This is an extended version of an article that first appeared on Manchester Chamber’s blog.
‘Everybody keeps telling me I have to be innovative’, complained a business owner I was talking to the other day, ‘but innovation is such a lonely business.’
‘But who said you have to innovate by yourself?’, I replied.
In my experience, that’s not how innovation works best, and I’ll explain how business partners can help you in just a moment. But first, let’s put some structure on innovation.
The purpose of innovation is, of course, to be more competitive, to beat your competitors, to build value in your company. And there are three dimensions in which you can do that – product, process and customer.
I’ve written before about those dimensions in No Business Is Too Small for Strategic Thinking. You can try to excel in product leadership, or operational excellence, or customer intimacy. And you can try to be innovative in small incremental steps, or by introducing much more dramatic changes.
But coming up with something new means you need ‘a great idea’, and introducing it successfully means you need to be able to deal with the risk involved.
And that’s where partners can help. By partners, I mean those other businesses that you choose to collaborate with, either during your normal operations, or at a time when you set out to do something new.
I believe that most successful companies see themselves as part of an interconnected network, and put real effort into making their business alliances mutually beneficial. I wrote recently about how important it is to map out those alliances in a systematic way.
It’s in working with those partners that you get access to much greater creative resources than you’ve necessarily got in-house. Partners can…
- Stimulate your thinking about how you can radically improve your products, processes, and customer interactions.
- Highlight deficiencies that you might not be aware of.
- Provide parts of your innovative solution, so that you don’t have to do it all alone.
- Help introduce your innovation to the market, by providing additional channels, marketing or other support.
Thinking back to my own experience of partnering, and trying to stay ahead of competition, I’ve viewed innovation as a collaborative activity. As a result, I’ve got those ‘great ideas’ more quickly, and introduced them to the market much more successfully.
What has your experience of innovation been? Let me know in the comments.