Thursday, January 21, 2010

Innovation Linkages to Collaboration

Collaboration is the act of working together. It is increasingly becoming a new and important source of competitive advantage.

No longer is the creation and pursuit of new ideas based on only centralized functions responsibel for R&D or Produc Development within vertical silos... rather - companies need the collective talent to work together and generate ideas from all sources of inspiration to help firms achieve greater success in terms of business value in their collaborative innovation efforts.

Research is rapidly proving out that successful innovation organizations understand the strategic role of collaboration, they organize effectively for collaboration, and make long-term investments to develop collaborative capabilities.

Successful firms found that attention to these 3 critical areas generated new options to create value that competitors could not replicate.

Successful firms went beyond simple wage arbitrage, asking global partners to contribute knowledge and skills to projects, with a focus on improving their top line. They redesigned their organizations to increase the effectiveness of these efforts. Managing collaboration the same way a firm handles the outsourcing of production is a flawed approach. Production and innovation are fundamentally different activities and have different objectives.

A striking example of collaboration dynamics at work was the Boeing’s development of its 787 “Dreamliner” aircraft. Boeing builds the most complex commercial product in the world, each project being almost literally a “bet-the-company” experience. The levels of capital investment required and the increasing breadth of technologies that must be mastered – from digital cockpit design to new lightweight materials – have forced Boeing to look at new forms of organization, the aim being to share risk with partners while exploiting the unique technical expertise that each brings to development.

Boeing’s approach to the 787 was the epitome of global collaboration. The project included over 50 partners from over 130 locations working together for more than four years. From the start, the aim was to leverage advanced capabilities from this network. For example, in technologies like composite materials, which are being used for the first time for large sections of the airplane, smaller more focused firms had developed expertise that was unique.

Rather than replicate this expertise, the firm sought to tap into it, blending it with skills from other partners developing complementary technologies. Furthermore, the relationships it established were not the traditional “build-to-print”contracts of past years. Instead, partners designed the components they were to make, ensuring a seamless integration with the outputs of other partners.

When organizations strive to develop innovation capacity, they need to understand the value of collaboration business models. The root of collaboration is trust which is the foundation for generating double-loop learning practices that enable more agile working practices.

My research and strategy work in this area over the past 20 years, continues to reaffirm that the companies that specialize more in humanness and recognize people as assets and long term ecosystems for harvesting value... Organizations like McKinsey and Bain and Harvard have long learned the value of deep alumni networks to strengthen their business growth and success as these networks create pathways for continued growth...

Many companies have missed the depth of humanness in their HR systems when talented executives depart or employees retire there may not be alumni networks for ongoing collaboration and socialization. With the rapidly aging baby boomers, thinking more deeply about the power of collaboration and its linkages to growth, and innovation and hummaness are what CEO's and Boards need to understand more.

My next posting will discuss how outsourcing strategies may impact long term growth potential if collaboration synergies and trust ties are broken.
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