NIU Business student team

As we work with leaders across industries, we hear a strong focus on diversity as a way of encouraging innovation from many sources. Open innovation and strategic partnering are two proven ways to add to diversity in your organization.

Open innovation, a concept that was formalized at an academic level by University of Cal-Berkeley professor Henry Chesbrough in 2003, encourages and solicits ideas from outside an organization in a systematic way. Ideas and capabilities are received from suppliers, vendors, universities, existing partners, and yes, even individual inventors or entrepreneurs. Experience has shown that the commitment to collaborate can help better define the marketplace opportunities and gaps in unserved (or underserved) segments and expand into new geographies, markets, channels and categories.

Strategic partnering, or successfully finding and engaging the right partners, is not easy, but time and time again we see benefits from reaching out and creating collaborative 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.

One of the most important elements of a company’s successful innovation and growth strategy is its people. Your team members’ and partners’ different backgrounds, experiences, attitudes, personalities and ways of thinking are often the most critical factors in creating a dynamic culture, developing a robust knowledge bank and spurring innovative thinking.

More global organizations are learning that in order to create a competitive advantage, they have to make sure their people are working and relating to peers and customers effectively. Embracing diversity and leveraging “soft skills” or people skills are important components of a progressive organization and an innovative culture.

One challenge many of leaders are facing is that their team members are more comfortable working within their often closed innovation environment with their current network of suppliers and academic connections. These leaders need to find ways to encourage their research development and engineering departments to seek ideas from outside and actively explore strategic partnerships and minimize their fears about job security.

Organizations and leaders need to be aware of events and systems that silently shut down innovation by leaving innovators feeling skeptical, estranged, distrustful, or upset with the organization. “Breaking the will to share” or the loss of trust is a silent killer of innovation.

Employees or other participants in the innovation community simply go through the motions and look like they are on board, driving innovation, when in fact they may have undetectably become disinterested. In many cases, they hold back or save their best ideas for another opportunity.

“Not Invented Here” syndrome is one of the most common barriers facing innovators and it occurs at many levels. It can be an organizational or process issue, but often it is a behavior issue such as an individual’s unhealthy human pride. While “innovation” remains the mantra, only familiar kinds of innovation from insiders or trusted allies are welcome. Communicating and demonstrating open innovation’s ability to ease the workload by providing a diversity of ideas and perspectives to specific problems and challenges can help overcome fears and concerns.

Recognize and reward team members for embracing open innovation, collaborating and sharing their ideas and solutions and you will start to see a diversity of sources start to contribute to your innovation pipeline.

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