The growth of hyper-collaboration in an innovation-driven world

16 November 2017 6 min. read
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Over the past twenty years, many companies have embraced the opportunities offered by the concept of open innovation: using both internal and external ideas, resources and networks to improve innovation performance. Surveys by Arthur D. Little and others have found that at least 80% of companies believe that they are already benefiting from working with external innovation partners such as universities, suppliers, research institutes and start-ups.

However, there are strong reasons to suggest that in today’s and tomorrow’s business environments, established ways of working with the usual external innovation partners are no longer adequate. For many companies today, the overriding need for agility, responsiveness to rapid changes and disruptions, and faster speed to market means that large, in-house innovation teams are simply too slow. Many of the world’s greatest technological challenges and opportunities such as urbanisation and mobility, are impossible to solve without forming a vast network of private and public organisations working seamlessly together.

What does hyper-collaboration mean?

Hyper-collaboration is based on the fundamental belief that it is innovation ecosystems, not individual companies, which will deliver the novel solutions the world is waiting for. Hyper-collaboration means seeing ecosystems for what they are: not just candy stores full of opportunities, but fiercely competitive arenas in which companies fight for the best partners, technologies and networks to create, build and defend added value. It also implies adopting the mind-set that, until proven otherwise, someone somewhere has already figured out what works best, and that it is unlikely that this person works in your company.

Hyper-collaboration in autonomous driving

Originally the term “innovation ecosystem” was coined to describe networks of industrial, academic, funding and ancillary players sharing the same physical location or region, such as Silicon Valley. However, in today’s globalized business world an innovation ecosystem is no longer only region- or industry-specific. On the contrary, the most effective innovation ecosystems are often those that bring together diverse and complementary capabilities from across the global stage.

Hyper-collaboration in such ecosystems is typically characterized by a number of attributes:

  • Collaboration exists between “non-obvious” partners as well as universities, research institutes, customers and suppliers.
  • There are often dozens, potentially even hundreds, of collaborating partners, rather than just a handful.
  • Collaboration is often enabled by digital and other rapidly evolving technologies (such as cloud computing in biotechnology). Digital technologies may also enable “convergence” across industries to create truly novel solutions around particularly important and robust market needs.
  • There are multiple levels and means of collaboration, ranging from super-strategic alliances through to joint ventures and grass-roots “intrapreneurship.”
  • Players and relationships evolve rapidly. Start-ups mature, initiatives may fail and strategic interests will often diverge.
  • There is availability of (open-source) data and a culture of sharing information and intelligence within a fit-for-purpose IP framework.

Autonomous driving, which is set to transform mobility in a way that most would have seen as futuristic until recently, is one very visible area that shows all the attributes of hyper-collaboration (see figure above). Collaboration between a multitude of sectors appears to be the key to success: for example, the number of patents co-owned by different companies has more than tripled in the last three years versus 2011–2013. Simultaneously, the number of companies participating in partnerships has seen a sharp increase, likely spurring further collaboration in the future. Lastly, the companies that filed co-owned patents are active in a variety of both obvious and non-obvious sectors, with collaboration across all sectors.

How to manage hyper-collaboration effectively

Managing hyper-collaboration poses a number of challenges for companies. Merely being part of an innovation ecosystem does not automatically mean you are (or will ever be) capturing its full potential. Awareness and trust need to be built, alliances need to be forged, and standards need to be established. From our work with clients in ecosystem innovation, we have identified five pillars for effective, agile hyper-collaboration.

Companies looking to thrive and grow in this environment need to find new ways to master the innovation ecosystem. These should be based not just on working together with partners, but rather adopting a truly outside-in philosophy at all levels, including:

  • Establishing a clear vision and sense of purpose that is robust enough to deal with rapid changes
  • Developing a strategy that considers first how the ecosystem can maximize value, and then the part which should be yours
  • Maintaining an effective navigation system to monitor opportunities using the best digital tools available
  • Using the right techniques to engage and attract diverse partners, with clear IP frameworks that encourage win-win, and
  • Transforming the company mind-set towards true ecosystem thinking, rather than partnering.

Effective Hyper-Collaboration rests on five pillars

We deliberately use the word “pillars” here: they are not phases in a classic strategy development process, and there is not necessarily a dominant hierarchy between them. Smart ecosystem navigation may very well lead to adjustments to a company’s vision and strategy. Many start-ups learn from successes and failures in fulfillment to rearticulate the ecosystem in which they really belong. In fact, the concept of hyper-collaboration assumes an intrinsic ability of a company to deal with the world around it in a dynamic or even opportunistic way, while remaining in control and staying on course. This requires all five pillars to be increasingly robust, understood and accepted, internally and externally.

Innovation partners will not wait

Hyper-collaboration will not wholly displace “traditional” innovation, and it should not be seen as a new mantra for all companies. But is important to note that often the world’s most promising opportunities can only be targeted through this breakthrough form of collaboration, attracting the strongest companies and the best innovation partners. You need to act now to start the hyper-collaboration process, as these players will not wait for you – delaying risks missing out on future opportunities that could transform your business.

An article from Michaël Kolk, Rick Eagar, Charles Boulton and Carlos Mira, all advisors at management consultancy Arthur D. Little.