Why Co-Creation is the New Leadership Style
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Why Co-Creation is the New Leadership Style

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Why Co-Creation is the New Leadership Style

Chris Deaver and Ian Clawson are co-founders of BraveCore, a consulting firm for helping companies harness the power of co-creation. They co-host the podcast Lead with a Question. After a dream career at Apple and Disney, Deaver began coaching C-suite executives and influencing Fortune 500 companies. Clawson has spent the last decade leading culture transformation in the healthcare industry, including a multi-million-dollar skilled nursing facility operation in Silicon Valley, CA. They both contribute regularly to publications such as Fast Company and The Wall Street Journal, among others.

Below, co-authors Chris and Ian share 5 key insights from their new book, Brave Together: Lead by Design, Spark Creativity, and Shape the Future with the Power of Co-Creation. Listen to the audio version—read by Chris and Ian—in the Next Big Idea App.

Brave Together Chris Deaver Ian Clawson Next Big Idea Club

1. Why do companies kill creativity?

We’ve all experienced fear at work. Ask anyone if they’ve ever had a bad boss or been in a toxic workplace, and they will say yes. That needs to change. Companies keep pushing people for results, fixating on the numbers as they squeeze creativity out of work life.

Broken cultures are common. People are searching for something more: to work creatively together, craving growth, empathy, and hope. There are simple, powerful solutions. We share a pattern called The Mirror Test. It gives us direction to reimagine our lives based on how we see ourselves and others—clarifying the real and ideal.

We can manifest our future by pausing, reflecting, and embracing our creative identity. We need to stop looking externally for something or someone to change our circumstances. The Mirror Test helps us take responsibility. We stop avoiding what we fear most. There is power in asking, What can I do differently?

2. We can build cultures people love.

Fear and braving it alone have failed us, but being brave together won’t. We can live our best future now: one that isn’t self-made but shared. We can break free from selfish behaviors, broken relationships, and shattered trust. We can move beyond efficiency and effectiveness to explore the power of co-creative relationships that inspire us all to hope again.

Co-creative cultures are the future. They inspire purpose in life. They create a brave space for magic to happen. Timeless principles, brave leadership, and creativity are the powerful combination companies are missing to differentiate their culture. This unlocks lasting joy and frees us from feeling alone.

“Timeless principles, brave leadership, and creativity are the powerful combination companies are missing to differentiate their culture.”

Working with leaders and teams at Apple gave us deep insights into culture shaping. When I was hired by Apple, they gave me an extraordinary challenge: “Seventy percent of our people have been here five years or less. We can’t teach them Apple culture fast enough. Can you help?”

What started as a small brain trust turned into a grassroots movement and grew organically with the help of brave leaders. Together we co-created timeless principles that ignited a cultural shift, powering over 100,000 people to move the future of Apple forward, going from “think different” to “different together.”

Co-creative teams don’t obsess about having all the answers. They explore what’s possible with powerful questions. They get energized by shared principles.

3. Principles power our lives.

The rising generation of creatives and leaders don’t want people telling them what to do. Yet most thought leadership books claim to be definitive blueprints for a successful life.

We highlight the importance of Meta Principles, which give us direction to master the art of co-creation. They are higher-level truths drawn from collective wisdom. These universal standards help us determine principles that matter to us.

First Principles are core truths based on our own experiences that influence our decisions and actions. They are deeply personal and unique. The best first principles are a creative articulation of who we are and how we live.

Here are the Six Meta Principles that give us co-creative direction:

  • Lead with questions to provoke a culture of curiosity.
  • Turn pain into power by creating gains instead of focusing on losses.
  • Make others the mission by growing together through compassion and service.
  • Define the situation by shaping moments with intention and crafting the best actions.
  • Create context by living your future story now.
  • Follow true north by building alignment with principles and collective energy for maximum impact.

4. We can shape the next wave of our work life.

The world is transforming. Things are accelerating. Companies are fighting to remain relevant. The leadership playbook of the past has expired. But what are the building blocks of the future?

We’re told to choose between an employer-employee relationship or an entrepreneur career path. Tier One is the typical work relationship between employer and employee. In companies, leaders push their expertise and status. They say you’ve got to play the game to get ahead, but the politics make it feel rigged. Meanwhile, employers keep pushing for execution, or else. Employer-employee relationships are broken.

Being an employee is a safe option. Make a paycheck, get insurance, and perks. Employees don’t want to make waves but have a burning desire to be seen. When people feel stuck and undervalued, they start to despise this type of work relationship.

Then there’s Tier Two: entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs take pride in their lifestyle, breaking free from work-life oppression. Building an empire to make their mark in the world, entrepreneurs thrive in a Do-It-Yourself playground. But building a business is hard. Entrepreneurs push hustle culture as a template for success. Meanwhile, 80 percent of new businesses fail. But why? Does this reflect on entrepreneurs who weren’t all in, or is there something else at play?

“Employees don’t need to leave their employer to practice co-creation, and entrepreneurs can become co-creators now.”

The debate about which tier is better continues. What if we stopped framing work life in these extremes of either-or? Tier Three is born out of this tension, not to replace but to see beyond the other two tiers. Tier Three is the co-creator mindset.

The best leaders in the future will embrace their creative identity in brave ways. Co-Creative leaders empower people to build bridges across teams versus creating islands and silos. They lead with deep empathy and sharing wisdom. Employees don’t need to leave their employer to practice co-creation, and entrepreneurs can become co-creators now.

A co-creator invites open space for people to connect, collaborate, and build new and different ideas. We become connected through shared hope, seeing what is possible together, and turning shared dreams into shared direction. Co-creation unlocks our true potential with others.

5. Co-creation activates brave leaders and a connected life.

Being told to work harder and smarter has created silos, burnout, and a lonely work life. We all want something more, and that’s working creatively together.

For anyone leading in the future, this means trading the lonely pursuit of solo success for a shared adventure. To win in business and life requires a selfless force. This is co-creation, and it’s what the most innovative teams do best in cultures people love—like Apple, Nike, Pixar, and the NBA.

We need brave leaders who can see the raw materials. They get excited by the potential of working with others. They see opportunities to learn from each other and are inspired to shape things together. They let timeless principles guide relationships and leadership capabilities.

Here are some first steps to being brave together:

  • Reimagine meetings with brave conversations. Meetings were never meant to be boring download sessions. We can turn them into co-creative experiences. Make meetings fluid. Get vulnerable with personal stories and give people a brave space to share. Make the focus on connecting.
  • Email a question before the meeting to kickstart conversation. Set the stage with a prompt in the form of a powerful question to spark creativity. Don’t just send an agenda. Involve your team and watch them come together to share ideas and offer solutions. Questions can transform our thinking and the quality of conversations. They can unlock renewable energy.
  • Take egos off the table and put building blocks on the table. It’s not about being the smartest person in the room or defending ideas. It’s about building bridges and connecting the dots. Be guided by the greatest question: How do we want people to feel?
  • Let the best ideas win. This empowers hearts and minds. The best cultures do this well, and it changes everything. Build routines for people to be brave together. Offer real support and resources for innovation.

To listen to the audio version read by co-authors Chris Deaver and Ian Clawson, download the Next Big Idea App today:

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