“Innovation is not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” — Steve Jobs
Through 25 years at Microsoft, I gained invaluable insights on driving innovation through the power of partnerships.
However, it was during my tenure as head coach for Satya Nadella’s innovation team where I learned the most.
Leading this high-pressure effort to accelerate innovation, find new business models, and create breakthroughs in multiple industries made it abundantly clear that the power of partnership is crucial for driving innovation.
The impressive results we achieved in record time are a testament to the power of collaboration and leveraging shared resources.
Did everything go exactly as planned?
Not at all.
However, the experience provided an incredible learning opportunity to understand why certain partnership patterns work better than others and in what situations.
It also allowed for a quick understanding of what doesn’t work and why. This dynamic learning environment provided valuable insights that have contributed to future successes.
The Power of Partnerships in Driving Innovation
Partnering for innovation is a strategic approach that allows organizations to leverage shared resources, expertise, and funding to drive innovation and overcome hurdles.
In today’s rapidly changing business environment, leaders face complex challenges and opportunities that demand new approaches to innovation and growth.
One such approach is partnering for innovation, where organizations collaborate and leverage shared resources to create new solutions and unlock new opportunities.
By partnering with other organizations, leaders can gain access to new technologies, expertise, and funding, enabling them to develop innovative products and services that better meet the needs of their customers and society as a whole.
In this article, we will explore the power of collaboration and partnership in driving innovation and growth, and provide real-world examples of how leaders can overcome hurdles and drive success through partnerships.
4 Ways Leaders Can Leverage the Power of Partnership for Overcoming Hurdles and Driving Innovation
Leaders can leverage partnerships to overcome hurdles and challenges to drive innovation in a number of ways:
- Access to expertise for driving innovation: Partnerships can provide access to specialized knowledge and expertise that can help leaders identify and address key challenges in their innovation efforts. By collaborating with partners who have complementary skills and experience, leaders can develop more innovative and effective solutions.
- Shared resources for driving innovation: Partnerships can also provide access to shared resources and infrastructure, which can be particularly useful in areas like research and development. By pooling resources with partners, leaders can reduce costs, accelerate timelines, and achieve better results.
- Increased flexibility for driving innovation: Partnerships can also provide leaders with greater flexibility in their innovation efforts. By working with partners who have different perspectives and approaches, leaders can more easily adapt to changing market conditions and new challenges.
- Increased access to funding for driving innovation: Partnerships can also provide leaders with increased access to funding and other resources that can help support their innovation efforts. By collaborating with partners who have funding and investment expertise, leaders can secure the resources they need to develop and scale their innovations.
Overall, partnerships can be a powerful tool for leaders looking to overcome hurdles and challenges with innovation.
By working with the right partners, leaders can access new expertise and resources, achieve greater flexibility, and secure the funding and support they need to drive their innovation efforts forward.
Let’s walk through each of these in more detail to make it real and to get a sense of what’s required to make it happen…
1. Access to Expertise for Driving Innovation
Here are three concrete examples of how leaders can access expertise through partnerships to drive innovation:
- Partnering with academic institutions: Leaders can collaborate with universities and research institutions to access cutting-edge research and expertise. This can help them to stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends and technological developments, and gain insights that can inform their innovation strategies.
- Forming strategic alliances: Leaders can form strategic alliances with other companies in their industry or complementary industries to share resources, knowledge, and expertise. This can help them to pool their strengths and develop innovative solutions that neither company could have achieved on their own.
- Creating joint ventures: Leaders can create joint ventures with other companies to combine their resources and expertise in a specific area. Joint ventures can help leaders to achieve economies of scale, access new markets, and benefit from complementary strengths and expertise. This can be particularly useful when developing new products or entering new markets.
Example of Partnering with Academic Institutions
One real-world example of a company partnering with academic institutions is the collaboration between IBM and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to create the IBM-MIT Watson AI Lab.
The partnership brings together researchers and experts from both organizations to advance the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and develop new AI applications. The lab focuses on a range of AI research areas, including natural language processing, machine learning, and deep learning.
Through this collaboration, IBM gains access to the latest research in AI and can leverage the expertise of MIT researchers to advance its own AI initiatives. Meanwhile, MIT benefits from IBM’s resources and can apply its research to real-world problems and applications.
