Innovation Perspectives – Collaborative Innovation Efforts

by Mike Brown

This is the fifth of several ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on ‘How should firms collaborate with customers and/or value chain partners to co-create new products and services?’. Here is the next perspective in the series:

by Mike Brown

Questioning Your Collaborative Innovation Efforts

Innovation Perspectives - Collaborative Innovation EffortsFor various reasons, more companies are discovering strong insights and strategic inputs for innovation reside outside their own walls. While this realization can be challenging, establishing the successful strategic relationships necessary to do something about collaborative innovation is even trickier.
Using consistent checkpoints and rich questions throughout the collaboration process can improve results. The following six keys for successful collaborative strategic relationships, whether with customers or value chain partners, will help gauge your readiness and pave the way for success:

1. Strategic relationships are about people; start by making sure your own people are ready.

Begin by understanding what your organization will bring to a potential collaborative relationship by asking:

  • How well is the company’s culture oriented toward working with outside parties?
  • What types of successes and challenges have been experienced in previous relationships?
  • Are processes in place to improve the likelihood of replicating the successes?
  • Have provisions been made to improve situations which led to collaborative miscues?

2. Figure out ahead of time what you’re looking for in a relationship.

Taking a strategic view of the potential co-creation effort is critical. Before engaging other parties, invest the time upfront to gain understanding and internal consensus on your own strategic direction, strengths, and weaknesses. Ask questions such as:

  • What are we trying to accomplish through this co-creation effort – now and in the future?
  • What are we good at and can bring to a potential relationship?
  • What don’t we do well that we want to compensate for through a collaborative relationship?
  • How will we quantify success?
  • What needs to be in place for the relationship to successfully create new products and services?

3. Cast your net wide to start identifying and developing potential collaborators.

Describe the best strategic partner based on the background, capabilities, and resources they’d ideally bring to the relationship to make it productive. Solicit inputs from various stakeholders on these topics, identifying common themes. As you analyze the feedback, look for two types of criteria:

  • Characteristics another party must have to be considered for a strategic relationship.
  • Characteristics displayed in varying degrees where the greater the presence of the characteristic, the more desirable the potential party.

Use these criteria to assess and rank potential partner candidates for selection.
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4. As you’re considering potential partners, answer some fundamental questions together to help align your efforts.

At the first stages of establishing the strategic relationship, it’s important to develop insight into several areas that will set the stage for its success or failure:

  • What’s important to each of us?
  • In what areas will our success be realized? What will success look like?
  • What is the desired result?
  • What has to be in place for both of us to be successful?
  • What major areas post threats to our success?

By asking and answering these questions together, you’ll get a much better perspective on values, biases, expectations, communication styles, shared objectives, process and technology needs, and each partner’s sense of urgency.

5. Measure and address multiple types of performance indicators.

Use a combination of both quantitative and qualitative metrics to measure and share the strategic relationship’s outcomes. Reach out to metrics experts from all partners to ensure each party has meaningful quantitative metrics to report to its stakeholders. Additionally, qualitative metrics can help manage routine interactions among the parties in the relationship. Beyond results-oriented metrics, review partner interactions from multiple viewpoints:

  • Assess processes and events in the relationship by recording the Pluses, Minuses, Interesting elements, and Recommendations for each of them.
  • Provide real-time performance feedback.
  • Share periodic relationship-based feedback through checking what each party is giving, not giving, and needing in the relationship.

6. Focus on results while flexing on “how” things get done.

These relationships have to be performance-oriented, with all parties driven to deliver expected outcomes. Desired results will be more readily achieved if partners concentrate on strong communication, building trust, displaying an “all-in” attitude, and looking for the relationship’s “long line,” i.e., focusing on the end results vs. near-term distractions and frustrations.

Important questions to ask as you begin and move through the collaborative relationship include:

  • What are the clear, have-to-have objectives in the relationship?
  • What has to take place in a particular way, and what’s open to variation and change?
  • What’s working in the relationship, and how can it be documented and shared?

Lots of questions, but using them forces the sharing and open communication necessary for a co-creation process to deliver the results making it worth all the effort.

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You can check out all of the ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles from the different contributing authors on ‘How should firms collaborate with customers and/or value chain partners to co-create new products and services?’ by clicking the link in this sentence.


Mike BrownMike Brown is an award-winning innovator in strategy, communications, and experience marketing. He authors the BrainzoomingTM blog, and serves as the company’s chief Catalyst. He wrote the ebook “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” and is a frequent keynote presenter.

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  1. What I like about your post is the focus on relationships among the people involved. Too few focus on the people part of innovation.

  2. Thanks for the comment Marci.

    When I originally did research on the topic several years ago for a presentation, I expected very technical treatments of the topic. It was a pleasant surprise to see as much as I did on the people side of strategic collaboration.

    The people side had always been my starting point and remains so. Great people oriented toward working collaboratively solve lots more problems and realize many, many more opportunities than an indifferent group of people with world-class processes.

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