Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2007

Innovation through Global Collaboration: A New Source of Competitive Advantage

by Alan MacCormack, Theodore Forbath, Peter Brooks and Patrick Kalaher

Abstract

Many recent studies highlight the need to rethink the way we manage innovation. Traditional approaches, based on the assumption that the creation and pursuit of new ideas is best accomplished by a centralized and collocated R&D team, are rapidly becoming outdated. Instead, innovations are increasingly brought to the market by networks of firms, selected for their unique capabilities, and operating in a coordinated manner. This new model demands that firms develop different skills, in particular, the ability to collaborate with partners to achieve superior innovation performance. Yet despite this need, there is little guidance on how to develop or deploy this ability. This article describes the results of a study to understand the strategies and practices used by firms that achieve greater success in their collaborative innovation efforts. We found many firms mistakenly applied an "outsourcing" mindset to collaboration efforts which, in turn, led to three critical errors: First, they focused solely on lower costs, failing to consider the broader strategic role of collaboration. Second, they didn't organize effectively for collaboration, believing that innovation could be managed much like production and partners treated like "suppliers." And third, they didn't invest in building collaborative capabilities, assuming that their existing people and processes were already equipped for the challenge. Successful firms, by contrast, developed an explicit strategy for collaboration and made organizational changes to aid performance in these efforts. Ultimately, these actions allowed them to identify and exploit new business opportunities. In sum, collaboration is becoming a new and important source of competitive advantage. We propose several frameworks to help firms develop and exploit this new ability.

Keywords: Collaborative Innovation and Invention; Groups and Teams; Research and Development; Performance Improvement; Management Practices and Processes; Partners and Partnerships; Competency and Skills; Framework; Competitive Advantage; Global Strategy; Opportunities; Cost;

Citation:

MacCormack, Alan, Theodore Forbath, Peter Brooks, and Patrick Kalaher. "Innovation through Global Collaboration: A New Source of Competitive Advantage." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 07-079, July 2007. (revised August 2007.)