Innovation through Global Collaboration: A New Source of Competitive Advantage
Executive Summary — Collaboration is becoming a new and important source of competitive advantage. No longer is the creation and pursuit of new ideas the bastion of large, central R&D departments within vertically integrated organizations. Instead, innovations are increasingly brought to the market by networks of firms, selected according to their comparative advantages, and operating in a coordinated manner. This paper reports on a study of the strategies and practices used by firms that achieve greater success in terms of business value in their collaborative innovation efforts. Key concepts include:
- Consider the strategic role of collaboration, organize effectively for collaboration, and make long-term investments to develop collaborative capabilities. Successful firms found that attention to these 3 critical areas generated new options to create value that competitors could not replicate.
- Successful firms went beyond simple wage arbitrage, asking global partners to contribute knowledge and skills to projects, with a focus on improving their top line. They redesigned their organizations to increase the effectiveness of these efforts.
- Managing collaboration the same way a firm handles the outsourcing of production is a flawed approach. Production and innovation are fundamentally different activities and have different objectives.
Many recent studies highlight the need to rethink the way we manage innovation. Traditional approaches, based on the assumption that the creation and pursuit of new ideas is best accomplished by a centralized and collocated R&D team, are rapidly becoming outdated. Instead, innovations are increasingly brought to the market by networks of firms, selected for their unique capabilities, and operating in a coordinated manner. This new model demands that firms develop different skills, in particular, the ability to collaborate with partners to achieve superior innovation performance. Yet despite this need, there is little guidance on how to develop or deploy this ability.
This article describes the results of a study to understand the strategies and practices used by firms that achieve greater success in their collaborative innovation efforts. We found many firms mistakenly applied an "outsourcing" mindset to collaboration efforts which, in turn, led to three critical errors: First, they focused solely on lower costs, failing to consider the broader strategic role of collaboration. Second, they didn't organize effectively for collaboration, believing that innovation could be managed much like production and partners treated like "suppliers." And third, they didn't invest in building collaborative capabilities, assuming that their existing people and processes were already equipped for the challenge. Successful firms, by contrast, developed an explicit strategy for collaboration and made organizational changes to aid performance in these efforts. Ultimately, these actions allowed them to identify and exploit new business opportunities. In sum, collaboration is becoming a new and important source of competitive advantage. We propose several frameworks to help firms develop and exploit this new ability.