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Co-creation – chef tables and K T Tunstall

I was in Berlin a while ago and took a picture of sacks of flour. I was in a cafe. The sacks of flour were on a pallet for the chefs to make pizza with. The sacks of flour were IN the cafe, not behind, in some back room, but piled up next to where the customers were sitting. Every now and again a chef wandered out from the open plan kitchen, grabbed a sack and wandered back in again. Who cares and a big so what you might think. But, it’s significant.

In traditional organizations, there’s back of house and front of house. There are kitchens and delivery areas, stage doors, staff entrances, factories, offices at the back, the restaurant, theatre, show-room, store, advertising, marketing, a facade of reality at the front.

But, customers want to see your innards. They want to be involved in the creation process. Or at least to see what’s going in their pizza. The barriers are coming down. There are chef tables in the kitchen and the customers pay a premium to sit there, in the ‘factory’, while their meal is made. Or they join in if the chef lets them. I was out with my friend Marion, who loves immersing in the experience this way. She got up from our chef’s table, at the chef’s request, put on an apron and co-cooked our dinner, while the chef coached her.

This isn’t a new point. Alvin Toffler coined the word ‘prosumer’ decades ago. But, it’s still widely missed by most organizations.

I was reminded of it while watching K T Tunstall ‘build’ a song, live, in front of an audience. She records her own backing, in real time, one element at a time – rhythm tapped out on the guitar, then voice, clap, then tambourine – then sings the song over the top of it, then adds some more backing sounds towards the end – all in front of the audience, using pedal switches to record and play back.

So, in her industry, the recording studio is the back room or back office. But, she takes switches, wires and recording bits and pieces on stage and shares with the audience the act of creation. She builds the song in front of them, just like Build A Bear stores build, er, bears.

The outside and the inside are merging, you see. The barriers are down. Stop thinking of your organization as having an inside (the people you pay and the back office and the place where the stuff is made) and an outside (where the customers are). Let the customers in. Let your people and processes out. I suspect you’ll be dead soon as an organization if you don’t. I can’t find the picture of sacks of flour in the cafe, so here’s K T Tunstall building a song in front of her customers – involving them in the act of creation – to show you what I mean.

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