Maintaining an innovation network is easier said than done. With 150 scientific articles, 720 patents filed, and 80 startups founded every 30 minutes, even the most lavishly staffed innovation teams cannot parse this level of data.
Innovation in this kind of environment faces a distinct challenge: contemporary innovation requires a multidisciplinary approach to creating new products and the volume of potential opportunities has increased to a point where teams have difficulty differentiating viable opportunities from technological dead-ends or distractions.
In order to innovate effectively, innovation teams have focused on developing innovation networks that serve as an inbound means of bringing opportunities into organizations rather than attempting to ‘boil the ocean’ looking for new technologies.
Maintaining Core Competencies and Identifying Opportunities
The key to effectively sourcing and identifying opportunities is to have a clear goal and list of innovation objectives where innovation can align with and benefit the organization’s strategic goals. This helps by focusing innovation efforts on areas that would most benefit the organization and serves as a guardrail to prevent teams from wasting time and money on efforts - that even if successful - would not benefit the organization.
More importantly, focusing on innovation targets helps bring down the number of potential opportunities that an innovation team needs to sift through within any specific vertical, meaning that identifying new opportunities becomes a manageable and scalable process. This allows innovation teams to have better odds of identifying viable opportunities and more thoroughly evaluate the potential impact each opportunity may have.
Although the focus on core objectives may decrease the total volume of opportunities, there are still more opportunities than any single innovation team can evaluate. To this end, teams need advanced analytical tools that help scale the process by leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence to better contextualize information and enable a much more rigorous search framework. As such, the idea is that innovation teams can scale by optimizing their process and broadening their reach, rather than attempting to wade through an ever-growing list of potential opportunities relying solely upon brute force.
Identifying and Building Relationships
As innovation is a collaborative exercise, the best opportunities will oftentimes come through partnerships with complementary corporations, startups, universities, research labs, and other institutions that engage in research or operate within specific verticals.
These types of partners are particularly valuable, as they are both able to refer opportunities to innovation teams and qualify them for their potential usefulness, as they hold high-level domain expertise within their area of interest.
As we’ve written before, it is crucial that organizations build geographically and intellectually diverse networks, as they can bring in more lucrative opportunities. These opportunities can be developed by establishing research partnerships with local and international universities, professional events and conferences covering an organization's core research competencies, and by establishing links with university startup accelerators. Furthermore, with the use of search tools, organizations can diversify their search efforts by identifying new opportunities and relationships that would not appear viable at first glance.
A key component of sustaining these relationships is maintaining a central system of record for interactions, research opportunities, and previous engagements. This can help teams systematically keep in touch with key contacts and ensure that relationships can survive organizational turnover. As with any relationship, regular contact and touchpoints are key to the longevity of the relationship and to ensure that the relationship lines up with the strategic interests of the innovation team.
As organizational goals change, so should the composition of the innovation network, since the innovation network needs to tightly align with strategic interests in order to maximize its benefits. Hence, innovation networks are dynamic entities and not a static list of partner organizations.
In order to scale innovation programs, innovations need to establish and maintain these types of relationship networks, as they can bring opportunities that exist beyond the limits of publicly released information. More importantly, these networks can also identify potential opportunities before competitors hone in, ensuring the organization can engage with opportunities earlier in the cycle. A thoughtfully developed network serves as a force multiplier for an innovation team and can greatly expand the depth and reach of an organization.
Evaluating Potential Technologies
While there are a number of innovation processes and methodologies for evaluating opportunities, the most important part is to have a process. Innovation is not a one-off phenomenon but a repeatable process. Therefore, teams need a consistent approach to sourcing, evaluating, and implementing innovation opportunities.
This is especially important when working with geographically focused, decentralized teams, as the lack of continual oversight can cause drift in the process, and prevent opportunities from being measured to an objective standard. Typically, teams can benefit from software tools that enable a systematic approach to managing evaluations. Maintaining a centralized system of record can help innovation team members stay on track and ensure that process is followed, measured, and optimized. By creating a systematic process, teams can better hold themselves accountable to objective metrics. Transparency through metrics can benefit teams by creating buy-in at higher levels of the organization to ensure the continuation of the program.