Example of Forming Strategic Alliances
One real-world example of forming strategic alliances is the partnership between Apple and Nike to create the Nike+ app for the Apple Watch. The app combines Nike’s expertise in fitness and sports with Apple’s hardware and software capabilities to create a seamless and integrated user experience.
The partnership has allowed both companies to benefit from each other’s strengths and expertise, with Nike bringing its expertise in fitness tracking and personalized coaching, and Apple providing the hardware and software infrastructure for the app.
The Nike+ app has been a popular feature for Apple Watch users, and has helped to solidify Apple’s position in the fitness and health tracking market. Meanwhile, the partnership has helped Nike to expand its reach into the wearables market and offer new and innovative products to its customers.
Example of Creating Joint Ventures
A real-world example of creating joint ventures is the partnership between Toyota and Mazda to build a new car manufacturing plant in the United States.
The two companies formed a joint venture called Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA to build a new plant in Huntsville, Alabama. The partnership combines Toyota’s expertise in manufacturing and lean production systems with Mazda’s strengths in design and engineering. The joint venture allows both companies to benefit from economies of scale, share resources, and access new markets.
Operations at the plant commenced on September 30, 2021 with the production of the Corolla Cross compact crossover SUV on the “Apollo” assembly line. On January 26, 2022, the “Discovery” assembly line began production of the Mazda CX-50 compact crossover SUV.
The new plant is expected to create up to 4,000 jobs and produce up to 300,000 vehicles per year.
By combining their strengths and expertise, Toyota and Mazda are able to achieve a level of success that neither company could have achieved on its own.
2. Shared resources for Driving Innovation
Here are three concrete examples of how leaders can use shared resources through partnerships to drive innovation:
- Shared workspace: Leaders can partner with other companies to share workspace, facilities, and equipment. For example, multiple startups can share a co-working space, which provides access to shared resources like high-speed internet, conference rooms, and office equipment. This helps to reduce costs and provides a collaborative environment for networking and sharing ideas.
- Shared R&D: Leaders can partner with other companies to share research and development (R&D) costs and expertise. For example, two pharmaceutical companies can partner to share the costs and expertise required to develop a new drug. This helps to reduce costs and speed up the development process by leveraging the strengths of both companies.
- Shared supply chain: Leaders can partner with other companies to share the costs and risks of managing a supply chain. For example, multiple companies can collaborate to share a logistics provider, which provides access to shared resources like transportation, warehousing, and distribution. This helps to reduce costs and improve efficiency by leveraging economies of scale.
Example of Shared Workspace
A real-world example of a shared workspace is WeWork, a company that provides co-working spaces for startups, freelancers, and other professionals.
WeWork provides shared resources like high-speed internet, conference rooms, office equipment, and a collaborative environment that enables networking and sharing of ideas.
This helps to reduce costs for startups and provides a flexible and creative workspace environment for professionals.
Despite the chaotic and tumultuous events depicted in the series, WeWork continues to exist as a company, albeit with new leadership, which comes as no surprise given the disastrous business decision-making that was portrayed in the show.
Example of Shared R&D
A real-world example of shared R&D is the collaboration between BMW and Toyota to develop fuel cell vehicle technology. The two companies agreed to work together in 2013, sharing expertise and resources to accelerate the development of this technology.
This collaboration allowed both companies to share the high costs associated with fuel cell vehicle development, and also allowed for the exchange of ideas and expertise to create a better end product.
The result of this partnership was the development of the Toyota Mirai and the BMW i Hydrogen NEXT, both of which use fuel cell technology.
Example of a Shared Supply Chain
A real-world example of a shared supply chain is the partnership between Apple and Foxconn, a major electronics manufacturer based in Taiwan.
Foxconn provides Apple with manufacturing and assembly services for a range of products, including iPhones, iPads, and Macs.
The two companies have a close relationship, with Apple relying on Foxconn to ensure that it has a steady supply of components, while Foxconn benefits from the large volume of business that Apple provides.
This partnership allows Apple to maintain a streamlined supply chain that can handle the high demand for its products, while Foxconn can maintain a stable revenue stream through its ongoing partnership with Apple.
