Innovation is adapting to a new age.  Companies are dealing with so many more challenges today than in the past.  They are competing harder than ever to create and communicate new products and services.  They are looking for ways to quickly discover and implement new ideas, and many are turning to the power of co-creation.

Co-creation is an increasingly popular innovation trend where companies are asking customers, partners and other communities or network to help them innovate their business models and create new sources of value –  and it’s making a big impact on the way companies are bringing new products or products enhancements to market. Many companies are finding that collaborative partnerships can lead to new opportunities for innovative products and services, or even yield entirely new market areas. They are also discovering how online communities can be used to solve some of their toughest innovation problems, as well as how to build their business around an existing crowd of passionate people.

We learned about the importance of co-creation first hand when my team completed our bi-annual survey of some of the leading companies driving innovation around the world. In the survey, respondents were asked to rank their top sources for innovative ideas and placed employees and customers at the top of the list.

We’ve also seen many companies across diverse industries use collaboration to ideate, test and introduce products to the marketplace. Kraft Foods began exploring customer collaboration with the launch of new <a href=””></a> website, where anyone can submit ideas for new products, processes or advertising. Here internal employees can set up idea competitions and utilize tools for quickly harvesting products that are “market-ready”.

For many years prior, Kraft offered an open line to its customers, who could call with questions, complaints, or ideas for new products or improvements.  The company’s site was the very first attempt at breaking out of its internally-focused boundaries for gathering innovative ideas. Since the launch of the site, open innovation has brought a number of recent packaging enhancements to market, including the Oreo Snack ‘n Seal package, the Maxwell House Flavor Lock Lid and composite canister, and the package for Trident Xtra Care gum with Recaldent.

Similarly, Procter &amp; Gamble has been leveraging the idea of “collective intelligence” through their Connect and Develop program.  One of their approaches in this program is to link thousands of their researchers, developers and engineers with external innovators through the use of blogs and wikis.  The effort is not just an exercise to see what might happen, but has the measurable corporate goal of fifty percent external innovation.

Whether you’re a large consumer products company or a small start-up, forming new connections with customers, employees, users or community groups can be a key strategy in the successful delivery of breakthrough innovations that stick. Focus on adaptability, an increased time-to-market and technology to keep up with the changing environment around you to win the battle against competition.

Cheryl Perkins is chair of CoDev 2015. Check out CoDev2015: Launching Products and Businesses with Partners, Customers & Ecosystems, to be held February 9 – 11, 2015 in Scottsdale, AZ.

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