Succeeding With Collaborative Innovation

Innovation embraces the ability to pre-empt markets; foster, protect and license ideas and know-how; source funding; and execute a timely, profitable commercialisation strategy.

Collaborative innovation is successful when it bridges the gap between flexible organisation structure and a quality-driven workforce whose imaginative capability is freed but focused. The synergy is achieved through a top-down drive encouraging participation and stimulating creativity, with ideas being created, nurtured and harvested.

Reaching this performance nirvana usually needs more than an organisational overhaul. It needs to be embodied in the mission statement and buried in the DNA of the management. Continuous quality improvement will be a focus of action, with the entire organisation configured for quality, but this alone is not enough.

Many organisations have effective quality systems, quality circles and formal quality accreditations. What they do, they do well. They continuously improve product quality, they diversify their designs and models ranges. Then a decline starts. Why? Markets changed, others innovated and grasped the nettle. What had once been a successful organisation loses its way, its customers switch and its profitability declines.

For many organisations, transforming to live and breathe collaborative innovation will require a profound culture change.

A conceptual framework approach

A conceptual framework is just a model that helps us understand a process, how to implement it, tune it, and re-engineer it when change is necessary. In organisations, a useful model combines social systems (people, structure, policies and procedures) and technical systems (technology).

The organisational culture is defined by the human relationships, inter-departmental and internal stakeholder linkages, and most importantly, the characterisation of relations between the employer and the employees.

Most successful organisations ‘do technology’ competently, and the social systems are comprehensive and mature. Culture, though, may not be what it should for optimal performance. That is when it becomes an obstacle to the collaborative innovation transformation.

Culture is analogous to the lubrication of the overall machine that is the organisation. In some organisations, it is thick and glutinous, slowing the organisation down. In others, it is tuned to the machine in the same way that sewing machine oil is perfect for its job.

An integrated approach

The integrated approach to innovation sees the organisation as an organism where the components of people, technology and culture cannot be separated, and are interdependent.

Structures either enable and promote innovation, or stifle it. For a long-term and sustainable change in an organisation, therefore, an integrated approach is seen as the crucial model.

In either model, culture is the key, and that is why so many leading organisations formally analyse their culture, and even re-engineer it.

Human talent is the tool for innovation

As of today, computers cannot generate ideas. In this respect, at least, people still rule supreme.

There are techniques and structures which stimulate the sparking of ideas – even talking to customers. To innovate continually, an organisation must be flexible in a way that allows this sparking of ideas, and their commercial exploitation.

Traditional structures which relied on the ideas of Frederick Taylor, and sewing needle manufacture, focused on specialisation and production efficiency. For organisations which want to innovate services or products on a regular basis, a different model is required.

This model has to engage the imagination and enthusiasm of the workforce (culture), engage with potential customers, identify trends in technology and lifestyle and build up a bank of ideas.

Then, that bank is continually drawn upon, as ideas are turned into new service offerings or products. A culture of innovation has been established, with the processes to support it, including appraisal, business modelling, funding, prototyping and delivery. Each idea or concept becomes a project, with its own team bringing it to market. People become specialists in innovation – collaborative innovation.