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To Drive Innovation, Broaden Your Network

Charged with fostering innovation in your firm? Start by broadening your network and collaborating with unconventional partners.

Insights from a Systematic Review of the Research

If you’re charged with fostering innovation in your organization and looking for ways to get started, consider broadening your network and collaborating with unconventional partners. Research shows innovative companies look beyond their walls for inspiration and expertise.

Why Broaden Your Network?

  • Build out skills and knowledge your company doesn’t have in-house.

  • Identify emerging trends.

  • Reveal new markets or new technologies.

  • Strengthen your social license to operate (by engaging the community).

Find the Yin to Your Yang

You simply can’t have all the expertise in-house. One of the greatest benefits of collaborating with other organizations is the expansion of your company’s knowledge base.

Seek out collaborators who can tell you about desirable sustainability solutions, new market opportunities, and innovations that will or won’t work in your sector or region.

Find Experts Who Share Your Passion

Research shows companies that succeed in innovating are ones that collaborate with knowledge institutions (colleges and universities) and lead users (companies at the leading or bleeding edge). That being said, not all university professors and corporate rock stars necessarily share your interest in sustainability. Before partnering with external experts, ensure they understand and embrace your company’s sustainability focus.

If You Don’t Have the Skills, Buy ‘Em

Of course, one way to build your expertise and drive innovation is to acquire other companies. For example, to develop fuel cell technology, firms in the automotive sector have acquired smaller firms with the skills and expertise needed in the emerging field.

Embrace Co-Opetition

Rethink your competitors. In the textiles sector, a group of competing small businesses participating in a European Commission program invested in a single R&D project. They pooled financial resources and bought a pilot plant for testing production processes. Similarly, a group of furniture manufacturers in Canada worked together to create long-term hiring strategies, learn from each other’s mistakes (and successes), and share research and development.

Resource sharing is efficient, but the greatest benefit of these competitor collaborations is the knowledge sharing.

Who Could You Collaborate With?

Review the list of potential collaborators below. Consider who you’ve been working with forever – are you getting all the knowledge and expertise from those relationships that you could? Then consider who represents an untapped resource.

Potential Collaborators

  • regulators

  • suppliers

  • industrial or commercial customers

  • waste-disposal firms

  • recycling firms

  • competitors

  • trade associations

  • scientific institutions

  • trade unions

  • government agencies

  • lobby and special-interest groups

  • NGOs

  • members of the local community (and the wider public)

  • the media

“Broaden Your Network” is a Stage 2 innovation practice identified in NBS’s systematic review Innovating for Sustainability.

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