How to Collaborate for Innovation

Our future work economy will reward strategic thinkers who are quick to innovate, cognizant of current and future technology trends, and most importantly, can collaborate with other visionaries. Innovation happens through collaboration. It turns ideas to results, speeds up iterations, provides significant support, and leads to powerful connections.

A recent Nielsen study examined the impact of collaboration in the development stage of innovation. It showed ideas developed by teams of three or more people have 156% greater appeal with consumers than those developed by just one or two people who played a hands-on role.

Technological advances such as smart devices, big data analytics, and the Internet of Things continue to drive rapid business innovation and transform industries. Successful innovators will thrive in the future landscape by developing highly collaborative relationships that leverage the power of teams.

Here are my tips for collaborating during the innovation process:

Create a diverse team. It’s important to know what’s in your toolbox, and what tools you still need. Enabling cross-functional collaboration leads to a better concept performance. It also brings together people from a variation of roles, backgrounds, and approaches. With diverse expertise, you’ll receive more useful input and feedback, and a better product or service in the end.

Collaboration doesn’t have to be limited to stakeholders either. Partners, customers, and other external stakeholders can serve as a great source for ideas and inspiration.

At HP, we invest time and resources into finding ways to enable cross-functional collaboration and facilitate innovation. Recently, our HP Labs team collaborated with Hewlett Packard Labs, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore to demonstrate a path towards “Physical Computing”. Ning Ge, an HP Labs Master Technologist, and Helen Holder, who leads Emerging Compute Lab nano-scale research, worked with their team to research a new generation of energy efficient, low cost electronic devices that could enable vast sensor networks used as the basis for ambient computing.

Build relationships. Connect with your collaborators by finding out who they are, how they think, and their innovation process. When you get to know each other, team members feel more comfortable sharing their ideas and voicing their opinions, creating healthy collaboration.

Remember the team building activities we all used to do in school? Bring those into your workplace by hosting events that take employees outside of the office to increase creativity and improve communication by creating deeper relationships.

That is a focus of the Chief Engineer’s office. They are growing technical communities within the company to speed multi-disciplinary innovation. Chandrakant Patel, HP’s Chief Engineer, creates communities of interest that exchange ideas and teach and guide each other. At HP, we have highly skilled, world-class people who can take on the role of teaching newcomers and anyone else in HP who is interested about the subject – we call them affinity groups.

There are no bad ideas. It’s imperative that everyone feel empowered to share their ideas and feedback. Any idea can lead to progress if you’re committed to finding the value and iterating. When a team member knows they are free to make any suggestion or even fail, they step outside of their comfort zones, learn from their mistakes, and innovate.

As we move into the future, it’s clear that organizations need to build a culture of collaboration in order to be truly innovative. What are your tips for collaboration? Sound off in the comments section below.


  • Hey Shane, I’m working on this right now! As I’m developing the “idea funnel” – the process by which HP Labs will focus on innovative ideas, “dedicated teams” is a key aspect for structuring innovation. To us, this means “adequately staffed entrepreneurial teams.” From my start-up experience, that means the dynamic pairing of a technical lead and a business lead (in addition to the prescribed executive sponsorship).


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  • Hello Shane

    This is an excellent post. Between 1999 and 2005 I studied collaboration at HP with the InkJet cartridge group. Mine is a scientific approach, using qualitative methods coupled with social network mapping. Our accomplishments from using my social action research were significant;

    In 1999 I worked with HP chemists and engineers to generate a collaborative social network, replacing a competitive network of vendor relations. This resulted in shaving 17 weeks off of new cartridge development.

    In 2001-2002, HP InkJet production doubled in what was called the “big bang”. Quality escalation issues threatened ramping up cartridge production and we used my scientific approach to studying culture and collaboration to address the problem. This resulted in saving HP over $200 million and generated employee wellbeing. We published this case study in MIT’s journal Reflections and I would be happy to send you a copy.

    Most importantly, Carly Fiorina used my research in a presentation to the NSA in April 2001 claiming that the NSA having been concerned with nation state threats should turn its attention to collaborative social networks. After 9/11, we formed a collaboration between HP and NSA to understand performance in collaborative social networks with support from Carly and General Hayden. Although General Hayden and I agreed that I would be a “red badger” we found great value in building capacity within the NSA to study and understand social networks using my social systems science approach.

    To sum our findings, the threat to NSA is the same facing companies today. The network image of organizations as top down hierarchies is asymmetric to the collaborative social networks that generate innovation, social capital and well-being. I have a draft paper explaining this and would be happy to share it with you.

    Very best wishes



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