We’ve all been there - the marketing department or customer service team comes panting into a meeting, anxious with news of frustrations related to your company’s products. Your internal product development and research teams have pondered possible solutions for these frustrations, but not reached any conclusions. In other cases, you just don’t have the resources to explore solutions for what seem like inconsequential issues.
Alternatively, perhaps you have an idea that could be groundbreaking for your company. However, you need to flesh out the details and understand what is possible with current technology, and what work still would need to be done to make the idea a reality. To what extent are there technologies available that could address the opportunity? What would it cost us?
Whether it is a marketing or customer service need, or a potential groundbreaking idea, the early stages of a project can be ill-defined and fuzzy. There can be a lot of inertia to kick-starting a project. In situations such as these, the problem is almost always a lack of sufficient knowledge or a clear and obvious path for moving forward.
In situations such as this, corporate innovation leaders commonly seek help from external sources to provide insights. These insights, if they are fine-tuned with the problems that you face, could be just what is needed to kick-starting a project. However, choosing the right external source to work with can be tricky. Who in the world may be able to help you find what you need to know to help you start moving a project along?
Traditionally, in situations such as these, corporate innovation leaders have turned to crowdsourcing or working with specialist companies. However, these approaches present challenges.
- When corporate innovation leaders make at least part of their challenge public and crowdsource ideas from all over the globe, you can have the most innovative people working to solve your challenge. However, there is often a lot of room for misinterpretation, and a lot of work needs to be done to swift through the crowdsourced solutions to find the needle in the haystack.
- When corporate innovation leaders work with specialist companies that may have expertise in the problem area, a great deal of effort is necessary to find and vet the right partner. These specialist companies also often bring with them biases and may not be aware of the landscape of possible solutions in other industries and parts of the world.
In the last few years, corporate innovation leaders have started turning to network-based advisory firms that provide many of the benefits of crowdsourcing and working with specialist companies, but with less of the drawbacks. These network-based advisory firms bring together resources, such as expert networks or simply the brute-force brains to think through problems.
There are three principal advantages with network-based advisory firms:
1- These firms can help you break down the challenge into smaller parts and map out a path to learning about an area over several iterations of working with them. This will ultimately allow for a joint exploration with the firm.
For instance, if a company that produces snacks comes to a network-based advisory firm looking to develop a sugar-free cookie, how can the challenge be split into a roadmap of smaller challenges that can be used to explore the problem area. First, the firm may use its resources to prepare a briefing covering natural sugar substitutes. On the second challenge, they may cover synthetic sugar substitutes, and the third, semi-synthetic substitutes. An angle that may not have occurred to the company is focusing on innovations that enhance the sweetness of certain ingredients or reduce the bitterness of others. Comprehensive reports of these smaller questions can help the company choose the best solution for their challenge and dynamically change routes, and the next question addressed, as new information is discovered.
2- Because these firms are network-based, the firms will often have a network of researchers and specialists across the world that can be employed to address your particular innovation challenge. The firm acts as an intermediary, vetting the individuals that are brought on to work on your project, and absorbing the overhead of managing them. The firm can work as an extension of your team: instead of hiring specialists for every area that you need expertise on, you can tap into the firm’s network of specialists - on demand.
3- Network-based advisory firms save valuable time and money for the client. Research can be extremely time consuming. Sifting through pages and pages of results from a Google search alone can take weeks – not to mention the time taken to search through journals and patent databases. Your teams should be busy building and testing products, not sitting behind computer screens looking for answers! That’s where network-based advisory firms come in. Research that would require months of work can be completed within weeks. Your team will be more productive, as much of the legwork of gathering the information necessary is done for them, and you.
These are the three main reasons for network-based advisory firms gaining popularity within the corporate innovation world, and why they may be the most efficient way to solve your corporate challenges. The next time the marketing department or customer service team comes panting into a meeting, or you have a potential groundbreaking idea, and don’t have the resources to address these needs, you may want to consider whether working with a network-based advisory firm could be the right approach for you.
About the Author: Dino Gane is the CEO at PreScouter, a research advisory firm that helps business leaders make better R&D, product development and corporate development decisions. PreScouter's growing list of 500+ clients includes GE Healthcare, Coca Cola, BAE Systems, Clorox, and Volvo.