google group.  This allowed people could see each other’s comments with less duplication.  This transparency allowed people to build off each other’s comments, which led to very interactive conversations.  People knew their ideas were being heard and not compromised. Out of the 300 total, there were about 20-25 very active people and about 25-30 somewhat active people.  I’d introduce a chapter a week with one to two points on which I wanted feedback and that got the highly interactive conversation going.  These people were all volunteers, which meant they were passionate about the topic since they were giving up their time, energy and intellectual capital.  I found the conversations fascinating. I learned a lot and the book is much better because of it.

Additionally, I wanted to celebrate what many have been doing for decades and share some of the great insights that I have learned from others co-creating with me.  For instance, I wanted to share Jeff Sutherland’s brilliance about Scrum with the world.  I see myself as co-creating with him, interpreting what he has said and hoping that he will see it positively, and for the most part he does.

To some, co-creating can seem like an invasion of other people’s territories; working with others and also building some of your own thoughts.  This issue of intellectual capital has led to faction fights within the Scrum community and I was hoping that this might heal some of those factions.  I don’t think any of the 250 volunteers felt their intellectual capital was being compromised; they were willing to share, which was a wonderful dynamic.

How did you decide which ideas to use, adapt?

I already had drafts of the chapters so that made it easier.  I’d been working on the book for 2 ½ years already.  Some of the ideas I’d put forward I had thrown away and other things I hadn’t thought of originally became huge pieces of the book. The book had started about how to manage high performance teams but evolved into how to manage radically and delight customers. That’s because once you’d figured out how to manage high performance teams, you’d figured out how to manage generally; it all started to come together for me.  This was a huge transformation, almost an accidental discovery.  The change in focus had come from doing several workshops & webinars, a form of small-scale co-creation.  In one of those workshops, I mentioned delighting the customer and received a very positive reaction, which sent me exploring that area. So, when I asked for co-creation in reviewing the book, there already been some co-creation.

Having chapters to review gave people something to react to instead of starting from scratch.  People commented on examples they liked, on examples they would like to see, on points they didn’t understand, etc.  If someone didn’t get a point, then I wasn’t being clear enough, so this helped me rethink how I presented some ideas.  In fact, someone asked why high performance teams were in the book and I realized I still had it in there – residue from my previous thinking, reminding me that my whole viewpoint had changed substantially.

The comments from the 250+ co-reviewers really helped me think things through, clarified ideas and concepts and provided me with wonderful examples. I received over 200 pages of input.  This was a voyage of discovery!

What were the benefits of co-creation/co-review?

Well, you get a self-selecting group that is passionate about the topic so they are already very interested and the fact they are willing to volunteer their time shows that.  Co-creation is a great way to learn and get the help of people quickly.  With the 2nd edition Leader’s Guide to Storytelling, formal reviewers were hired which was more expensive & less productive.  I received less feedback than co-creation (15 pgs. of material vs. 200 pgs. via co-creation) and lower quality of suggestions as well.  Co-creation produced more ideas and more interaction of higher quality faster.  You get more intelligence, less expensively.  It’s also led to beautiful relationships like ours.

What were the limitations or inhibitors of co-creation/co-review?

None!  There is the risk of people arguing with each other, but that can be managed.  There is a risk that people with specific agendas against your idea politicize the group, but if that occurs, you can remove them from the group.

Would you do it again? And if so, what would you do differently?

Absolutely! Can you see any downside?

What advice would you give someone who was thinking of co-creating/co-reviewing?

If you don’t already have a big group, like a following to your blog or newsletter, then it’s harder to find people to help you.   It’s also much easier if you have your book fairly well developed so people can react to it.   You need to have something for people to comment on.  There are different stages and phases in co-creation. For instance, if you have an idea for a book, you can first test the idea by asking your followers if they would be interested in reading a book on “X”, if they aren’t, that tells you something.  If they are, start doing a few webinars and workshops. If people don’t come or really disagree, that tells you something again.  If there is interest, start writing chapters and get them well enough developed to make it easy for people to review and comment.    Just try it! There really is no downside.  Its all upside – very energizing, fruitful, creative.  Why isn’t this done more often? It should be a more widespread process.

For those of you who have been involved in something similar, please share your views in the comments here!

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Deb, founder of Mills-Scofield LLC, is an innovator, entrepreneur and non-traditional strategist with 20 years experience in industries ranging from the Internet to Manufacturing with multinationals to start ups. She is also a partner at Glengary LLC, a Venture Capital Firm.

Deborah Mills-Scofield




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