If you want to truly grow your business, you need to invite people and companies to move forward. I recently wrote about why it is so important to reach out beyond our own four walls of our organizations to embrace open innovation in my weekly newspaper column. There are a lot of different approaches that companies take to explore and implement partnerships with those innovators who can bring a fresh new technology, product, service or skillset to the table:

Today, as many companies create their growth strategies and look for new opportunities for their products, services and even business models, they often require partnerships and alliances.

In their quest to change the basis of competition and deliver differentiated and meaningful innovation, companies have come to the realization that they need to leverage the capabilities and expertise of others.

Internally, companies have core competencies such as key technologies and skills, core brands and access to distribution channels. Partners can offer the complementary skills and capabilities that don’t exist internally in large part because they aren’t needed by the company on a regular basis.

Companies usually know what they need to execute their strategy. For example, they know they need to define the marketplace opportunities and gaps in unserved (or underserved) segments and expand into new geographies, markets, channels and categories. However, without the right partners to help, it often will not happen according to plan.

Successfully finding and engaging the right partners is not easy, but time and time again we see benefits from reaching out and creating outside relationships to deliver growth. If the relationships are appropriately structured and nurtured, they can often extend the capabilities of the company into new-to-the-company or new-to-the-world areas, increase speed to market with new technologies, products, services and business processes, and lower overall levels of risk.

Often when employees know that they have the flexibility to tap outside skills as necessary, a company that turns to open partnerships has the opportunity to create a more innovative culture — from the “outside in.” Good ideas may not be as easily discounted just because the internal knowledge or expertise doesn’t exist.

Companies just starting with this approach often need to enhance their capabilities to search and find business solutions defined in the context of their innovation efforts. It all begins with exploration. Exploration is the attempt to develop an initial, rough understanding of some phenomenon or some new opportunity areas where customers’ or consumers’ unmet or underserved needs may exist.

Outside explorers or scouts take a systematic approach to facilitate gathering information in the field. They may be either directed at a specific technological area or undirected, identifying relevant developments in technological “white spaces.”

Often, these explorers rely on formal and informal information sources, including the personal networks of the scouts themselves. They physically search for information, technologies, resources, etc. — looking for new opportunities and technologies to bring back to the organization.

Scouting is only one part of collaborative innovation, but it is an important first step to undertake. Leveraging the capabilities and expertise of others is very important opportunity today and a challenge that you will continue to hear more about in the future.

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