Collaboration: The Key to Making Innovation Last
MacGregor, Steven P.; Carleton, Tamara
Original document: Sustaining Innovation
In a world where the playing field keeps changing, innovation policy and practice must constantly adapt to stay in the game. And this is best achieved through collaboration.
Many firms realize this and have adapted their innovation processes accordingly.
Procter & Gamble's R&D department, for example, now sources half of all ideas from outside the company, while Apple, with its apps, has been a pioneer in putting the consumer at the center of the innovation process.
Apart from these high-profile American examples, a growing number of projects and initiatives are also emerging from other countries and industries.
Increased global integration, through Web 2.0 and social media tools, has accelerated the uptake of distributed networks of practice across international R&D sites. Yet there remains a persistent lack of understanding of local differences.
Steven P. MacGregor, of IESE, and Tamara Carleton, of the Silicon Valley-based Innovation Leadership Board, asked authors from around the world to describe their experiences involving complex collaborations in distinct environments. Their findings are compiled in the book, Sustaining Innovation: Collaboration Models for a Complex World.
The Benefits of Sustaining Innovation
The idea of sustaining innovation is particularly relevant in the wake of the global financial crisis, which has served as a timely reminder that success, especially the fast-buck variety, rarely, if ever, lasts forever.
The good news is that more and more companies are seeking to sustain innovation, resulting in enduring competitiveness and value creation. They are upholding values that provide better ways of doing things over the long term.
However, continuous value creation cannot be sustained if some stakeholders are winning at the expense of others.
That's why in the Silicon Valley, that well-known hotbed of innovation, broad-based ownership is the norm, with everyone, from managers to workers alike, owning a shared stake in their companies.
This suggests that a multilayered approach to sustainability, in which responsibility and competitiveness are closely linked, can lead to more innovation.
The Evolving Innovation Landscape
A classic model of innovation collaboration is the triple helix, which involves the triad of government providing the regulation and funding, academia leading research and business seeking out new market opportunities.
With the development of the Internet, boundaries have become blurred. A quadruple helix now seems more relevant, with civil society also designing services and providing key inputs during the innovation process.
Other models abound, as illustrated by the many stories in the book, which is divided into three sections: visions, research and experiences.
In this section, the authors describe collaboration in the formative stages. "Visions" involves imagining future possibilities that are realistic and attractive, and usually unfold over time.
One example comes from the Girona-based start-up, The First Bank of Cents, which aims to incentivize carpooling through a "social currency." Besides earning social kudos, drivers can redeem their virtual earnings on discounted fuel and car repair deals.
This is an example of the quadruple helix in practice, which essentially reinvents carpooling for the digital age and engages many different actors to add new value.
The second section analyzes some interesting research projects, including Innoplant, a three-year collaboration involving public, private and academic stakeholders, aimed at advancing their capabilities and co-creating health-care innovation in Sweden.
The case highlights the difficulty of such collaborations, in that not all partners had their desires fully met.
However, by the end of the three years, enough trust had been built that a strong network of innovation co-creation was formed.
The third section of the book describes complex networks of collaboration in action.
These include: corporate-driven networks, which brought together innovation partners and stakeholders; a U.K. government-led effort, which added a layer of virtual interaction to physical networking; along with other industry tales involving Vodafone and Shell.
One of the cases focuses on a network that the Spanish bank BBVA created to support innovation endeavors.
The network is groundbreaking, in that its members come from outside the company, as well as from within it. This is unusual, both for Spain in general and for the financial sector in particular, which is rarely given to cross-sector alliances.
The book details the development of the award-winning touch-screen banking machine, ABIL ATM, for which BBVA enlisted the help of IDEO, Fujitsu and NCR.
Though sustaining innovation remains a constant challenge, this collection of cases compiled by MacGregor and Carleton should stimulate a helpful conversation on how to pursue it.