Radical Management Requires Collaboration

On November 5, 2009, I received an invitation from Steve Denning to review a book he was writing ontransforming management, which is clearly broken He wrote: “… I am keen to get feedback from people who have the time, energy and interest to read some chapters and give me critical comments.”  I jumped at the opportunity - passionate about the subject, anxious to work with Steve and a firm believer in the process of co-creation having been through that with Alex Osterwalder for his book.

So, at Angela Dunn‘s July 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 4000 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 2ndedition 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 or email me !

Creating Business Models in Real Time

In 2009,  I was privileged to co-create an awesome book, Business Model Generation, with Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur.     Co-creating the book with Alex was an amazing experience, created some lasting friendships with other co-creators, and of course Alex.  After Angela Dunn's monthly twitter-chat, #ideachat, I decided to ask Alex what made him decide to do co-create this book:

Why did you decide to co-create Business Model Generation?

Several managers and consultants around the world were already using the content of my doctoral dissertation because I put it online. Yves, my former PhD supervisor, and I thought it would be great to involve these practitioners and their experience to evaluate our content and make the book more relevant. It would allow us to test each and every one of our ideas with practitioners immediately. Co-creation helped us assure we were on track in creating a useful book.

Of course we could only do this because we decided to self-publish at the expense of the comfort of the infrastructure of a publishing house.

How did you decide whom to invite?

I wrote a blogpost and anybody who paid our “entry fee” was able to join. Each member would become part of our so-called “Book Hub”, get access to content, be able to give feedback, and they would have their name in the book. The fee was first USD$24 and we raised it gradually to USD$243 to keep the community exclusive. We tested the limits.

How did you manage all the ideas and comments you received?

We posted our content continuously as so-called “book chunks”. These were raw and undersigned pieces of content. For each chunk we started a discussion thread and answered almost every comment personally. The comments helped us create better content. Sometimes we specifically asked people about their experience or about their opinion. For example, it took some iteration to get members of the Book Hub behind a title for the book.

What tools did you use to help with the project?

I customized a Ning.com platform – an online website to create communities. We had to do everything ourselves, since no publisher offered a platform to do this back then.

How did you decide which ideas to use?

We selected content and ideas based on the strength of the argument or the relevance of the experience. We already did research on business models for 10 years, so it was easy for us to weed out pure opinion. I believe every co-creation project needs an experienced core team that makes final content decisions.

Was most of the input valuable or was there a lot of “noise”?

Well, even when it was “noise”, it was usually a good indicator that our ideas were not clear enough or our arguments too weak. Very little content was useless. Of course some of the co-authors were more experienced than others and their comments were naturally more relevant. However, since we wanted to create an inclusive book we carefully listened to every single comment in order to sense what people were concerned about, what they wanted (or needed) to learn, and to learn how we could best convey our ideas.

What were the benefits of co-creating the book?

  • It forces you to make every idea you write about relevant. Feedback is immediate, which makes you vulnerable as an author in the short term, but the long-term benefits outweighs this: it forces you to do your best for every piece of content you submit to co-creators.
  • We could immediately test what would or would not work/resonate with our audience.
  • Co-authors brought in a lot of experience and good comments that guided us throughout the writing process.
  • The 470 co-authors became a powerful global sales force, because each and every one of them had their name in the book, contributed to it, and believed in the final outcome.
  • It helped us pre-finance the expensive design and production of the book, since we managed the whole publishing process from A-Z on our own with a core-team of 5 people.

What were the limitations or obstacles, if any?


Co-creation is much more work than writing somewhere in a hidden corner and then publishing your content. However, the benefits outweigh the costs.

It was hard, hard, hard, to set-up everything ourselves and do something totally new and different. We were running the project on a shoestring budget, but aimed at creating a global management bestseller.

Nobody believed this could work: Two no-name authors who wanted to create a visual management bestseller and get people to pay to help him or her write the book. People thought we were crazy. All of them probably thought we were totally naïve.

Now publishers are studying our project to learn how they can set-up co-creation platforms for authors who want to go down a similar path.

What did you learn from the experience?

You need to be naïve enough to do things differently. No big publishing house would have allowed us to co-create a fully designed, four color business book in landscape format – because it was contrary to the publishing industry logic. However, we thought of Business Model Generation as a product, not just a book – similar to Apple products.

Our goal was to create the same kind of “unboxing experience” you have when you buy Apple products. This obviously meant breaking with most of the rules of traditional business book publishing. That’s exactly why it became a bestseller. Yves and I created a book on business models that we would have loved to buy ourselves. Since nobody had done it, we did it ourselves.

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

We made countless errors on the way, but they were not foreseeable, since we created something totally new. We needed to make the mistakes to learn and iterated.

However, our biggest mistake was not sticking to our plan A of using Fulfillment by Amazon to distribute the book. We wanted to save the margins and went for plan B, which was partnering with a Dutch direct mailing company. That was a painful experience that I really wouldn’t want to live through again. After switching back to Plan A we got back on track again. After a couple of months of proving the success of the book we sold the publishing rights to Wiley – a big publishing house – in order to get physical distribution as well. Now it’s Wiley’s best selling international book.

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

Don’t look at it as a pure marketing stunt, because it’s trendy to do co-creation. Ask yourself how the process of co-creation can help you craft a better product. Also, be aware that it’s much, much more work to co-create.

Note: Last year, I was honored to co-review Steve Denning's book, Radical Management.  An interview with Steve will be coming shortly.