Collaborative Innovation

What is Collaborative Innovation?

Collaboration has recently emerged as the defining characteristic of creativity and growth in nearly all sectors and industries. The singular genius who works alone is a myth of yesterday. Today, the biggest breakthroughs happen when networks of self-motivated people with a collective vision join together and share ideas, information, and work. Collaborative Innovation comes in many forms and kinds. From brainstorming sessions like innovation jams to crowd-funding initiatives like Kickstarter or crowd-sourcing initiatives like Innocentive, these forms of growth all mobilize a diverse group of people with a variety of skills. The benefits to joint innovation efforts are plenty: the global scale of the initiative, the rapidity of experimentation, the reservoirs of outside talent, the guaranteed wider array of solutions.[1]

Progress on large, complex challenges demands that problem solvers—be they from the private sector, government, academia, or civil society—learn effective ways of developing and delivering upon a shared vision. Mastery of three vital and inter-related processes is essential—
(1) collaboration,
(2) innovation, and
(3) solving problems in teams.
The skills that underpin these three processes are those that propel Collaborative Innovation. First, collaboration calls on problem solvers to exchange ideas and resources. Second, innovation demands that problem solvers employ creativity in assessing opportunities and linking ideas from blueprint to scale. Finally, motivated problem solvers must solve problems in teams, which means aligning those resources gained through collaboration toward the innovation process. When provided with Collaborative Innovation tools, individuals and teams can enhance these processes and become more effective in creating sustainable, transformative solutions. In so doing they become powerful Collaborative Innovation Networks.[2]

Collaborative Innovation Definition [3]

A good way to think about Collaborative Innovation is that it integrates social and crowdsourcing principles:

Collaborative Innovation
source: Customer Think

"Collaborative Innovation is defined as activities organizations use to improve their rates of innovation and problem solving by more effectively leveraging the diverse ideas and insights of employees, customers and partners."

While it seems straightforward, Collaborative Innovation is actually a fairly sophisticated activity. People with a cursory understanding say all you need to do is:
(i) stand up an ideas portal;
(ii) let people post ideas;
(iii) collect votes on those ideas; and
(iv) pick the winners.

Unfortunately, that’s just plain wrong. There have been too many cases where organizations launch idea portals, only to see them die off six months later. The practice of Collaborative Innovation is a rich realm, with solid results for those who apply it thoughtfully.

Collaborative Innovation Success Factors [4]

Here's an overview of the Critical Success Factors for Innovation for a quick assessment of how an organization is doing on them:

  • A compelling case for innovation: "New" means different. Different means change. Nobody likes change. So to succeed, people must understand why innovation is necessary in order to get behind the push for breakthrough.
  • A shared vision of the future: the purpose of breakthrough innovation in business is to generate real growth for your business. To engage in that pursuit, the company has to have an understanding of what the future might look like, and what it will need to win in that future. Old school strategy projects the future of the business based on past realities how we became successful today. When you attempt to predict the future based entirely upon the past you run the risk of becoming irrelevant in the future. It’s always guesswork, but it’s essential guesswork, and can be done in an “educated” way.
  • An aligned strategic innovation agenda: the company has to have a sense of what business it is in, what business it wants to be in, and also what its risk-tolerance is, before it can move toward breakthrough. An innovation portfolio with 100% breakthrough is generally not right for any company you have to know what is right for you given your aspirations and the realities of your business. To avoid the problem of short-term needs reallocating resources dedicated to long-term success, everyone must be aligned around the critical role of each part of the portfolio, and be prepared to defend the "important" against the demands of the "merely urgent."
  • Senior management involvement: traditional metrics cannot be applied to breakthrough innovations, because if your innovation is truly new, truly breakthrough, there is no existing frame of reference. Consequently traditional metrics are based in guesswork and analogies, basically, imaginary numbers. The biggest imaginary [^Return-on-Investment-ROI|ROI] or [^Net-Present-Value-NPV|NPV] wins the budget. Breakthrough is about pursuing a strategic agenda, accepting some risk, but having that clear vision for the future. Business Units are too tied to the annual plan and fixed budgets. Breakthrough requires senior management to apply their vision and their discretionary investment power to the pursuit of higher, longer-term goals.
  • A decision-making model that fosters teamwork: autocracy almost always misses some critical stakeholders and consensus sinks every decision to its lowest possible common denominator. A broader team has to be engaged in the process, and then a passionate “champion” has to be able to make the ultimate decisions for that team.
  • A creative, multi-functional team: a cross-functional, diverse representation of the company is essential, not only for the full perspective (and to enable cross-pollination), but to break down the functional silos and territorial thinking that get in the way of fully leveraging the company's assets. This approach to collaboration should also embrace outside perspectives to stretch the team to be able to see the new possibilities.
  • Willingness to take risk and value absurdity: this is really two in one, as risk-taking is one thing and valuing absurd ideas for what they are is another. Both are essential though, risk-taking for its strategic and cultural implications, and absurdity for its potential to take the organization in unexpected and (occasionally) highly valuable new directions. And, contrary to common belief, absurd ideas can be pursued with little initial investment.
  • A well-defined, yet flexible, implementation process: far too many high-potential, breakthrough ideas suffer because they are force-fit into the same pipeline and business model as the incremental. These big ideas require nurturing – a flexible process that can help these ideas evolve into something that fills a new space, and often it won’t look like it did coming in, which is a tough thing to be ok with at the front end, but at the back end, you’ll be so happy you were when you see it thrive.

