Case: Thrivability – A Sketch, by Jean Russell (Global)

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Co-creative concept concept building

Presented at #cocreate14. Scroll below the digital presentation for additional pre-lab details provided.

Presenter: Jean Russell, Founder @
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Digital Presentation

Pre-Lab Info provided about the case

The concept of thrivability was new, and we needed to flesh out the concept and build an audience. Seth Godin had done a collection of essays as a book, so I gathered 65+ people who had fresh ideas and asked them to write short essays which we compiled into the Thrivability Sketch. Production completed in 90 days, so we could launch at sxsw, a conference far away from the sustainability crowd, keeping the meme free of the baggage of sustainability.

Key Outcomes Observed:

The book has been seen by over 28,000 viewers on slideshare (plus more on other platforms/media). It led to a talk in Oslo at an international climate change event and a keynote in Australia as well as numerous “flash collaboration” presentations on the method of getting so many people to work toward a common goal in such a short period of time.

Key Processes Used:

Creating a container for diverse voices to speak

Getting people to co-create in short time frames

Lifting up an idea by lifting up the visibility of the contributors


  • Sector/field: thrivability, sustainability

  • Initial geography (where the co-creation initiative started): Global

  • Application geography (where the co-creation process has been applied): Global

  • Is it a one shot initiative ? an ongoing initiative ? 2010 and lives on

  • Issues to be solved/addressed: how to inspire others to think more thrivably and express what that might involve

  • Early objectives (at the start of the initiative): produce a book to explore an idea

  • Later objectives (developed/evolved through co-creative process): create a movement

  • Key words used to define the co-creative process: clearly defined parameters, expectations, outcomes, and roles. Emergent content and impact.

  • Key words used to define the context in which the co-creative process took place: online networks, voices from diverse locations and fields, curiosity


  • Briefly describe the passion behind why this initiative was undertaken: the story we are telling about the world, how it works, and what action to take determines what we do, so inviting people to a new story opens new possibilities.

  • What inspired the use of co-creative approaches in this work? No one has the single right answer, the wisdom of many is greater than the wisdom of one, diversity enables multiple entry points for exploration, distributed ownership of an idea gives the idea more potency

  • Which established methods were drawn from in inviting co-creativity? invitation, dialogue, celebration of an individual’s creativity, gratitude

  • Why was a co-creative approach deemed better in this case than a more traditional approach? who am I to know, in such a vast field, what the right answer is or right entry point is for someone?

  • What was the role of serendipity in guiding how this initiative unfolded? communication significantly via social media channels depends on someone catching the stream at the right times to get engaged, a small percentage of contributors were invited through existing contributor network (which I find serendipitous) – and they trusted the relationships enough to participate, and finally dispersion of the work and who saw it seems highly serendipitous.


  • Stakeholders/stakeholder groups involved: philanthropists, nonprofit technologists, social enterprise and entrepreneurs, sustainability consultants, venture capitalists, scientists, innovation thought leaders, social change agents, cultural critics, futurists, visionaries, and communication/media leaders

  • Roles of stakeholders: write or otherwise create or offer a contribution, view and possibly share the co-created work.

  • Role of a leader, or a leading team, if any: very strong leadership needed of project management and containers for contributions, very light leadership on content.

  • Were any funders involved in supporting the initiative? (When did they become involved?) – yes, some contributors of work also contributed money and a large donor contributed once the work was published.


  • “Materialisation” of co-creation:  In most cases, I had a set of words to get contributors to write to. I would invite them, they might pick from a list of words or suggest another, we would dialogue about the content they might want to include, they would write their piece, we would edit it together, and then it was placed in the collection along with an image that the contributor chose or I offered with their approval, if there was space.

  • Technology involved (mobile phones….): twitter, google docs, word documents, browsers, flickr or other image resources, phone, skype, and email. I used a modified personal kanban to run project management on the 65+ contributions

  • Social networks used: twitter

  • Knowledge sharing processes used during the co-creation process : I would often share 2 or 3 of my favorite pieces as a sample of what can be done or to express a range of what was possible.

  • Methodology : how did co-creation materialize in the information gathering process, in the analysis process, in the diagnosis process, in the recommendation design process, in the implementation plan, in the measurement plan - described in “materialization” mostly. I used twitter to invite or to nudge people who had agreed to contribute. I also used it to thank contributors for submitting pieces and share excitement about the work.

  • Content created: a collaboratively made book

  • Impact measurement: over 28,000 views on slideshare alone. led to speaking engagements in Australia, Sweden, and the US

  • Significant difficulties met: surprisingly, most who were asked said yes, and all but one last minute contribution were fantastic and required only minor editing. I was surprised at first by the low share rates given that some of the contributors had enough following for us to hit our current view level with one twitter post. Also, luckily I had an IP lawyer as a friend who produced a “rights” document for everyone to sign off on – as that could have been a risk.

  • Conflict between stakeholder groups that arose: as far as I am aware, no conflicts have resulted from the book or the making therein.

  • Steps taken ahead of co-creation which made co-creation possible or enrich the co-creation process: years of editing and production, graphic design skill development, network development (you don’t get to know 65 people from around the world in diverse fields overnight – especially at the caliber of many of the contributors), about 18 months of exploring the concept of thrivability and numerous conversations about what it means, so that by the time we ran this project, most people had some sense of it.

  • Timeframe : how long did it take between the idea and its implementation – 3 months from concept-commit to publication. Jan 15-March 15 2010. It may be unreasonable to reproduce at that rate. The project doubled in contribution size while maintaining the original deadline. Most days were 15 hour rampages through the work and intense social communication efforts.


One Comment

  1. Christina
    Posted March 23, 2014 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    Jean’s leadership skill on the Thrivability sketch was both impressive and aspirational. See for my perspective as a contributor to the book.

One Trackback

  1. […] Co-created book: Thrivability – a sketch offers insights into how Jean orchestrated the “flash collaboration” which resulted in a book compiled by 65+ contributors in just 90 days. […]

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