In this article on collaborative innovation, I cover:
- What is collaborative innovation?
- The collaborative innovation mindset
- The benefits of collaborative innovation
- What are the reasons that people get involved in collaborative innovation projects?
- Collaborative ecosystems and networks
- When is it good to collaborate on innovation? And when not?
- How to select a great partner
- Success factors of collaborative innovation, and pitfalls to avoid
What is collaborative innovation?
Let’s think about what collaborative innovation is.
Collaboration is process where people with diverse interests, skills and knowledge come together. They leverage their collective wisdom, resources, insights and enthusiasm to improve outcomes and enhance decisions. Collaboration is about people communicating and working together on a shared goal.
Innovation is creating something new, a new solution, a new way of doing things, a new product, service or method, that is useful. Innovation is solving a problem for someone, somewhere.
So, collaborative innovation is about people coming together, sharing their diverse wisdom, skills, experience, and resources, to innovate and to solve a common problem, or pursue a shared opportunity.
What is a collaborative innovation mindset?
Collaborative innovation is a mindset, as well as a process and strategy. The mindset of collaboration towards innovation is important because the innovation process itself can be really challenging. One of the most rewarding aspects of innovation is working with different people and diverse organizations.
There’ll be ups and downs throughout the innovation process, but a mindset that’s focused working together, building partnerships and relationships based on openness and trust will be a significant advantage.
What are the benefits of collaborative innovation?
There are many benefits from collaborative innovation when it’s done well. For example:
- By working together, you can potentially make faster progress and do so more efficiently
- You can build stronger processes and more robust solutions because you’ve had more diverse input into the innovation itself
- Diversity, including difference of opinions, backgrounds, experiences, is really a fantastic asset to have when you’re innovating because it really does lessen risk if you’ve got people seeing things from different angles. It helps you spot things and reduce the risk of any blind spots.
- Collaborative innovation helps with skills development and builds new and existing relationships
One of most precious and enjoyable things I love about collaborative innovation is the relationship building and team working, those bonds that you get when you work with people on something special that come from having a shared goal, a common aim. I think that is just so rewarding. The relationships that you build can go on to stand the test of time and endure beyond the innovation itself.
Why is collaborative innovation important?
We’ve got big challenges and opportunities in the world now. Some of them are bigger than any single organization or entity can solve on their own, for example, globalization and digital technology mean that we’re all better connected, creating huge potential for collaborative innovation.
Also, at the other end of the scale there is, localization. Communities and regions are coming together to form perhaps industrial clusters, centers of excellence, put themselves on the map or create a real sense of place and social engagement.
Of course, we’re all learning about becoming even more digital. There’s still a growth process to go through to understand how we might use this emerging technology for the greater good, to benefit us all and achieve big, important goals like decarbonization, and move faster on resolving issues such as climate and social change.
Collaborative innovation example: bringing the community together
One of the one of the wonderful collaborative innovation projects I’ve been privileged to be part of was for a community in the north east of England. The local authority made some money available for improvements to the area. I facilitated a whole collaborative innovation project, working with about 80 plus members of that community, and the Housing Association to help the residents collaborate on how they’d like the money to spent and how they’d like to innovate in their community. We worked on shared goals and priorities, and residents successfully co-created a plan that the community agreed on.
What are collaborative innovation ecosystems?
I’m seeing more and more focus on the development of collaborative innovation ecosystems.
Collaborative innovation ecosystems are networks of organizations of many types – business, public and third sector, universities, and others – coming together to solve shared problems, access new opportunities and innovate around those problems and opportunities.
These might be industry or research clusters, formed to access and serve emerging markets. For example, collaborative innovation ecosystems are developing to serve the fast-growing renewable energy sector, such as Energi Coast.
How do you create a culture of collaborative innovation?
I’m also finding in my work that many more organizations are focusing on internal, cross-functional innovation between their own teams. Creating a culture of collaborative innovation can be challenging, especially in well-established organizations where teams have been used to working more independently, in silos.
Whether your innovation project needs internal or external innovation, or both, be intentional about shaping a positive, collaborative culture that not only plays to the strengths of each party, but also helps each party to achieve their goals and aspirations.
Find meaningful, shared purpose, and understand the individual objectives of everyone involved. Be open about your objectives, build trust between parties and aim to help each collaborator to get as much as what they need as possible, in addition to your focus on your own agenda.
This approach is one of true collaboration, and whilst the trust sometimes takes a while to develop, start the journey early.
Encourage and role model transparency.
Provide support for others.
Don’t be afraid of disagreement or challenge. Dealt with constructively, difference of opinion can be healthy, as long as it’s managed well, and that all parties have the attitudinal maturity to listen to each other and approach the difference with a solutions-focused mindset. If some of your partners are newer to collaboration than you are, lead by example and be explicit about your behavioral hopes and expectations.
Is collaboration the same as co-creation?
Collaboration and co-creation are close relations.
As I describe above, collaboration is process where people with diverse interests, skills and knowledge come together. They leverage their collective wisdom, resources, insights and enthusiasm to improve outcomes and enhance decisions. Collaboration is about people communicating and working together on a shared goal. Collaboration is often focused on ongoing work, as well as on innovation projects.
