Networks and Innovation

December 3, 2007

The evidence is mounting. Net work (creating and sustaining networks across internal and external boundaries. The latest research from Harvard Business School, Best Practices of Global Innovators summarizes, in the from of an interview with Alan MacCormack the drivers in the trend of networked partnerships:

  • The complexity of products and the sheer impossibility of a single company or enterprise maintaining all the needed skills in house
  • The availability of lower-cost labor in developing areas of the world
  • Advances in development tools and infrastructure that support virtual work and global collaboration

He goes on to to suggest that success in partnering is more likely when there is a mindset shift, that is to think about building a partnership not just to lower costs, but to develop non-transactional relationships. In other words, to develop a mindset in the organization that is conducive to emergence. In Net Work, I described how networks tend to be oriented either toward outcome or discovery. What I understand now is that this is not an either/or choice. It’s a pair of forces that must remain in balance. The organization must be open to emergence.

MacCormack’s research also indicates that there are three critical success factors in adopting this new mindset: a strategy, organizational design, and the building of collaborative capacity. For the last of these three, he recommends investment in developing the skill sets required for collaborative, distributed work. This includes staffing for diversity of skills, but would also, I hope, include the focused support to teach people how to create and manage their personal networks. (See Rob Cross’s work on this topic. II believe that it makes no sense to assembling partnerships without providing the opportunity for personal transformation of the people who do the work, learning, and innovation.

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