The missing innovation ingredient

Rob SheltonAuthor: Rob Shelton, Global Innovation Strategy Lead

Many companies have put in place the basic elements for successful innovation but lack one essential ingredient —collaboration. From our work with leaders and laggards, we know that companies stumble and fail to capture the benefits of collaboration for several reasons. Laggards use a traditional approach to partnering that is too slow and bureaucratic, and has an unattractive balance of risk-sharing. They lack a robust collaboration ecosystem because they rely on a narrow base or the wrong external partners. Laggards also fail to build their partnership capabilities. They assume effective collaboration just happens – and that’s definitely not true.

Leaders measure and provide incentives for collaboration and ensure their teams have best-practice approaches. I’ve heard more than one CEO say effective collaboration is key to successful, high-growth innovation.

So, how do leaders create high-octane collaboration? First, they make innovation a core competency.  Inside the company, innovation teams are cross-functional and interdisciplinary. This maximises the effectiveness of the resident talent. In addition, they use the right technologies to foster effective exchange. This includes enterprise social networking solutions for internal collaboration and public social media platforms for connecting with consumers and developing powerful insights.

Innovation leaders go a step further. They also ensure that the internal team collaborates with external partners to capture the lion’s share of the billion IQ points that exist outside of the company. And this happens across a broad spectrum of partnerships. PwC’s Global Innovation Survey 2013 shows that innovation leaders collaborate significantly more with an ecosystem of strategic partners, customers, suppliers and academics. In new business environments, they may even collaborate with competitors from other arenas.  PwC’s 17th Annual Global CEO Survey makes it clear that collaboration and strategic alliances are top-of-mind in the C-suite as they strive for greater growth.

CEOs are overhauling their strategies for partnering
Leaders have one more way to up the octane and deliver above-average growth.  They become the Partner of Choice in the external partner ecosystem. This allows them to become the strongest magnet for great ideas from suppliers, customers, consultants and other ecosystem partners. Partners preferentially bring ideas to the Partner of Choice because they believe the ideas will come to fruition. And they trust the Partner of Choice to deal fairly with partners.

As a result, the Partner of Choice has preferential access to partners for development, commercialisation and scaling. This yields faster, cheaper and better innovations, which drive above-average growth.  And it bedevils competitors because they can’t easily match or neutralise such significant competitive advantages.

Ask yourself: how effective is your innovation collaboration?  Is your innovation engine running on high-octane partnerships? Innovation leaders know that effective exchange of ideas, knowledge and resources— inside and outside the corporate campus—is the fuel that drives the innovation and growth engine.


Rob Shelton is PwC’s global leader for innovation strategy. He specialises in integrating breakthrough and incremental innovation—new business models and new technologies—into an organisation's strategy and operations to drive profitable growth.


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