Future Trends 2021: Purpose & Co-creation

16 min readApr 21, 2021

25+5 Best practices and tips on virtual co-creation programs

Purpose answers an all-important question, “Why does a company exist?” — and the answer for all organizational decision-making is more important in 2021 than ever. Connecting people virtually to co-create in a purpose-driven way accelerates positive business outcomes and unites people in finding meaning in transformative change; that is why Purpose & Co-creation projects are trending in 2021.

Be-novative Quarterly event Future Trends 2021: Purpose & Co-creation

✨ We at Be-novative together with the speakers at Future Trends 2021: Purpose & Co-creation event, collected 25+5 best practices and tips on how to start the journey of co-creation processes and workshops online involving employees, clients, suppliers and partners in product development. We will outline all important aspects you want to take into account from background, to timeline, motivating participants and how it alligns with the strategy. These tips are from more than 1500 remote collaboration and co-creation workshops we have facilitated virtually. These were ideation sessions for large enterprise employees, virtual Design Sprints including startups and mentors. We have experience with co-creation sessions for sustainability and social impact topics, involving a large, distributed community of people from more than 45 countries thinking together on how to create more inclusive societies.

Let’s see how to fuel purpose-driven projects and co-creation in 2021!

Purpose & Co-creation projects start with Problem & Opportunity Mapping in Be-novative

In transformative times, we need to reevaluate and reconsider a tremendous amount of things. As an employee, founder or business owner, as a friend, and as customers, we are changing habits since pandemia started and this hybrid world where transformation is the norm is about to stay.

Companies that were already purpose-driven have been pivoting and expanding to include new areas and specialties. In the security service sector, industry leaders like Allied Universal just hired 100,000 new employees in 2020, because the company pivoted with its distance screening technology. Their trained security personnel shifted to a new service of reducing their client’s health risks at their facilities, which enables them to continue working safe-and-sound and survive. USA’s fitness industry alone is estimated to worth $100 billion and all-in-a-sudden it has shifted into a virtual world which rewards those companies that have been able to quickly adapt with updated fitness apps and virtual exercise classes. Brick-and-mortar gyms and studios that want to outlive the pandemic need to reach their customers at home delivering much-needed exercise and relaxation classes.

We are missing meaningful connections, and technology is able to give us just that connecting thousands of employees, clients, partners, suppliers or even millions of people in an eco-system or community to think together on a common goal, growth opportunity or meaningful pivot from as many countries as possible at the same time. Office space is no longer the limit for 12–20 people to fit into a workshop room, we can see the consensus based on the collective creativity of an unlimited number of people.

By pretty much every measure of social impact, employer and consumer brand health, we are more likely to be engaged and even try the online versions of in-person services. We stay loyal, pay more, and advocate for brands whose stories we know and remember, who broaden our perspectives, and who genuinely do good.

What is the benefit of being purpose-driven in 2021?

🎯 “Nearly two-thirds of US-based employees surveyed by McKinsey & Co said that COVID-19 has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life. And nearly half said that they are reconsidering the kind of work they do because of the pandemic. Millennials were three times more likely than others to say that they were reevaluating work.

Such findings have implications for your company’s talent-management strategy and its bottom line. People who live their purpose at work are more productive than people who don’t. They are also healthier, more resilient, and more likely to stay at the company. Moreover, when employees feel that their purpose is aligned with the organization’s purpose, the benefits expand to include stronger employee engagement, heightened loyalty, and a greater willingness to recommend the company to others.”

According to Deloitte: “Purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow three times faster on average than their competitors, all while achieving higher workforce and customer satisfaction.”

Purpose helps us redefine who we are. We know ourselves in the context of the current world, in the context of our decisions in work and life. When the environment changes, we are looking to redefine our answers to our deepest questions. In terms of business, it is the why. Why do we need to exist and how do we contribute to changing the world? Purpose-driven businesses have a better chance to find answers for their customers and employees. As an example, Kellogg’s aim to “nourish families so they can flourish and thrive” through nutritious breakfast cereals; Patagonia being “in business to save our home planet”; or Sumo Salad aspiring to “make Australia a healthier and happier place” —according to Deloitte, these businesses create more value and achieve more outcomes that people value, and in turn, deliver faster growth what stakeholders value.

The next 5-year outlook on the way we work and manage projects

📈 In the next five years, the world will see more projects than ever according to Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, Co-founder of the Strategy Implementation Institute. The reconstruction of the economy, healthcare, social care, and society at large after the devastating global pandemic crisis, will be unprecedented in human history. According to McKinsey, Governments’ have announced $10 trillion in reconstruction funds just in the first two months of the crisis, which is three times more than the response to the 2008–09 financial crisis. These are millions of projects, which will need millions of project managers.

