The Unfinished Sentence | Co-Creation & Design Thinking: It’s not what you do, but how you do it!
The Unfinished Sentence in a marketing strategy consultancy which combines humanistic psychology and marketing expertise for deeper insights and stronger solutions.
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Co-Creation & Design Thinking: It’s not what you do, but how you do it!

I want to start this blog by saying that I wholeheartedly prize the respective roles that Co-Creation and Design Thinking have played in promoting a better understanding of human behavior – above all, in the way both have influenced the evolution of goods and services we produce and consume today.

I would also like to add that both have fallen somewhat short of fully bridging the divide between brand-consumer and brand-creator in the process.

Both Design Thinking and Co-Creation place great emphasis on ‘Empathy’ as a way of understanding consumers and their behavior, though as a psychologist I would argue that the way empathy is practiced within these disciplines does not reach deeply enough in any given direction, in my experience.

Design Thinking borrows from human sciences, stressing observed behavior, via tools such as ethnography. Co-Creation, meanwhile, harnesses direct consumer participation in brand-development and innovation, with a facilitative skill-set broadly similar to that practiced in more conventional forms of qualitative research.

The failing in all of these interactions lies, is not so much in these approaches, but in interpretation and application ‘empathy’. 

Human beings have a natural tendency to be economical with the truth – for cultural, societal, or personal reasons, we are often reluctant to report our inner feelings and thoughts. To peel the layers of this ‘onion’ and arrive genuine kernel-insights requires time and skill.

Although the science behind why people misreport (or lie about) their true feelings is in its infancy, we know from numerous studies that people lie for three broad reasons.

One, for simple fear that telling the whole truth may expose them in some perceived way. Two, in order to manipulate a desired outcome. This could be for status, appearance and any number of other reasons on the power-dynamic spectrum. And third, simply to uphold personal pride – that people tend to create and maintain a positive image of themselves in a social context, within even the most superficial of encounters.

Anyone who has ever spent time in and around consumer observation and group-work will have seen these detrimental dynamics at work.

Observation and participation in the carefully planned processes espoused by Design Thinking and Co-Creation go a long way to delivering richer insights and ideas, but just how far do they succeed in unlocking deeper thoughts and feelings, given that misreporting our inner states is as natural for human beings as breathing air?

At the end of the day, Design Thinking and Co-Creation are just tools. Used properly, they can continue to bring genuine human experience and deep understanding to the role of commercial brand development and innovation. This requires that agencies work harder at empathizing with consumers. The emphasis then becomes less about what we do (our tools), and more about how we do what we do (the way of applying those tools).

While the Unfinished Sentence’s approach to probing deeper with consumers is not 100% effective – after all we are talking about people here – it goes a long way to unraveling true insights. It is not a process, but a way of being with other people; one that allows them to feel safe, heard, un-judged, and above all comfortable enough to be vulnerable and open about how they really think and feel.

Only then can we begin to truly access game-changing insights into human behavior.

Mark Rodgers
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