Ecosystem innovation
by Michael Kolk, Rick Eagar, Charles Boulton, Carlos Mira
Issue 1, 2017
Technology & innovation management
The growth of hyper-collaboration in a fast-moving world

While companies have embraced the opportunities offered by the concept of open innovation over the past 20 years, the overriding need for agility and responsiveness means this is no longer adequate to meet future challenges. In this article, the authors explain why companies need to focus on hyper-collaboration, adopting truly outside-in philosophies at all levels, and work with wider ranges of partners with different capabilities, if they are to succeed in building agile ecosystems that drive real innovation

Over the past 20 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 they are already benefiting from working with external innovation partners, such as universities, suppliers, research institutes and start-ups.
So far so good. However, there are strong reasons to suggest that in today’s and tomorrow’s business environment, 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 urbanization and mobility, are impossible to solve without forming a vast network of private and public organizations working seamlessly together.
Additionally, there is growing evidence that breakthrough innovations are more likely when “less obvious” partners get together: even five years ago, who would have thought that Wells Fargo, a bank, would be developing new loan facilities to students together with Amazon, which was originally an e-commerce company? Or that John Deere, originally a manufacturer of agricultural machinery, would engage with Monsanto, an agrichemical company, to provide farmers with the data they need for precision farming?
So how can companies manage not just a few, but dozens, of such partnerships, many within unfamiliar industries? And what happens when the keys to success are held not by a few well-known companies or universities, but by start-ups that you don’t know and that are hidden amid thousands of others?
In this article, we argue that to address these current and future challenges, companies need to embrace “hyper-collaboration” if they are to truly be agile – not just working together with partners, but instead adopting a truly outside-in philosophy at all levels – and we highlight some practical approaches for making hypercollaboration work.