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Brain circuits

Five questions that can help you find the partners you need

Published 30 January 2023 in Brain circuits • 3 min read

For today’s exercise, start by asking yourself (and possibly your team members) this question:

Do our greatest innovations come from:

  1. Inside our company?
  2. Collaboration with an array of different external stakeholders?

If your answer was b, move on to the next section. If your answer was a, consider whether you have tried including people external to your company in your innovation processes. If not, it’s time for a fundamental shift in your mindset, and that should be your starting point. Closed innovation thinking needs to shift to thinking that embraces co-creation, based on a diversity of backgrounds and points of view.

One of the key benefits to changing your organization’s mindset to understand that you need to involve your whole ecosystem, and not just your internal players is that it shifts your culture from a “know it all” to a “learn it all” culture. This is the essence of a growth mindset.

Systems thinking is key

To solve complex problems in today’s world, organizations need a systems-thinking approach. If you recognize that you need collaboration with many varied stakeholders, you are in the right headspace. But then, there is a somewhat daunting question you must tackle: What are the connections within your organization’s ecosystem that you should be leveraging? How do you start collaborating with external players? How does this affect your company’s way of doing business?

To ensure you are ready to move outside your own ecosystem make sure you can answer these questions:

  1. What’s our purpose? To find the right partners you need to know what your unique selling point is – in other words, what you are doing and why you are doing it. This means it can’t just be a few players at the top who understand your overall purpose; it needs to encompass the whole organization.
  2. Who are your trusted partners? It is important to consider what trust looks like and how it is created. Have you laid the groundwork for there to be trust? Trust is essential to collaboration, and can be built only over time, through multiple interactions, underpinned by a clear and shared sense of purpose.
  3. Are you stuck on hierarchies? Everyone at the table must be equal for successful collaboration to happen. Focus on creating an environment that promotes equality among partners.
  4. Do your timelines match your potential partners’ timelines? It is essential to be able to work at the same rhythm. Startups and corporations often have very different timelines, for example.
  5. Do you have a common understanding of what success looks like? When trying to match culture and work for a common goal, it is necessary that everyone has the same view of what achieving those goals would look like. Have this conversation early.

Finally, if you are struggling to identify the right partner within your ecosystem, you might want to use a matchmaker, which are organizations that have risen to help match growing companies with similar interests.

Further reading: 

Breaking down the barriers to ecosystem collaboration by Louise Muhdi



Louise Muhdi

Louise Muhdi

Affiliate Professor of Innovation and Strategy at IMD

Louise Muhdi is Affiliate Professor of Innovation and Strategy. She helps organizations adapt to uncertain and fast-changing business environments, drive innovation and growth, and sustain value creation for the long term. She has an MSc in biology and a PhD in technology and innovation management from ETH Zürich, Switzerland. Prior to joining IMD in 2019, Muhdi was Head of Innovation Strategy and Portfolio for Global Science and Technology at Givaudan International where she developed the global innovation strategy and implemented multiple strategic initiatives to drive short, mid, and long-term growth. She also spent several years in the pharmaceutical industry.


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