No matter who you are, not all of the smart people work for you. So tapping into the smart people outside of your organisation ought to be a no brainer, but in reality it often isn’t. Interestingly the biggest challenge of external collaboration is often internal, so in this article we describe the most common hurdles to collaboration and what you can do to avoid them.
In our experience finding the smart people or organisations to work with is the easy bit. What’s often much harder is the time and effort involved to persuade, cajole, tempt or force your colleagues to a) prioritise innovation and b) to partner externally. This is often true in spite of strategic support from senior managers who perhaps have given permission but not necessarily removed some of the most common internal barriers to open innovation described below.
1. Not Invented Here
Firstly there is the ‘not invented here’ syndrome which arises in all organisations. It is an intrinsic phenomenon that appears to arise from our desire to connect with others. This means that over time we trust and value our peers over others, and so isn’t per se a bad thing. However ‘not invented here’ often becomes more powerful the bigger the organisation if it is left unchecked. So step one to embracing open innovation is simply acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers, and perhaps celebrating ideas or opportunities which are ‘proudly found elsewhere’. But this is not as easy as it sounds.
2. The Fringe of the Fringe
Secondly, innovation always means disrupting or evolving the status quo in some shape or form, and therefore is by definition is not core business. Therefore the fringe pursuit of innovation always presents a credibility challenge. And when it comes to open innovation, this credibility gap is even bigger. It’s the fringe of the fringe, so you have to work twice as hard to make the case for doing something different. So the trick is to work hard to both inspire your colleagues about new opportunities that arise through collaboration (preferably through a successful case study or pilot), or possibly scaring them about emerging threats that can come from leftfield unless we work differently.
3. The Illusion of Something for Nothing
Finally, a common misconception about open innovation is that it’s about getting something for nothing. Whilst your partners may give you some things for free – insights, needs, resources, networks – you can only really take these once. After which they won’t be as willing to share next time around. So if you profit from your partners without acknowledging or incentivising their contribution, you’ll quickly pick up the reputation for being a bad collaborator, which has all kinds of negative consequences downstream. So it’s important to work hard to be generous in return, and to build trust and a reputation for acknowledging and proactively supporting others. If you do then the benefits will accrue with time.
At it’s best, open innovation is about working better, cheaper and faster, but that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily easy or free. It requires a new way of working internally and overcoming some common hurdles. We are finding that the most successful open innovators work just as hard, if not even harder, to network within their organisations to find the right people to be able to make it happen once they’ve sourced an external partner.
Tools like social media can be a wonderful shortcut into organisations bypassing existing channels or opening up entirely new channels of communication that didn’t exist previously. Finding opportunities to be generous with your colleagues early can pay big dividends downstream. And don’t wait until you really need it to build a large, diverse and trusted network internally and externally before you really need it. It’s the only thing that really matters.
It’s important to watch out for and tackle head on the three main collaboration hurdles. Firstly the not invented here syndrome that pervades all organisations. Then you need to bridge the credibility gap that exists with any attempt at open innovation which is quite literally the fringe of the fringe of any organisation. And finally avoid the perception and temptation to get something for nothing. It might be possible once, but never again.
By being more aware of these three hurdles, and how to overcome them, you can collaborate with all of the smart people, wherever they are.
To learn more about how to innovate better together, please join us for Interplay in London on May 24th, a one day event where a wide range of businesses are invited to bring their most pressing problems and solve them together through effective collaboration.