Fostering business innovation with digital collaboration

eXo Platform Blog

Innovation is what separates business leaders from second place holders. The level to which it is embraced is what makes or breaks companies. Compare Apple with Nokia for instance—countless research papers have been written on the Apple vs Nokia war, some focusing on phones, others on developer ecosystems, and the list goes on. But in a nutshell, Apple won because it was just better at innovation.


However, innovation is one of those things that money can’t buy (with the exception of acquiring an already innovative company). Big companies are not big innovators, as a number of studies show. For instance, an interesting US government report studied 1,279 technology companies having filed patents over a select period of time, which provides one of the only available statistical measurements of innovation on a large scale. The report found that while 42% of companies in the sample are small (i.e. having less than 500 employees), 57% of their patents belonged to emerging technologies and are referred to by other patents, against 10% for bigger companies. If you add to this discovery the patent-per-employee ratio and the fact that smaller companies have less money to invest on innovation and on patent filing, cheer company size clearly appears to play against innovation.

So how can your company be successful at innovation? And what might digital collaboration have to do with it?

Innovation, and in particular innovation in business, appears to happen more so under certain conditions that you can favor.

Innovation is an incremental process not a magic trick

The legend of Isaac Newton and his apple or Archimedes and his bath are so popularized that we tend to think about innovation as magical inspiration seemingly appearing out of nowhere. In truth, most innovations happen over time through small incremental changes to existing technologies and processes. The internet is probably one of the most significant innovations of the last century. But do you know who invented it? Probably not, because there is no definitive answer to that question. A number of people pushed forward with some innovative steps until the sum of all those steps became the significant innovation known as the internet.

Innovation often results from a meeting of two unrelated fields

Applying a method used to solve one problem in one field to a completely different problem in an unrelated field often results in significant innovation. One of the relatively recent examples of this would be the invention of Google search. Most people today believe that Google invented web search. In fact, a number of search engines had already existed before Google came into the scene. What google did differently however was to apply a citation notation—a concept popular within academic circles for ranking research articles—to web search using web links as citations.

Business Innovation is often triggered by a problem

In business, innovation is often driven by people finding a creative solution to a real problem and then productizing it. For instance, email was originally invented in order to be able to send a letter quicker than by post without having to wait several days to be able to read it.

The question is then how can you promote the above conditions within your workplace? That’s where digital collaboration comes into play.

Digital collaboration maximizes touch-points between unrelated fields

As modern work becomes more and more complex, workers increasingly specialize in narrow areas of expertise. With the availability of modern means of communication, companies also become more geographically distributed. As a result, workers get very little chance to interact with colleagues from other departments or offices let alone work with them.

What digital collaboration does is allow people to interact, work together and collaborate remotely, cross-departmentally and cross-geographically. This in turn maximizes the chance of productive intersections between their different lines of activity.

Increase communications reach with out-of-the-box solutions

Thanks to the digital collaboration platforms accessible to companies today, an employee facing a challenge can ask for input from a larger network of coworkers by space of expertise or even the whole company if needed, thus maximizing the chances that a creative solution might be found.

Identify the best ideas so you can turn them into innovations

A creative idea is not enough to drive innovation and generate value to the company. The idea needs to get enough traction within the company in order to become something tangible such as a new product, a new process to adopt or a new R&D direction to take. Successful digital collaboration solutions allow organizations to naturally crowdsource and select the best ideas and convert them into profitable innovations.

Build an innovative corporate culture

Corporate culture can be a big barrier to innovation. In a siloed corporate world, where the only possible appreciation lies in the hands of your direct manager, where you have no access to information outside of your immediate circle and where taking risks is not encouraged, innovation cannot happen.

Digital collaboration is proving to be an effective way to provide an impulse of positive change to your corporate culture by freeing your information flows, connecting your workforce and allowing the open recognition of productive behavior to take place.

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I am eXo’s chief operating officer, ultimately responsible for all operations ensuring client acquisition and success. In this blog, I write about modern workplaces and their benefits to organisations and their people. Occasionally, I also blog about my personal areas of interest, such as communication, personal development, work–life balance, sustainability and gender equality.

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