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Innovation Networks Explained

Innovation Networks ExplainedA large part of being a manger is solving problems. No matter how carefully you plan, or how excellent your team, there are always fires to be put out, and issues that no amount of head-scratching can resolve. So what to do? This week, Knowledge@Wharton spoke to Larry Huston, managing partner at consulting firm, 4INNO. Previously, Huston was a vice president at Proctor & Gamble, where he was charged with managing resources outside the company.

How did Huston handle the task? He developed an "innovation network," which he defines as "people, institutions and companies that are outside the firm... that companies can link up with to solve problems and find ideas" Many companies are utilizing them. Take GE for example:

GE will hold events in China, say, in their appliance industry, and they'll invite hundreds of suppliers in and say, "Here are our top problems. Can you solve them?"
There's a wealth of brains and creativity out there , but who wants to share their problems (or trade secrets) with the world? Huston acknowledges these issues but says there are ways to minimize the risks:
One way to handle that might be to not clearly state what the problem is that you're trying to solve. You don't talk about the end-product application, but you talk about the science problem you're trying to solve, and you don't even put your company name on it in some cases.... You do need to be careful in terms of what you share, so you need to have good practices... but with the proper precautions there's not really a problem.
If you're sold on the idea, you're in good company including GE and P&G, of course, but also Eli Lilly, Boeing, Microsoft and many others. But don't think innovation networks are only for huge organizations.
It's certainly something that small companies can do... there's a whole infrastructure of companies, some of them government-sponsored, to help you get in touch with companies out there at fairly low costs.
Check out the rest of the in-depth interview for tips on exactly how to go about setting up and managing an innovation network for your business.

(Image of innovation sign by miss_rogue, CC 2.0)

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