This year, a very interesting trend in collaborative innovation can be observed in Central Europe: The once distinct concepts of “Enterprise 2.0” and “Open Innovation” are merging. Firms are taking a holistic view on collaborative innovation and put the question about whether collaborative innovation should happen primarily within the firm’s walls or with externals out of the focus.

This trend became obvious in the regular workshops that we conduct with clients and business friends to share Best Practices and to discuss Emerging Practices. We started this series back in 2010 with an expert circle of Open Innovation practitioners. In 2011, more and more Enterprise 2.0 practitioners out of the professional networks of the expert circle participants joined. In the last workshop, we had a 50:50-split between “Open Innovators” and “Enterprise 2.0 people” – and from both angles, the key questions about how to conduct and implement collaborative innovation were discussed with great intensity – without any visible barriers between the two parties.

The roster of participating firms spanned a multitude of industries. So one could definitely say that the trends towards a holistic view on collaborative is not limited to a particular industry. Ín the last workshop, practitioners from BASF, Bayer, Beiersdorf, Continental, Deutsche Telekom, Evonik, Lufthansa, Merck, Osram, Otto Group, Robert Bosch, RWE, SAP and TUI participated.

Key issues in Collaborative Innovation

A first piece of insight may come out of the questions that this cross-industry panel of collaborative innovation experts discussed. Arranged in decreasing order of importance, these were:

  1. How should a project for implementing collaborative innovation be designed?
  2. What are Best Practices in Change Management?
  3. What are the characteristics of a business leader in the age of collaborative innovation?
  4. How should internal and external innovation networks / communities be managed?
  5. How should collaborative innovation be embedded into the firm’s structures and processes?
  6. How can the firm determine the optimal portfolio in collaborative approaches to innovation?
  7. How do firms increase the absorptive capacity to integrate external innovation impulses?

Answers to some of these questions are too complex and lengthy for this article. But for some of the questions, there seems to be a cross-company consensus on Best Practices.

Best Practices in implementing Collaborative Innovation

Starting with the first question, “How should a project for implementing collaborative innovation be designed?” there was consensus that there are four basic types on how an implementation project could be set up. Each type has its own set of key success factors and its own implementation logic. In practice, firms are using a mix of these four basic types – but one then needs to pay attention to a rather large set of key success factors. The four basic types are:

Basic type General assumption Focus of implementation project
“Shared infrastructure” Business units are driving collaborative innovation in their own interest and on their own initiative Provide platforms and tools for cross-divisional approaches to collaborative innovation and for sharing Best Practices
“Change in mindset” Business units have a clear idea about where they need to go with collaborative innovation but need help in mobilizing the workforce Work out Change Management tool-sets (to be used companywide)
“Enhance innovation” Business units do not care so much about “collaborative“ – They want hands-on improvement for actual innovation work Provide consulting for business units and build up a Center Of Excellence
“Organizational embedding” Business units are doing fine with innovation but search for cross-BU game changers should be intensified and corporate governance in collaborative innovation be established Organize search for game changers and new innovators, define structural changes and governance schemes


Leadership in implementing Collaborative Innovation

The third question, “What are the characteristics of a business leader in the age of collaborative innovation?” is also an interesting one. Some firms reported that this question is also discussed between business lines and the Human Resources department, since HR wants to integrate collaborative leadership in their personnel evaluation schemes. The practitioners boiled down the characteristics of a collaborative leader down to ten points: He / She …

  • Fully identifies with Open Innovation and consistently acts as internal change agent
  • Is driven by impact or results and not by “sticking to the rules”
  • Is curious or has a high interest in the periphery of his knowledge and in new approaches to solve known problems
  • Aims at innovating with the globally best
  • Drives thinking and acting in networks
  • Is a knowledge catalyst
  • Inspires the collaborative genius
  • Creates protected spaces for creativity and following new approaches
  • Has an integrative style of decision making
  • Uses virtual collaborative tools extensively while at the same time being a “hub” in personal networks

Best Practices in the process of acquiring external expertise

And finally, the practitioners had a great deal of consensus on how a Best Practice process for finding and integrating external knowledge should be shaped. This process is a key component in embedding collaborative innovation into the firm’s processes and in  increasing the absorptive capacity of the firm. The process has five process steps:

  • Want – Define in which fields external expertise adds value; Set up Briefings for individual topics within these fields; Decide to go externally or to search internally; Determine which open approach to innovation (e.g. joint development project, innovation cluster, … etc. More on this can be found in this in-depth article.
  • Find – Internal search; Positioning in the appropriate open approach to innovation; Refine Briefing
  • Get – Set up / use infrastructure (e.g. department involving legal and IP experts, financial controllers, standards for contracts, etc.) for win/win negotiations; Conduct win/win negotiations
  • Integrate – Internal Integration into current project work; Involvement of external innovator (e.g. conduct kick-off meeting)
  • Manage network – Position external innovator within the firm’s innovation networks; Manage relationship; Evaluate and refine positioning

As one can see there is a solid body of Best Practices emerging in collaborative innovation. The full book remains yet to be written but individual chapters already have a clear contour. Stay tuned for more insights that will come up in the next months. Feel free anytime to get in contact with the author to exchange views and experiences.

By Frank Mattes

About the author:

Frank Mattes has more than 15 years of experience in managing innovation, change management and projects. He has worked for several specialized medium-sized consulting companies and for The Boston Consulting Group. He also worked at C-level for an IT and a professional services firm. Frank founded and runs the innovation catalyst innovation-3. Frank is the author of several books and a contributing editor to InnovationManagement, the number one platform for innovation management practitioners.