Best Practices in Collaborative Innovation



FountainBlue’s October 7 VIP roundtable was on the topic of Best Practices in Collaborative Innovation. The executives in attendance at this month’s roundtable represented a wide range of industries, roles, functions and company sizes. Therefore, their perspectives on what it means to be innovative, what it takes to collaborate, how to remain relevant and provide value differed greatly, but they agreed on the following:

  • Innovation centers around having open, honest, transparent conversations between a wide range of stakeholders within and outside an organization.
  • Everyone sees innovation with a slightly different slant, and all have valid perspectives which could be integrated into solutions.
  • Everyone has a role in facilitating a culture of innovation, so that the best, the most diverse, the brightest want to remain and can succeed on their terms.
  • The pace of innovation is rapidly increasing, and convergences across teams, product lines, companies and industries will geometrically increase that pace of innovation.
  • Being aware of the larger business and technology trends will help tech leaders keep themselves and their products and companies relevant.

The collective advice of our executives is summarized below.

  • Choose to be nimble and agile, tech-philic and client-centric in order to stay relevant, and move the needle forward.
  • Collaborate with customers and partners to deliver a collection of custom and/or reusable solutions which may serve other purposes. Adopting this reverse-hackathon mindset means that you start with a specific problem and a specific customer in mind – a problem painful enough so that funding and resources are allocated to address the problem.
  • Talk about applications and use cases, not just the technology for its own sake, brilliant as it may be.
  • Create opportunities for being entrepreneurial within a big company, so that you get the stability and funding of the big company, and the new ideas for R&D and innovation.
  • Balance the big company and small company mindset when managing teams through integrations. You want to make sure the technology and engineers are cutting edge, but it must also fit within the processes and requirements of the larger company as well.
  • Embrace open source options where possible, engaging the larger ecosystem and community. With that said, make sure that there’s an appropriate business model for the product line and the company so that the solution is sustainable.
  • Engage in side projects beyond your normal day-to-day scope of work. 
  • Have an agile structure for moving projects forward, a model for engagement, for rapid adoption, for prioritizing for repositioning. This is true whether it applies to software development or marketing and business model creation.
  • Combine and connect solutions to develop seamless, integrated infrastructure layers and solutions which would build value.
  • Collaborate with researchers, other tech companies, customers, partners, manufacturers,  even competitors etc., Sometimes you’ll have awkward fre-nemy-like relationships, but finding a way to collaborate for that win-win could benefit all parties. With that said, use your best judgment on whom you can trust in the short term and in the long term, what to share when, etc.
  • Develop international partnerships to deliver solutions to different global markets. Or build the expertise in-house so that you have a vetted and valid strategy for approaching different markets with specific products and solutions. 
  • Build communities of practice to foster internal collaborations and vendor forums so outside vendors can connect and communicate.
  • Develop automations so that you can efficiently create, communicate and collaborate, within and across companies.
  • Allow customers to self-select their level of interest so that you can focus on the customers you can best support, and who has the most interest and funding for your solution.
  • Provide ‘air cover’ for your most promising engineers so that they can have the time and resources to innovate/seek that executive who could provide you with that air coverage so that you can innovate.
  • Beware of the leader who keeps talking about leadership without doing anything, the innovator who keeps talking about innovating without doing anything, who keeps espousing the merits of diversity without doing anything.
  • Reward failures.
  • Consciously and methodically create and capture value while you innovate collaboratively.
  • Facilitate open and honest dialogue, especially with people who don’t think and act like you do.
  • Pay it forward, give back, without the expectation of getting something in return.

There was overwhelming agreement amongst our execs: collaborative innovation must begin and end with the needs of the customer, and delivering to those needs in an agile, iterative, replicative, personalized way, leveraging hardware, software, data, mobile and cloud solutions.

Please join us in thanking our execs who generously shared their time and insights for this conversation and to our hosts at Cisco.



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