From Project Management to Strategy Implementation Skills: Nieto-Rodriguez’s research for the HBR Project Management Handbook(to be published in Sep 2021), clearly shows that senior leaders see project management as a core competency and invest in them over 2021 and beyond. Project managers, however, will need to learn new skills related to this rapid transformative change and digital collaboration and evolve to become strategy implementation specialists, according to Nieto-Rodriguez. According to us at Be-novative, though project managers need to become Design Thinking facilitators and growth managers of a large community across geographical locations. “They will need to start working on the project earlier on, within the innovation phase, facilitating ideation and using design thinking techniques to ensure that the best ideas are chosen and are developed into products that generate value through the right project management approaches”. With the slow absorption of project management tasks by AI and digitalization, most manual tasks will be replaced by leadership, strategic, and value creation competencies which opens new doors for more people to take part in this value-creation and planning phase that results in more purpose-driven co-created projects.

Problem & Opportunity Mapping of 3 Use Cases

Future Trends: Purpose & Co-Creation 2021 was an exclusive, online workshop for top C-level executives, consultants, and technological pioneers who wanted to learn how to empower people to co-create while connected to the company’s purpose and identify new business opportunities together with their key clients — we analyzed 3 use cases in terms of success factors, learnings, processes used with:

  • Bruno Chavez and Otto Barnert, Senior Consultants of Invitro from the field of Purpose Projects, Innovation and Sustainability
  • Saulo Pizzo, Head of Social Innovation and Community Engagement at Givaudan, leader of Givaudan Purpose Live empowering people to come up with and implement high-impact projects connected to Givaudan’s purpose.
  • Pablo Mendivelzua, Marketing Manager of Givaudan South Cone facilitator of co-creation projects with clients developing new prototypes and validating new business opportunities together.

Host & Facilitator:

  • Priszcilla Varnagy, CEO & Founder of Be-novative, a Design Thinking process management platform to solve the right problems together involving everyone’s diverse viewpoints

We created a visual output of the success factors and learnings live on a Problem & Opportunity Map with the take-aways:

Working on a Problem & Opportunity Map to visualize the outcomes of the Be-novative webinar

How to co-create in a purpose-driven way? Lessons learned for 2021


These are the aspects you need to be mindful of when thinking of creating purpose-projects that empower people across your company and beyond to collaborate:

  • MILLENIALS CONNECTION TO PURPOSE. Younger generations want to work at companies with an authentic purpose, with more than 70 percent of millennials expecting their employers to focus on societal or mission-driven problems. Research on what job Millenials are looking for found that they’re looking for a purpose that enables them to unfold their skills. If they don't find an opportunity to involve themselves — they are going to lose interest.
  • EVOLVED INTERNAL COMMUNICATION. The first step is communicating the organization’s purpose so that more people will be able to relate to it and bring it further. Use all communicational channels including the intranet, all-hands meetings, and chat channels to tell the why and the origin story. Besides, you need to know that the strongest form of communication is word-of-mouth. Instead of an ad or a beautiful picture, employees telling about their experiences being involved in purposeful projects travels way beyond any other message you can plan for.
  • DIGITALISATION. The pandemia and lockdown opened new doors through technology: online solutions and platforms to unite everyone to cross-pollinate ideas and create synergies from all countries. Many times, besides Be-novative, a browser and high-speed internet connection will be enough to start uniting people within your company.
  • LEADERSHIP. In a crisis, the spotlight turns on the management who get an opportunity to make sense of what happened. This shapes a brand’s reputation for the future depending on how ethical and meaningful it reacts to the changing environment.

🎗 “The 2020 Global Trends in Reputation study from the Reputation Institute stood out. The study, released in conjunction with Davos, concluded that delivering on corporate purpose is “the most important thing businesses can do to raise their stature with consumers, particularly if relayed in an emotional way that transcends the products and services they sell.”


