When you think about driving innovation in your enterprise, would you ever imagine that an Estonian student without industry experience could help create a highly-rated user experience for $2,500? We didn’t – but it happened here.
And that’s exactly the approach you should take to drive innovation – step outside of your four walls and leverage the ecosystem around you.
Driving sustainable innovation that delivers real, practical value isn’t easy. Yet the most successful enterprises do this by combining internal innovation programs with external innovation strategies. These external strategies can take many forms:
- Universities. Local universities have access to some of the best talent in their student population (graduate and undergraduate) and academic staff. This talent brings incredible diversity and experience, which is a key ingredient to driving innovative thinking. There are many ways to engage universities, and the capital you’d need runs less than you’d expect. You can sponsor hack-a-thons or data-thons or have students in specific classes take on a case that runs an entire semester. The biggest challenge is knowing whom within the university to engage – but once you do, the opportunities are endless.
- Partners. Our partner (vendor) relationships help us be successful. Sometimes, those relationships only encompass a single deliverable, while others are long-standing relationships that are integral to our business success. Regardless of the relationship, partners can help you innovate as well, and more often than not, they seek out those types of opportunities. Often, partners have multiple industry verticals, deep subject matter experts, and can be exposed to new technologies. Leverage that expertise for training, thought leadership and market monitoring. Engage with your partners to help co-design or co-develop a new solution. They may also consider investing resource capital to help, so long as there is mutual benefit.
- Open innovation. Open innovation brings the “power of the crowd” to drive innovation in your enterprise. Through third-party websites, you can engage a community of problem-solvers that bring unique skillsets, from visual design to complex engineering. The power of the crowd can provide innovative solutions to complex problems, sometimes at a fraction of the cost of that it would be to engage domain experts. Examples include user experience design or marketing materials (CrowdSpring), targeted software development (Devpost), or complex solutions in engineering or chemicals (InnoCentive).
- Clients. Similar to partners, our clients are frequently a great source of innovative ideas. Like open innovation, this too can benefit from the power of the crowd. Include your clients in design thinking sessions, innovation workshops and co-design sessions. That’s where the true power comes into play – when clients can not only collaborate and drive innovative ideas, but also help prioritize them to drive market acceptance.
- Communities. Leverage conferences and online communities to step outside of your routine. Set aside time to perform marketing monitoring and research, and not just inside your own industry, but with adjacent and divergent ones. And if you are time-constrained, consider engaging with scouts (Amy Webb, The Future Today Institute) or tend spotters (Trend Hunter) to help identify innovative opportunities across industries.
- Startups. Startups are frequently some of the best sources of innovation. From disruptive business models to technology, startups are unencumbered by legacy thinking and thrive on challenging the status quo. Startups can be engaged in a variety of ways, from creating an incubator or accelerator within your own firm or participating in third-party ones. You can also create a corporate venture capital strategy to drive innovation through investments in firms that have potentially disruptive technologies or business models. Corporate venture capital can also provide you with market intelligence, trend monitoring and learning through direct engagement or various board roles.
Learning to let go
Each one of these external innovation strategies can be incredibly powerful to help drive sustainable innovation. But to be successful in these strategies, firms must embrace a collaborative mindset and learn to let go of “not invented here” syndrome. And for some enterprises, that’s not easy. Even more challenging is breaking the mental model that “if you don’t know our business or industry, you can’t help us be innovative.”
Our experience has taught us that those who bring a diverse point of view and an outsider’s perspective can often provide the most creative and innovative solutions. Contact me if you’d like to learn more.
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