Co-creation specifically means collaborating to shape something new, usually from scratch.
Open innovation is a process that requires collaborative innovation. It is an approach taken by a business or organisation to access the ideas, technology and knowledge that is available externally, beyond its employees and existing supply chain.
Not every business develops everything in high levels of secrecy until new products are ready to be launched into the world. More and more companies are seeing the benefits of engaging with new and diverse networks and communities for some of their own new product development and solution finding. Those companies are also beginning to release some of their applied and unused innovations outside too so that more organisations can benefit.
What is a Collaborative Innovation Network (CoIN)?
A Collaborative Innovation Network, or CoIN, is the abbreviation/acronym for what Peter Glor (MIT Sloan) defines as “a cyber team of self-motivated people with a collective vision, enabled by the web, to collaborate in achieving a common goal by sharing ideas, information, and work.”
Collaborative Innovation Networks are groups of people that come together over the internet and work together. They are frequently found in technology and software, particularly open source, where developers work on making the software better and sharing learning.
When should you engage in collaborative innovation?
Collaborative innovation is useful in the following situations:
- Projects, opportunities, or challenges for which you and your potential collaboration partners have got common, non-competitive goals and objectives.
There might be other times where you and your potential partners do compete, but it’s still okay for you to collaborate elsewhere, such as bigger picture things like the environment or safety performance.
- Work winning. You might have a shared customer whom you support through different products and services. You could consider innovating together to offer an even better solution for that customer.
I’ve been Bid Director on behalf of international corporates, leading teams to win multi-million dollar contracts. Collaborative innovation, for example between operational and engineering businesses in a mass transit environment, achieved bid-winning solutions.
- To pull diverse expertise together to work on huge challenges like decarbonization technology, combating climate change and improving the social environment. It is wonderful to get experts from one area working with experts of another.
- To learn and enhance your network.
How to select the right collaborative innovation partner?
Collaborative innovation is useful if people have got the attitudinal maturity to think through problems together, overcome the challenges of collaboration, and focus on the common objectives.
Below are the top 5 key elements to consider when selecting the right collaborative innovation partner:
1. Select a non-competitive partner
To collaborate, it’s important that you and your partner(s) operate in non-competing space.
2. Make sure that you share common goals from the innovation opportunity
You need to have some shared goals and objectives. All those goals and objectives don’t need to be the same or shared, you just need both need to care about achieving the overall outcome sufficiently.
3. Ensure that trust, or at least the potential to build trust, exists
Trust is a precursor to openness. If you trust each other, you can be open, air differences and work through any tensions and potential conflicts positively.
4. Identify complementary resources and skills
You can power up your innovation by extending your pool of resources and skills by tapping into those offered by your collaboration partner, and they can benefit from yours reciprocally.
5. Check leadership commitment
When you’re bringing organizations together to collaborate, there needs to be commitment from the leadership of each of those organizations to make the collaboration work.
6. Ensure willingness to put good processes in place
Processes need to be considered and it is essential to work through any ‘what if’ scenarios, Sort out the ‘what if’ scenarios and plan for that before it happens. This will help the whole collaboration work much more smoothly.
The more, good-quality conversations you can have with your partners, right at the very outset before the collaborative innovation project starts, the better. This enables you to set the stall out and make sure that everybody’s aligned. You can resolve any issues that might arise before you move forward and focus on getting on with the project.
What skills are important for collaborative innovation?
Collaborative innovation requires advanced leadership and teaming skills because you’ve got your own objectives you want to achieve and need to accommodate other parties and their ways of working, style preferences and goals.
Key skills are: communication, strategic thinking, commercial thinking, agility, risk management, resilient working, cultural development, creativity, customer focus, amongst others.
How to avoid pitfalls of collaborative innovation?
Great leaderships skill are the way to avoid the pitfalls of any collaborative innovation. You can avoid common pitfalls by doing these things:
1. Be super clear
Firstly, be super clear on the innovation opportunity. Agree the scope is, who’s going to do what, and what’s important. Create a shared vision and value set. Outline together in advance what’s going to happen if things don’t go to plan, and try and do as much contingency planning up front as you can.
2. Build relationships
Secondly, you need to think about the relationships that are involved in the project. Trust is the foundation layer. Having trust means you can challenge each other safely. With challenge and listening, people become more engaged and committed to the outcome, and you’ll have higher performing innovation results. So build relationships based on trust and openness as the foundation of your collaborative innovation partnership.
3. Put good processes and governance in place
Finally, good processes and governance help. To establish these, you’ll need great communication. Plan how decisions are going to be made and by whom.
There’s also some great advice on collaborative relationships more generally here as part of the guidance for ISO44001 Collaborative Business Relationships.
Collaborative innovation next steps
If you’d like to know any more about collaborative innovation, then please do get in touch.
My purpose is to help you innovate and help you get to where you want to with you, your team and your organization.
I hope you’ve found this article useful, thank you for taking the time to read it.