  • 1–2 MONTHS OF PLANNING. You need to plan, but not over-plan these types of projects prior to starting. Usually being flexible and self-organizing is an important element we suggest leaving room for.
  • WEEKLY ACTIVITIES INSTEAD OF 1-DAY. Through digital platforms, like Be-novative, you can keep up the energy from collecting insights and ideation to evaluating, synthesizing new concepts, prototyping, and validation. It is better to let participants evolve week by week than to shrink it into a single day in front of the screen and sticky notes.
  • REGULAR, 15–60 MIN ACTIVITIES. If you involve clients in a co-creation process, allocating 7 hours over 10–12 weeks works well usually as a rule of thumb, more time might be too much to ask for. Be mindful of people doing these activities on top of other business-as-usual projects.
  • 4–16 WEEKS GENERATE MORE TRUST IN THE OUTCOMES. A Design Sprint is a great quick version of doing all steps of understanding, ideation, prototyping, testing, implementing — but in most projects in 2020 and 2021 that resulted in implementation, the process was slightly longer. This allowed team formation based on the similarity of shared ideas, which resulted in more visual and tangible prototypes that were shipped to clients (homes) for validation and deeper analysis of results. What it brought for organizations is more trust in the outcomes, and confidence that the validated prototypes are well-thought-out, and the feedback from customers was found to be more relevant as it left enough room for iteration rounds.

Audience — with whom to co-create?

  • C-LEVEL EXECUTIVES & EXPERTS INVOLVED. It is important to involve people from all levels of the company. It is only C-Level executives who can highlight the long-term strategy and make resources available, but it is the mid-level managers who can drive such purpose-driven co-creation projects forward as project owners, consulting experts e.g. as mentors.
  • FACILITATORS. may come bottom-up as volunteers, and this is a good sign they are driven and will have the energy from ideation to validation owning the entire journey.
  • DEMOGRAPHICS OF PARTICIPANTS. Non-profits can involve a larger community base for a good cause — at EIT Raw Materials, OECD or UN Youth forum we have experience of engaging tens of thousands of people on solving important challenges involving their large community. In for-profit projects, the number of participants in a challenge can be hundreds of people. E.g. in Givaudan’s Purpose Live project 156 participants from 46 countries connected from all age groups and gender. We have typically seen in similar purpose projects that the age group of 29–39 was most typical and women took part on a large scale as volunteers both as project owners and team members.
  • MOTIVATION AND REWARD. Participants are merely motivated by the impact they can create once their ideas get manifested in better products and services. Although recognition and reward sound like an important topic, surprisingly in co-creation projects it is usually not part of the process. When the right people are invited they are motivated to bring their best self. (But if we think about: do we get an extra reward or special motivation for working on a business-as-usual-project?)

Other examples of co-creation project audience by Deloitte:

Resources — what to rely on?

  • MENTOR ROLES TO SUPPORT THE PROJECTS. Enablers, Navigators, Mentors are usually coming in to support project teams in their journey. They are usually volunteers coming from an expert group that oversees strategy and implementation.
  • INSPIRATIONAL WORKSHOPS. Meditation, breathing, improv theatre, and invited guest speakers can set the tone for a creative atmosphere and a safe space where every participant is equal and can glimpse into what is possible — and nothing is totally impossible.
  • CREATE SYNERGIES OF IDEAS THROUGH DIGITAL PLATFORMS. In most co-creation processes the goal is not to find a single winning idea but to surface the best outcome that contains everyone’s diverse viewpoints. This involves building on top of each others’ ideas and encouraging teams to find synergies rather than competing and restricting their thinking. Design Thinking methods and AI can help them find the right connections.
  • PHYSICAL PROTOTYPES SHIPPED/RELEASED. Talking about co-creating new products that clients can try is more powerful than 1000 pictures. In the first place, Givaudan shipped new prototypes of food and beverages in the co-creation process to their key large enterprise customer partners’ homes so that they can taste them and rank them on multiple criteria they can give feedback on online, which helps Givaudan rank these prototypes and create an innovation roadmap. If we do only a low-fidelity prototype it also helps to have a discovery interview based on them, but ideally, we should also be prepared for building and releasing or sending by post a product the customer can interact with and then give feedback on multiple criteria — which makes our decisions grounded.

Strategy — What will change in the way we work?

  • COMMUNICATIONAL STRATEGY. In order to be more empowering, companies will need to change and adapt their communicational strategy both internally and externally. It will become more important. to talk about more open questions and opportunities than only about past events and past stories. We need to be more open to involving more people in new stories on what is possible, challenges where we want to create impact, and invite people to contribute to solving those while learning from each other. This will also mean that the purpose and corporate strategy may evolve and adapt over time, thus we need to be prepared to nurture collective intelligence and collective creativity.
  • EMPATHY & UNDERSTANDING. Start the process with empathy. This is trivial in Design Thinking processes but not in general project management. As more and more transformational and co-creation projects will start to emerge, we need to prepare more employees and project managers to start with an understanding phase. Get to know more about the target user or client perspective. Listen to the external community as well as listen to employees and create a safe space for them to open up and feel understood. This is key for any innovation or co-creation process in order to drive results.
  • CLIENT ENGAGEMENT DRIVES THE INNOVATION ROADMAP. Key clients are engaged more if they can influence the directions of product development: winning even more deals, improving retention.
  • IMPLEMENTATION GOAL. Even though till 2020 innovation projects were valid as idea competitions, they will fade out as a practice if the expectation and support from the beginning won’t reach as far as implementation. There is only time for the must-have goals and promises in transformative times like the post-pandemic period. Collecting ideas, however, remains nice to have unless we use these ideas for advancing processes, products, or services for doing good and generating better results. It is not so trivial, though. We need to be prepared to support people with project managers who are skilled in agile and Design Thinking processes to act on these ideas.
  • ACCELERATORS. Within the company, creating a favorable environment for co-created projects may require more support and time than other types of business-as-usual projects. More and more companies are choosing the trend of establishing an accelerator that can support these projects and owners with more tools, methods, and skills than what they would get in their regular work environment.

