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Exploitation & exploration by global collaboration at scale

Well established international companies are typically centered around exploitation of working business models, products and services. Processes, operating model and organizational structure are centered around gaining efficiency, managing knowledge and incremental innovation within the existing space. As long as no significant disruption occurs within the industry or ecosystem, such companies flourish and grow. The increasing speed at which ecosystems evolve however significantly reduces the value of this model and an increasing amount of companies realize that exploration of new areas, products, technology, methodologies, etc. can arm them against an increasing number of new entrants challenging the market status quo. More and more companies realize that they need to build ambidextrous capabilities combining exploitation and exploration at scale.

The key to effective exploration for multinationals is global collaboration at scale. Only with the right skills and knowledge combined, ideas can be evaluated objectively, business cases can be developed, and viable innovation can be realized. The nature of potential disruption is per definition unknown making it impossible to predict which skills will be needed to evaluate and develop. Chances are high the necessary skills are present in the organization, however existing divisional boundaries as well as global borders might be hindering.

At the core of the biggest companies are silos consisting of homogenous teams working on similar topics in similar domains. Indeed, this is the logical consequence of building efficiency around existing skills, knowledge and technology for years and is a proven recipe for exploitation of the known. Global collaboration for exploration can only happen when bridges are built cross-regional and cross-divisional breaking through the existing silos and surpassing processes in place.

Building these bridges by design is what makes many approaches challenging. The unpredictable character of disruptive innovation makes this difficult and potentially risky. Changing the well-established structures for efficient exploitation might realize effective exploration but can harm the company’s profitability when exploration does not immediately deliver viable results.

Exploration on-top

Together with a global leader in life science we developed an approach to realize exploration in highly scientific R&D domains based on collective intelligence. With the current teams structured around existing divisions, regions and technology, the company felt at risk to miss opportunities in upcoming potentially disrupting technology. Our approach is based on the “on-top” principle. Any effort in the exploration initiative should let the ongoing operations untouched as long as no real potential value has been proven. Five characteristics of our approach prove essential to make this work:

  • Applying a light-weighted enabler

  • Collaborating by design

  • Focusing on a common goal

  • Creating a risk-free environment

  • Ensuring participation with incentive

Light-weighted enabler

When existing operations cannot be interrupted, the only way to facilitate for global cross-divisional collaboration is through a parallel online virtual environment. While the organization keeps running in exploitation mode, the virtual environment enables exploration. Our approach centers around an online platform where scientists from all global R&D teams can collaborate, brainstorm and elaborate on new technology. Participating is easy and quick in first ideation stages. Extensive monitoring of a core team allows for follow-up and funnel towards viable business cases allowing more time-consuming elaboration. Typical contribution consists of no more than ten minutes a day adding up to multiple FTE when aggregated on global scale. This way we leverage the global scale of the company as an asset rather than treating it as a barrier for exploration at scale.

Collaborating by design

Enabling global collaboration on high tech topics demands careful management. Skills tend to be very specific making collaboration challenging. Just like in offline initiatives, the formation of teams is encouraged and even forced for elaboration of promising ideas. This brings together the brains of global scientists from multiple divisions guaranteeing objective evaluation of technology and best effort in translating disruptive technology to promising business value. The result is global collaboration with limited interference in global operations.

Focusing on a common goal

When mobilizing globally spread teams reaching far corners of the organization, clear boundaries and goals have to be set. Well managed communication on scope and goal are essential to reach the desired outcomes. Just like in offline teams, continuous follow-up and steering by a core team facilitates his purpose. By creating a common goal, noses of scientists are put in the same direction enabling more effective collaboration between colleagues aiming for otherwise extremely diverse outcomes.

Creating a risk-free environment

A lot of knowledge in innovation gets lost in doubt. Especially scientists tend to be hesitant to bring up wild disruptive ideas with no solid information to underpin it. This is where an online environment creates more opportunities than offline. Anonymous participation allows for risk-free contributions releasing potentially valuable technologies. Ideas that would otherwise stay under the radar are now freely discussed and subject to experiments.

Ensuring participation with incentive

Where in offline teams, participation is materialized contractually, participation in our online environment is voluntary. Creating the right incentive creates real engagement to contribute and motivation to “win the challenge”. Incentive can consist of funding for valuable innovation, companywide recognition or many other options. The key is to engage and mobilize troops without obligation and based on real entrepreneurship spirit.

Our approach has successfully mobilized thousands of scientists resulting in 10 projects receiving funding for implementation and roll-out. For this company we cracked the code on how to balance exploration and exploitation and become truly ambidextrous by applying an approach based on the on-top principle. The creation of a parallel environment for exploration showed successful and prepares the company for potential disruption.

For further discussion on this topic, do not hesitate to reach out to us.

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