Linking order and innovation: Why corporates need collaboration

Linking order and innovation: Why corporates need collaboration

Markus Ortmann shares his thoughts on the constant need for innovation and how, in his eyes, innovation is not a single product or service, but a process that allows for change in a business model.

When I ask you to think of an early invention, what do you think of?

For me, I picture someone resembling a caveman wearing clothes that don’t resemble anything in my closet, pushing something that resembles what we today would call “the wheel”.

The wheel, though perhaps seemingly simple compared to products of today, was an invention that revolutionized the world. In modern times, society relies on the wheel for transportation, agriculture, and manufacturing. But you know this, so what am I going on about?

I want you to picture something else for a minute. Take your favorite car- maybe a Mercedes or a Porsche- and instead of rubber tires, imagine it with wooden or stone wheels. Weird, right? What if society had left the wheel as it was, refusing to adapt the creation that once worked so well for us to changing times.

This example illustrates the constant need for innovation. Even the best inventions require innovation; the two are not synonymous. Innovation is not a single product or service, but a process that allows for change in a business model.

Innovation Today

Because the market changes, products and services also need to be able to change. While this is not a new realization, the rate at which change is necessary is much higher in today’s world than in the past, largely due to advancements in technology and shifts in consumer expectations.

In our experience, we’ve seen how a single business model is likely to consistently change throughout the course of even just one CEO’s tenure. As a result, CEO’s today have the difficult task of simultaneously executing an existing business model while inventing a new business model for the future.

There is a strong demand for innovation if a business is to “keep up” with market demands and continue to grow. Problem is, the bigger the business the deeper the long-existing organizational structures and value propositions that often limit innovation and stifle creativity.

How To Build Invincible Companies; An Extension

Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur recently addressed this concept in their article “How To Build Invincible Companies.

Their article skillfully presents the current issues in today’s business world and the call for innovation. Osterwalder and Pigneur offer up three main solutions for businesses caught in the dichotomy of order and change, which are:

1. Every organization needs a Chief Entrepreneur equipped with power.

2. Innovation culture: different metrics, skills, processes, and incentives.

3. Manage a portfolio of mature and emerging businesses.

While there are many valid suggestions and tools within their article, I couldn’t help but question if something wasn’t missing in regards to entrepreneurship. While they did point out an obvious need of space for innovation within an existing company, and are qualified in their advocacy for changing the traditional business organization model, there are some unaddressed issues that would come along with a chief entrepreneur.

Let’s continue the necessary conversation Osterwalder and Pigneur started, and talk a little more about some of those unaddressed issues.

Methodology as the Key to Success

The “Invincible Companies” article does a great job at pointing out that there is not currently a large corporate environment that is able to be process free. What this means, is that there is not a good, known, environment for innovation while maintaining large scale order.

There is paid training for employees regarding design thinking, and the possibility for frequent workshops on creativity in the workspace. But still, these creative methods operate under a structured world.

The problem with this structure is that it destroys two important things regarding agile creative methods. That is: empathy and ownership.

Let’s first talk of empathy. Empathy is crucial for innovation because it allows us to see things from another perspective. It helps us feel what potential customers feel and think, “If I were part of this target group, what would I be wanting?”

These types of feelings and intuitions are nothing which are able to fit into a box or be tucked neatly into a methodology.  

Additionally, when empathy does not organically exist, ownership is also often lost in the process.

When people are not allowed the right environment to feel, and to own their ideas without feeling like risk is unwanted or that they will be held personally liable, the innovation process comes to a halt. No one will want to speak up, take control or lead risks.

Therefore, an entrepreneur in the truest sense would not be able to do their job to their highest. (For my take on an entrepreneur, check out this article).

But while that perfect environment may not independently exist, and a Chief Entrepreneur is a step in the right direction, there may be another role which is able to facilitate the environment innovation needs.

An Added Solution: Collaboration

Perhaps an added dimension to entrepreneurship linking order and innovation in the corporate sense is collaboration.

Benefits of Collaboration

Internal collaboration has the potential to unify employees under a common business objective. It helps bring people from all different departments and specialties together, to create that great idea that perhaps one person alone wasn’t capable of coming to, or not comfortable solitarily voicing. Collaborating with people outside of your own company allows you to expand your horizons and stimulate creativity.

Collaboration can have all the benefits of traveling to a new country, as you are introduced to new ideas, thought-processes and ways of doing things. Which when you are looking for innovation, is exactly what you need.

Setbacks of Collaboration

Collaboration can be a little like a popsicle on a hot summer day; It sounds great in theory but can get messy fast. Unfortunately, something we often experience with established organizations is the inability to really collaborate effectively. That includes both internal and external collaboration.

Internally, there are often complex and competitive goal systems that prevent departments and colleagues from really opening up and interacting.

Externally, there’s always the fear of giving away your USP or new ideas to somebody else. This fear may reflect hesitations of individuals in a company, rather than the overall approach of the company itself.  

These difficulties lead us to ask, is there a different way to collaborate?

Introducing: The Chief Collaboration Officer

If collaboration alone was like a melting popsicle, then a chief collaboration officer would be like the napkin you use to hold the popsicle. They would allow for the benefits of collaboration, minus all the messiness.

Roles of the chief collaboration officer (which are not contingent or subject to change upon any condition):

  • Being a strong example of sharing real information with externals, consequently reducing the fear of “doing something wrong” by sharing information and specialty knowledge
  • Making collaboration agreements and deals that are not bound to procurement restrictions and unrealistic and suppressing contracts.
  • Translating the companies business model and market specialties into knowledge for outsiders to easily bring in new thoughts and applications.
  • Transferring outside thoughts to the internal world, ensuring that everyone within the company is on the same page and that there is a continuing culture of innovation.

Were a chief collaboration officer to step into the picture, those dealing primarily with the entrepreneurial side of future business models, and those working directly under the CEO with implementing the current business model effectively, would be able to come together.

Could collaboration be the linking factor big corporates need to leverage new innovative power? Let me know your thoughts, and let’s keep this conversation going. That is a taste of collaboration after all, isn’t it?

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