Impact — Positive benefits beyond the project life-time

  • ENGAGEMENT & LEARNING. Companies are creating a safe space through technology - facilitating inspired new connections between people beyond geographical distances, age, gender, and level inside or outside a company no matter if they are introverts or extroverts. These types of projects will become more and more frequent in all types of organizations and available for hundreds or even millions of people at the same time. It increases the sense of belonging for each participant who took part. In the past, co-creation was restricted just for marketing or R&D, but in the future, these opportunities will be open for everyone — to employees, and eventually to consumers or a large community united by the same causes to bring their ideas to life obtaining better and faster solutions. Participants said: “I was able to make mistakes and experiment like we never could before”. This results in more employee and customer engagement which creates a snowball effect as the enthusiasm is catchy to start similar projects.
  • VALIDATED PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT PIPELINE. Co-creation projects helped Givaudan create a validated innovation roadmap.

🍲💡 “We came up with 2 market-ready new products from the ideas in 6 weeks on highly nutritional products for economically underdeveloped areas, which moved all of us as they are closely related to our company purpose creating good in the world. The best part is that especially in these difficult times, we, personally could contribute to giving good for those who need it. It inspired many colleguese in our company starting similar projects in other regions.” said Pablo Mendivelzua, Head Marketing at Givudan South Cone.

  • SPEED UP MEANINGFUL GROWTH. One prototype worth more than 1000 images and co-creating with our clients the way the product should look, smell, taste including the entire actual formula, ideating and validating all of these aspects speeds up the production capabilities and the time from idea to market launch.

🚀 “Joining the customers in the journey from idea to market launch is the way to grow our businesses and obtain successful innovation experiences. We become much faster, differentiating ourselves with superior customer experience.” Pablo Mendivelzua.

  • SUSTAINABILITY AS A SERVICE. We’ve all been tracking the evolution of the circular economy forever. But now, with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) it is closer than ever to employees and customers. Expect a new generation of solutions that combine business values and values for the environment and society. Yes, that means we are closer than ever to circular economy solutions driven by businesses that deliver.

If you only do 5 things:

  • REFLECT ON & COMMUNICATE YOUR PURPOSE. Invite leadership to refine and reflect on your company purpose. By sharing your ‘why’ to employees and customers you create new opportunities needed in a transformative post-pandemic world
  • LISTEN & EMPATHIZE. Start the process with empathy. This is trivial in Design Thinking processes but not in general project management. Identify channels through which you can get to know more about the client perspective or your employees’ feedback working in the frontline.
  • SYNTHESIZE IDEAS TO CREATE A PIPELINE. Instead of looking for a winning idea, think of how you could involve people from both inside your company and from key clients in virtually coming up with solutions that contain and reflect on everyone’s diverse viewpoints.
  • FACILITATE THE PROCESS WITH MENTORS & EXPERTS. Coming from inside or outside the company, facilitators and mentors have a unique and unprecedented role in driving community engagement, creating a flexible process, and adapt it to the circumstances connecting what is possible with what may be implementing high impact new solutions, fortifying strengthen and risks helping teams to iterate.
  • SEND PROTOTYPES TO CUSTOMERS FOR FEEDBACK — Don’t just stop at a concept or plan level. Build the solutions and gain relevant feedback for how to realize the impact and create the desired value for your target clients.

👋 Continue this journey with us! Check out Be-novative features on co-creation and validation or get in touch with us. We are here to give you tips on your own project or even facilitate your first workshop for free to act on our purpose contributing to a more creative way of work.

To see more, you can even watch the entire webinar here:

This post was written by Priszcilla Varnagy, Founder & CEO of Be-novative

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Be-novative is a Design Thinking and Innovation platform that helps organizations build breakthroughs collaboratively. http://be-novative.com @benovative