3. Increased Flexibility for Driving Innovation
Here are three concrete examples of how leaders can use shared resources through partnerships to drive innovation:
- Collaborative Research and Development: One way leaders can drive innovation is by partnering with other organizations to conduct collaborative research and development (R&D) projects. By pooling resources and expertise, organizations can tackle complex challenges and create new solutions that may not have been possible individually. For example, pharmaceutical companies often collaborate with academic institutions to develop new drugs or medical treatments.
- Open Innovation Platforms: Another way leaders can drive innovation is by creating open innovation platforms that allow individuals or organizations to share ideas, insights, and resources. These platforms can foster collaboration and encourage the development of new products or services. For example, the open-source software movement has enabled individuals and companies to collaborate on the development of software programs and applications.
- Shared Infrastructure and Facilities: Finally, leaders can drive innovation by sharing infrastructure and facilities with other organizations. This can include sharing physical spaces, such as labs, workshops, or manufacturing facilities, as well as digital infrastructure, such as cloud computing services. By sharing resources, organizations can reduce costs and increase efficiency, while also gaining access to new technologies and expertise. For example, some coworking spaces provide shared office space and resources for startups and entrepreneurs to collaborate and innovate.
Example of Collaborative Research and Development
A real-world example of Collaborative Research and Development is the partnership between Apple Inc. and the French company, Schneider Electric.
In 2020, Apple and Schneider Electric announced a collaboration to build a digital collaboration platform, aimed at improving energy efficiency in buildings.
As part of this collaboration, Apple’s operating system, iOS, was integrated with Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure platform, which provides building management solutions.
The integration of these two systems allowed for seamless data exchange and monitoring of building energy usage, which helped identify areas for improvement in energy efficiency.
This collaboration leveraged the expertise of both companies to create a more effective solution to improve energy efficiency in buildings. It’s a great example of how organizations can pool their resources and expertise to tackle complex challenges and create innovative solutions that may not have been possible individually.
Example of Open Innovation Platforms
One real-world example of an Open Innovation Platform is the Lego Ideas website. Lego Ideas is an online platform that allows Lego fans to submit their own original ideas for new Lego sets.
Other Lego fans can then vote on the ideas they like best, and if an idea receives enough support, it may be selected by Lego for production and sale as a new Lego set.
Through this platform, Lego has been able to tap into the creativity and expertise of its customers, allowing them to contribute to the innovation process.
The platform has also enabled Lego to develop new products that are highly appealing to its target audience, as they are created based on the input of the Lego community.
Lego Ideas is an excellent example of how open innovation platforms can enable organizations to collaborate with their customers and other stakeholders, fostering innovation and helping to create products that better meet the needs and desires of their target audience.
4. Increased Access to Funding for Driving Innovation
Here are three real examples of increased access to funding through partnerships:
- Industry partnerships: Many companies form partnerships with other organizations within their industry to access funding and resources. For example, the MIT Industrial Liaison Program helps connect companies with MIT researchers and faculty to develop new technologies and innovations. This program has helped secure more than $1.4 billion in industry-sponsored research at MIT.
- Strategic partnerships: Companies can also form strategic partnerships with other organizations to access funding and resources. For example, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) partners with pharmaceutical companies to develop new medical countermeasures for public health threats. This partnership has provided significant funding to help develop new treatments and vaccines for diseases like Ebola and Zika.
- Public-private partnerships: Many government agencies partner with private companies to fund research and development efforts. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) partners with private companies to develop new clean energy technologies. These partnerships have helped secure millions of dollars in funding to support innovative projects in areas like energy storage and renewable energy.
Example Industry Partnership
A real-world example of how increased access to funding through partnerships can drive innovation is the partnership between Google and venture capital firm, Sequoia Capital, to create a startup accelerator program called Surge.
Surge provides early-stage startups in India and Southeast Asia with access to funding, mentorship, and other resources needed to grow their businesses.
The program is jointly funded by Google and Sequoia Capital, and it aims to help startups that are working on innovative solutions to important problems in the region.
Through this partnership, startups are able to access the resources and expertise of both Google and Sequoia Capital, which includes funding, mentorship, and access to Google’s technology and services.
