Quick takeaways if you’re in a hurry
- Small businesses are a naturally collaborative environment. Employees are required to work cross-functionally to achieve their company goals
- Bringing together different fields of expertise and ways of thinking has the potential to radical innovation
- Developing a collaborative culture will drive innovation and attract other businesses who want to collaborate with your brand for their own benefit.
Read on: Use Collaboration and Innovation to Stay Relevant
(estimated reading time: 6 minutes)
If you’re in business then to some extent you’re in the business of collaboration. That’s because none of us live and work in a bubble, so even if the influence is unintentional we are still being impacted by the work of our peers, our network and our competitors.
Taken to another level it could be said that collaboration is key to the success of business, because it is key to innovation. Here are a few aspects of collaboration and innovation that you can apply to your business.
Innovation is most fruitful when new ways of thinking combine with old, and when ideas react to create new solutions for old problems. Large companies who desire innovation often try to recreate the cross-functional thinking and collaboration that comes naturally to small businesses.
Small to medium sized businesses are a hotbed of collaboration and innovation. They have to be otherwise things wouldn’t get things done. Whether the core team of the business is one or 20, you’ll find an understanding of all aspects of the business is embedded in each team member. SMEs function as teams of people from different disciplines using their unique perspectives to work together and create solutions; based on ideas, respect and a new perspective.
Driving innovation through collaboration occurs when knowledge centres unite. This can happen internally, as already outlined, but it can also happen externally as well. Companies work in collaboration every day in order to ensure that they can function effectively as a business. For example service providers share expertise with businesses who require their input in order to improve their business or simply to function as a business.
In a similar way collaboration can drive innovation within a business, by drawing on the expertise of the companies that surround and support it, or in some cases by casting the net further afield. Consider the aircraft manufacturer that works collaboratively with the car and engine producer to ensure it has the best engine possible to power its fleet. Or the innovations that occur in a hive of shared open source material, where different minds and experts are invited to collaborate and vie to drive the innovation forward. In some senses collaboration is about seeking expertise which can be better used from an outside source than brought in house. Great minds think alike – so if you are looking for radical change then you need to find someone who thinks differently.
Stay focused on needs
Both internal and external collaboration yield the most innovative results if it is clear what they are trying to achieve. This result which is to be strived for is the fulfilment of a need, not the delivery of a product. In many ways this is where cross-industry collaboration yields its best results. Pre-defining the end solution limits the creative process, so by stripping back development to need fulfilment, it opens up opportunities to collaborate with other companies and industries that fulfil similar needs.
Radical innovation creates a step change in the environment and transforms industries. Radical innovation fulfils needs without being constrained by definitions of product and calls on external experts to find solutions to problems without being restricted by what happens now, or why things can’t happen now.
Start with the competition
Keeping an eye on the competition is key, and understanding the market in which you operate will allow you to evolve your product with incremental innovations so that you can protect your market share and maintain your margins. However if you’ve got your eyes on a greater prize then you should watch the competition to identify what they are not doing: to understand the customer need that is not being fulfilled and create a radical change in ways of doing business.
Draw on the expertise of those around you: truly innovative companies collaborate to leverage experts to the benefit of their own business. Working collaboratively internally and externally goes a long way to keeping the ideas of your business fresh, and embracing a culture of asking ‘how could we?’ as opposed to stating ‘we can’t because’. Seizing innovation will lead other businesses to seek out your company and invite you to collaborate with them.
No doubt the need you are fulfilling will lead to wider opportunities to grow customer value and work collaboratively across sectors and industries. Working collaboratively will allow your company to keep its ideas fresh so that you never stop questioning and challenging the way that you operate and the needs that you are fulfilling.
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