Innovation is an active and collaborative process. It often takes place in loosely-organised groups of businesses who gather to do a project, usually communicating using web tools. Much of the progress made, (with consequent innovations) happens when specialists from different businesses attempt to solve problems they find when they try to create a product from an idea (execution).
These collaborating businesses can combine detailed, production-specific design capability with manufacturing systems and facilities. They work closely with the overall project manager to ensure that the product or sub-assembly they are making will perform as intended, whilst fitting and working as smoothly as possible with other parts of the product. There are also contractual aspects of the relationship which need to ensure compatible process time, delivery dates and a suitable price structure.
If the organisation you work in is part of such a project group, if you want to be valuable to the project you will need at least two types of knowledge:
- mastery of your discipline
- knowledge of how to work collaboratively
Mastery of your Discipline
If you are the engineer for a project you must be confident in your ability to find and use materials within their capabilities, solve spatial problems and represent your findings in drawings and documentation which is readily understood and used by others project members. If you are an accountant or lawyer you need to ensure that each new design iteration is within your company’s capabilities and is profitable.
You must know how to use communication and collaboration tools to fully understand the challenges and opportunities for your company and then how to contribute ideas and solutions back to the project group. You must also know which of your company’s intellectual property (IP) can (and must) be released for the benefit of the project and which IP must be kept in-house to protect your company’s competitive position.
Communities of Practice – Mutual Assistance
Hopefully you will be a participant in specialist communities of practice related to your area of expertise, building relationships, trust and a reputation for specific expertise with fellow professionals. You will be donating your time (or your company’s time), your specialist expertise and maybe some company IP to help other companies to solve their operational problems. This offers you a great opportunity to keep an eye on what competitors or potential customers are doing, which you can report back to your manager. It also offers you and your company an incredible free resource of specialists who you can call on occasionally to solve technical problems in your own work.