The best ideas come from unexpected places. Multiple studies and reports have detailed how a diversity of expertise and ideas is of particular value to innovation for R&D, where problems often remain unsolved because the same types of experts have used the same types of technical approaches for years on end.
According to Price Waterhouse Cooper’s Innovation Benchmark Report, the days of sequestered innovation activities are gone as R&D aligns with business strategy to drive growth and contain costs by “seeking the right mix of employees, customers, technology partners, and other contributors to push their thinking in novel directions, leading to innovative ideas and solutions.
“More-inclusive operating models, such as open innovation, design thinking, and co-creation with partners, customers and suppliers, are now all embraced ahead of traditional R&D, and by a wide margin—almost twice as many companies favor these models.”
This article looks behind the numbers into the story of co-innovation. The annals of invention are littered with tales of technology in one industry advancing products and services in completely separate industries through a brilliant and unexpected connection. Companies want to add their own chapters to that anthology because they know innovation is pivotal to growth and survival. But innovation is getting harder and harder to do alone.
It takes outside expertise and interdisciplinary diversity to make those connections and solve those problems. Today more than ever, diversity is key to a vibrant R&D department. In the age of digital disruption, it’s impossible to build an in-house team with expertise encompassing the full range of technologies that are coming online with increasing velocity.
But change breeds innovation, and innovation itself is being reinvented with a platform-enabled innovation network approach. External innovation partners offer R&D leaders new ways to fill gaps in capabilities and skills while harvesting fresh ideas from the brightest minds across all fields of innovation. It starts with access and ends with long-term relationships. Innovation is unlike a one-time fee-based consultative service. Innovation is a journey and it requires a long-term strategic partner with total buy-in to see it through.
The scientists, engineers, technologists, designers, and other innovative leaders populating the Xinova network amplify R&D while sharing the risk of advancing innovation. Their cumulative experience is unrivaled; their stories are as illuminating as they are inspiring. An audiologist used sound waves to safely contain a corrosive gas, solving a problem that had bedeviled materials scientists. A doctor of nutrition virtually eliminated spina bifida with research using the Department of Energy’s particle accelerator. A former DARPA engineer found that advanced robotics could solve one of the Holy Grails of food science: how to bind ingredients without sugar. An entrepreneur turned a coffee waste product into an environmentally sustainable superfood. An expert in computers and oil extraction figured out a way to slow polar ice melt.
Innovators see problems as opportunities. Their compulsion to solve problems is matched by their courage to explore uncharted frontiers. Unlike a pure scientist or engineer, innovators expand their thinking beyond proven approaches to solve problems prolifically. They thrill in discovering something new. They think about problems across disciplines and in multiple dimensions, breaking down the challenge into component parts to understand the larger context of technology, commerce, and society. Pure innovators are cut from a different cloth, and those with a proven track record are hard to find.
The Xinova network is home to 12,000 highly skilled innovators who live to solve problems. It’s an elite crew of engineers, scientists, and technologists comprising an impressive breadth of skills and expertise. And there are many other participants in the fields of design and entrepreneurship, legal and business leadership, marketing and sales, investing and finance, writers and artists, and so on. Not to mention they hail from over 100 different countries. The diversity of the network is what makes it so valuable to an R&D organization. Being able to tap into such diversity provides an amplification of the R&D department, not an incursion.
No single thing predicts a successful innovator. Even the greatest scientists and researchers struggle to make that inventive step from proven approaches to blue sky innovation. But where others throw up their hands, innovators run towards technical problems almost compulsively. They tinker with solutions for fun.
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