Faster Horses?

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

The quote above is often credited to Henry Ford, a well-acknowledged transformational innovator and the founder of Ford Motors. What it seeks to communicate is that customers cannot know best way to achieve their desires and in effect better innovation is done without them. It sounds plausible, but rarely this is the case. Luckily for Mr. Ford there is no concrete evidence either that it is his quote.

While stakeholders cannot know all the technological possibilities and other resources available to solve the challenges, they know more about themselves than companies could possibly learn with market research. That is the original motivation for involving stakeholders in development initiatives. To better understand the needs and desires and in effect develop more suitable solutions to the challenges.

The approaches of co-creation are widely used as a tool in sustainability challenges and in corporate social responsibility (CSR). Especially in CSR initiatives the process is often one sided where the company asks it stakeholders what they want and how the company could fulfil that need. From there a solution is developed and brought to the market. A relevant question to is that could this process be flipped around? What if the companies present their challenges and look for the stakeholders to deliver the solutions.

Individual companies contribute to climate crisis and other sustainability challenges in very different ways. It is crucial that the negative impacts are brought to minimum and preferably the remaining parts are compensated in a way or another. We think however that aiming for a non-existent impact is underestimating the power of companies.

Were we able develop ways for companies to challenge, encourage, involve, activate and empower their stakeholders to unite for the issues we feel important, the net impact of the companies could reach far outside the office walls. With CSR we are in a pivot point where it is time to start thinking outside-the-office and beyond the sheer responsibility to clean up after you. Wouldn’t all of us rather build something than do only the cleaning after.

We need to maximise the positive impacts alongside minimising the negative ones. And for this companies need the help of stakeholders.