Today, I want to focus on this last issue - the idea of creating an innovation network. If Proctor and Gamble, one of the leading consumer products firms, believes its scientists and research labs are insufficient to generate enough ideas to keep its products current, how can any firm believe that its internal knowledge and resources alone will generate enough ideas to even become slightly more innovative? Compounding this fact is the reality that thousands of organizations are generating lots of information, market research and other data that identify opportunities waiting to be exploited. How many of you reading this have an active relationship with at least one research university, funding new research and reviewing new discoveries?
The challenge any firm faces is how many other partners should be in its network and what its expectations are of the network. The first is difficult to answer - depends on the complexity of the problem and the potential solution. The second is easy to answer - an innovation network should provide your firm with a significant number of new concepts, new ideas and new technologies, but not a new product or service. The goal of your organization should be to constantly review what's happening in the network and draw conclusions or create new product and service ideas from these new inputs. Don't get me wrong, it's entirely possible that a university, a research partner, an industry consortia may have something you can simply pluck and deploy as a new product or service, but I think the greater value add is in the aggregation of thinking and ideas across these inputs that will change the way your team perceives opportunity and the sources for inspiration.
Conferences, trade shows, industry groups, peer networking groups and other organizations offer many opportunities to gain a new perspective on the innovation space and may help your team connect two dots that seemed unconnectable before. The investment in building an innovation capability is as important on the outside - in building and sustaining a network - as it is on the inside.