This partnership has helped many startups in the region to get the support they need to grow and scale their businesses, which in turn has led to the development of new products and services, and the creation of new jobs.
The Surge program is an excellent example of how increased access to funding through partnerships can drive innovation, by enabling startups to access the resources and support they need to turn their ideas into reality, and create new solutions that can benefit society.
Example Strategic Partnership
One real-world example of a strategic partnership through increased access to funding is the partnership between the ride-hailing company, Uber, and the Japanese conglomerate, SoftBank, to develop and commercialize autonomous vehicles.
In 2018, SoftBank invested $2.25 billion in Uber’s self-driving car unit, Uber Advanced Technologies Group (Uber ATG), as part of a broader partnership to accelerate the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles.
The investment gave Uber ATG increased access to funding, which allowed the company to scale up its operations and expand its research and development efforts.
Through this strategic partnership, Uber ATG was able to leverage SoftBank’s expertise in artificial intelligence and robotics, as well as its significant financial resources, to advance the development of autonomous vehicles.
The partnership also provided SoftBank with an opportunity to invest in a leading player in the ride-hailing industry and gain exposure to the emerging autonomous vehicle market.
The partnership between Uber and SoftBank is an excellent example of how increased access to funding through strategic partnerships can drive innovation and enable companies to develop and commercialize new technologies that have the potential to transform industries and improve people’s lives.
Example Public-Private Partnership
One real-world example of a public-private partnership is the partnership between NASA and SpaceX to develop commercial space transportation services.
In 2014, NASA awarded a $2.6 billion contract to SpaceX to develop a spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
The partnership allowed SpaceX to leverage NASA’s expertise in space technology and research, as well as gain access to NASA’s funding and resources.
Through this partnership, SpaceX was able to develop the Crew Dragon spacecraft, which successfully completed its first manned mission to the ISS in 2020.
The partnership also enabled NASA to reduce its dependence on Russian spacecraft for transporting astronauts to the ISS, and to foster the development of a commercial space transportation industry in the United States.
The partnership between NASA and SpaceX is an excellent example of how public-private partnerships can drive innovation and create significant positive impact in society.
By partnering with private companies, public entities like NASA can leverage the expertise and resources of the private sector to achieve their missions more efficiently, while private companies like SpaceX can gain access to new markets and funding sources.
Bonus Idea: Driving Innovation Partnerships with Mock Press Releases
One creative approach that I have found particularly effective is the use of mock press releases to explore potential collaborations and their benefits.
By simulating a press release, organizations can experiment with new partnership models and assess their impact, identify new opportunities for growth, and engage stakeholders in the process.
This approach can lead to a deeper understanding of the potential benefits of partnerships and enable organizations to make more informed decisions about their strategic priorities.
Through my experience and insights gained from working through multiple partnerships, I have seen firsthand how this powerful tool can drive innovation and growth in exciting and impactful ways.
Embracing Collaboration and Partnership: The Key to Driving Innovation and Growth
Partnering for innovation can help leaders overcome hurdles and drive growth in a rapidly changing business environment.
By collaborating with other organizations and leveraging shared resources, leaders can gain access to new technologies, expertise, and funding, enabling them to develop innovative products and services that better meet the needs of their customers and society as a whole.
Through collaborations such as collaborative research and development, open innovation platforms, and public-private partnerships, organizations can combine their strengths and capabilities to create new solutions and unlock new opportunities for growth.
These partnerships can also help organizations to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and achieve their missions more effectively.
As the pace of change continues to accelerate, it is becoming increasingly important for leaders to embrace collaboration and partnership as a strategic approach to driving innovation and growth.
The success stories of various partnerships illustrate the value of partnership and collaboration, and showcase the power of partnerships in solving complex challenges, driving innovation, and creating positive impact.
Call to Action
As a leader, it’s time to take action and seek out opportunities for collaboration and partnership.
By leveraging shared resources and expertise, you can drive innovation, overcome hurdles, and achieve new levels of growth.
Be open to exploring new types of partnerships, building strong relationships, and taking calculated risks.
Work together to create new solutions and unlock new opportunities for our organizations and society.
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