Best Practices in Collaborative Innovation [5]

Collaborative innovation best practices fall into four fundamental groups: a. Developing a Strategy for Collaborative Innovation: How can manufacturers and retailers build strong, win-win relationships and take advantage of the benefits of collaborative innovation? It starts with a strategy. Historically, there has been a dominant focus on cost negotiation as opposed to “win-win” approaches.
b. Conducting Collaborative Business Planning: A cornerstone of collaborative innovation is joint business planning (JBP). The goal of JBP is to align the goals and objectives of the retailer and the manufacturer around a number of categories or brands that they can jointly grow in profitability.
c. Getting Your House in Order: Perhaps one of the most challenging parts of developing a working JBP and executing collaborative innovation is overcoming internal obstacles. These challenges include management challenges, organizational challenges, and business process challenges. A successful program needs to start from the top
d. Building Trusted Relationships: The ultimate goal of collaborative innovation is to partner on growth opportunities. One of the keys to this is building indispensable relationships. When a retailer is looking to develop a new program for their shoppers, the manufacturer wants to be the first one called. When a manufacturer is developing a new, innovative product, the retailer would like to have the opportunity to introduce it to the market. These relationships create a “barrier to entry for competition” and provide a competitive advantage. In practice, these relationships are difficult to build. Frequently, lack of trust puts more focus on negotiating than on gaining more value from the consumer. Recent market conditions have made this worse, opening up old scars from bad experiences in the past.

Collaborative Innovation Networks [6]

A Collaborative Innovation Network (CoIN) is a social construct used to describe innovative teams. It has been defined by the originator of the term, Peter Gloor from MIT Sloan's Center for Collective Intelligence, as "a cyberteam 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." CoINs feature internal transparency and direct communication. Members of a CoIN collaborate and share knowledge directly with each other, rather than through hierarchies. They come together with a shared vision because they are intrinsically motivated to do so and seek to collaborate in some way to advance an idea. The five essential elements of collaborative innovation networks (what Gloor calls their "genetic code") are as follows:

  • Evolve from learning networks
  • Feature sound ethical principles
  • Based on trust and self-organization
  • Make knowledge accessible to everyone
  • Operate in internal honesty and transparency

CoINs rely on modern technology such as the Internet, e-mail, and other communications vehicles for information sharing. Creativity, collaboration, and communication are their hallmarks. CoINs existed well before modern communication technology enabled their creation and development. Peter Gloor and Scott Cooper, in their book, describe Benjamin Franklin's "Junto" organization in Philadelphia as a COIN paradigm. Franklin brought together people with diverse backgrounds, from varying occupations, but of like mind to share knowledge and promulgate innovation. Similar is the concept of the "Self-Organizing Innovation Network", it has been described by author, Robert Rycroft of the Elliott School of International Affairs of George Washington University.

See Also


  1. Understanding Collaborative Innovation Inc.
  2. Tackling complex challenges together through Collaborative Innovatio GKI
  3. Defining Collaborative Innovation Customer Think
  4. Collaborative Innovation Success Factors Jay Terwilliger
  5. Best Practices in Collaborative Innovation
  6. Collaborative Innovation Networks (CoINs) Wikipedia

External References

  • Collaborative Innovation as a Business Strategy: Ask Anything, Challenge Everything Huffington Post
  • Collaborative Innovation Is The Future Of Information Technology Forbes
  • Innovation and Collaboration: It's Not An Either-Or Proposition Kate Vitasek
  • 10 Prospects and Trends for Open and Collaborative Innovation
  • Collaborative innovation: Partnering for success in Life Sciences IBM