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Is co-creation good or bad? Ask United.

July 15, 2009
As an unabashed zealot of co-creation, I often forget that more often than not, companies discover its existence through negative experiences. The birth of co-creation is not without its pangs, as United Airlines recently discovered.

It all started with a minor luggage incident. United Airlines smashed a Canadian country musician’s guitar and then refused to pay for its repair. Naturally, the musician – his name is Dave Carroll – wrote a (hilarious) song about the experience and posted it on YouTube, where it has spawned an entire ecosystem.

The original post has been viewed close to 3 million times as of this morning. Various people and organizations have responded with their own videos, including Internet marketers and the guitar maker, who offers advice on how to pack a guitar and straighten out airlines employees who don’t know about people’s constitutional rights to take their guitar on board.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer deemed this story worthy of a feature in his Situation Room. When the incident reached situation status, United knew it had to act. Following the proven model of Dell, it attempted to enter the redemptive cycle of positive co-creation, by expressing a change of heart to Dave Carroll and offering to replace his guitar. But it proved too late. Dave – I call him by his first name now that I know so much about him – responded with another video, in which he refused the offer of restitution and suggested it is more fun to continue writing songs about United. He plans two more songs about the incident, the second of which is due out next month and focuses on his relationship with the United customer service rep.

My recommendation to United? Join the fray. Start a viral guitar smashing contest, with Pete Townsend as pitchman.
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